Protecting Ourselves in the Age of COVID-19

MPact is closely following developments regarding the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease, and particularly its impact on gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. Over the coming weeks, MPact will provide short info notes with resources on a variety of topics, including: tips for LGBTI advocatessex and sexual health; staying healthy under physical distancing and self-isolation; working within and with health systems during COVID-19; protecting and promoting human rights during the pandemic; and addressing the economic impacts of COVID-19 for our communities. 

Strategies for LGBTIQ individuals and communities to stay healthy under ‘physical distancing’ 

As communities around the world adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all attempting to practice “physical distancing” and staying at home, in recognition that these are potentially the best strategies to slow the spread of new infections. However, we can’t downplay the physical, emotional and other health impacts that these strategies may have on our well-being.

During times of adaptation and change, we can take time to think holistically about our needs, both individually and as a community. Identifying and respecting boundaries for ourselves and others will be critically important as we all move forward together in this new “normal”.

This blog explores a variety of topics related to health and well-being during the pandemic for your consideration.

Disclaimer:  Many LGBTIQ people, including those who use drugs and LGBTIQ sex workers, have limited access to shelter, food, water, and other basic needs. Many of us may live in households where it is not safe to live authentically. Many of us have lost jobs, shelter, access to food, and access to quality, LGBTI-friendly healthcare triggered by this pandemic.  We acknowledge the historic socioeconomic and political contexts, and the discrimination and homophobia that continue to disproportionality and differentially impact our communities. What follow are suggestions offered in the spirit of solidarity and with the knowledge that some of us are harder hit by COVID-19 than others. We hope that these recommendations are helpful and inspiring to all.  

Stay Active:  Physical Wellness

Eating a healthy diet not only ensures your body gets the fuel it needs to thrive but may also limit or reduce damage caused by infections.  Do your best to eat a balanced diet, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains, and limit sugars and fats.  For more details on healthy diets, follow this link.  Fermentable fiber, found in beans and legumes, is important for producing products in the intestine that limit inflammation. Resistant starches are also helpful and are found in cashews, green bananas, oats, cooled white rice, and potatoes, in addition to beans and legumes.

Emotional eating is a coping mechanism for some of us.  It is important to find a personal boundary, a balance between comfort food and nutritious food.  Boredom is often a trigger for impulsive snacking, so try to keep busy and create routines for eating, working, exercise, play, and sleep.

Try to minimize trips to food markets during the pandemic, thus decreasing potential exposure to or transmission of the coronavirus.  If you intend to order take-out from a restaurant, pay close attention to restaurant schedules (calling ahead of time to place an order if possible) and city/township restrictions.

As LGBTIQ people, we may have a unique relationship with exercise.  Exercise can take many different forms, and all are valid! From dancing, voguing, performance art, working out, individual sports, or hot sweaty sexual sessions with a live-in partner, all can still be part of our cardiovascular exercise routine.  During this time of quarantine and physical distancing, exercise has additional and important benefits.

Walking is one of the most accessible forms of exercise for most people: it’s safe, easy to stick with, and low- or no-cost. So, walk for me darling! Get outside (where and when permitted by local public health authorities), get exercise, get sunshine. Many parts of the world have entered the Spring season.  This is usually a time when we start to refill our vitamin D reserves. Quarantine makes us risk losing this essential ingredient to our mental and physical health. Please ensure you are following all local restrictions.  

Moderate-intensity physical activity is associated with better immune function and regular physical activity can help reduce feelings of depression, stress and/or anxiety. If you participate in a heavy/long exercise routine make sure that you maintain adequate hydration and carbohydrate intake. Limiting water and nutrition may diminish the benefit of exercise on the immune system and your general health. Lastly, if you are stuck inside, take advantage of the free exercise, yoga and meditation video content online or on streaming sites.

Good-quality sleep greatly impacts how you feel mentally and physically, so it’s important to try to sleep seven to nine hours each evening. If you can’t get seven to nine hours of sleep at night, take short naps during the day. Try to maintain regular sleeping patterns, meaning sticking to the same bedtime and wake-up time every day, and keep good sleep hygiene practices – like avoiding phone/tablet/computer screens before bed, cutting back on caffeine and alcohol, avoiding eating in the three to four hours prior to bedtime (eating late can throw off your internal clock and lead to reflux), and creating a restful environment that is dark and cool.

If your housing situation allows, try to get an hour of bright light in the morning and around midday to help regulate your circadian rhythm. Start the day with exercise, which releases hormones that signals your body to stay awake. Also consider meditating:  this can be as simple as sitting quietly for a couple of minutes as you focus on your breathing

Care for the Mind:  Mental & Emotional Wellness

The COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t just affect people physically but also emotionally. Physical distancing, quarantining, and isolation can provoke a series of negative mental and emotional experiences, ranging from anxiety, stress and worry to fear and anger, as well as feelings of helplessness, sadness and depression.

Some people find themselves stuck in unwelcoming environments and having to deal with abusive partners or families, especially LGBTIQ people. While leaving the house may not be an option for many, we recommend you work on strengthening your connection with a safe circle of friends and supporters. Try to schedule a daily check-in with someone whom you can briefly contact from the bathroom, your own room, or other private space, if possible. Keep on speed dial your trusted contacts, as well as a local hotline number for suicide prevention.  Should you need online and telephone psychosocial support – Please check with your Local NGO for a referral for counseling.

Living in a state of grief is normal right now, as we’re experiencing and/or witnessing losses of loved ones, jobs, and shelter, as well as tremendous changes to the economy and health sector. This naturally can cause the feeling of losing a sense of safety and security. We need to Identify and accept these emotions, find the safe space to express them (in a journal, to a family member, friend, and/or counselor) and lean on our support systems. It is important to be intentional about play and fun. We should be deliberate in exposing ourselves to sources of laughter, joy, beauty, and art, in order to reduce or mitigate negative emotional burden COVID-19 may be having.

Likewise, we need to think deeply about balancing intake of information regarding the pandemic. Understanding the risk and educating ourselves is important, but it is equally important to avoid over exposure to unnecessary and anxiety inducing news. Take note of when you are feeling anxious or stressed from the information you are taking in and consider limiting exposure to once or twice a day, as well as prioritizing scientific reporting versus political reporting (i.e., World Health Organization). Feeling anxious or worried can make it harder to get a good night’s sleep, as well as general mental health during the day.

Regardless of how the pandemic may have affected your employment (or search for employment), it is likely that your productivity will be affected negatively right now, and that’s ok. You can view this as an opportunity to pick up an old hobby, learn a new one, or make use of the numerous free online courses that have become available in recent weeks.  You can also use this time to rest your body and mind and just relax and unwind. Avoid feeling pressure to be “productive” as we are all adapting to these new circumstances. For those who go to work, fear and anxiety may be unescapable, so in order to alleviate that, think about developing safety strategies with colleagues and with flat mates to navigate movement and distancing. For tele-workers, if possible, create a secluded workspace at home to minimize distractions, set reasonable daily or weekly tasks and work objectives, and establish regular check-ins with colleagues and supervisors in an effort to maintain a healthy routine.

Stress and anxiety can easily lead us towards adopting less healthy coping mechanisms, like smoking and problematic alcohol and drug use. For people who use drugs, it is important to engage in safer drug use practices while in lock-down, especially if living alone. Safer use measures include having enough supplies and tools to avoid getting out and sharing them and keeping emergency overdose hotlines close-by. For more information, Check out these great resources on drug use in time of COVID-19

While it is too soon to know if COVIID-19 can be sexually transmitted, a person without symptoms can easily transmit COVID-19 through coughing or sneezing, kissing/saliva and direct physical contact (within 6 feet). While desire, sex and pleasure are natural human emotions and needs, for now, as we learn more about the new virus, physical distancing is one of the main activities that slows and even stops the transmission of COVID19. This has considerable impact on the ways we think about sex, sexual health, and safety. While physical distancing and quarantining may seem incompatible with sex, we are here to remind you that there is always room to think creatively about intimacy and pleasure that you can find on this blog. This is a great time to (re)discover our own beautiful bodies.

Connect with others: Family & Community Wellness

The global response to the pandemic has largely been centered around the efforts of the individual: self-isolation, physical distancing, quarantining. Seemingly, these all are the acts of one person, but it requires a larger sphere of social support and solidarity to make these practices work as a tool for public health. Community members are finding new and creative ways to virtually connect with others online via social media spaces, via drag performances, musical performances, DJ sets and general group chats.  One-person self-isolating is not enough to contain a virus. We must also look out for each other.

All of us rely on communities in times of need, yet this has become increasingly difficult to do when we are creating physical distance between ourselves. So how can you lend a helping hand and find ways to be supportive? It has been shown that elders, especially LGBTIQ elders, and people with underlying conditions are particularly vulnerable to this virus. Remember, even if you feel well, you may still be a carrier and unintentionally pass the virus to someone who may have a harder time coping with the illness. Take the guidance of others and rely on their and your best judgement.

For those of us with limited or unreliable internet access, try checking in on family, friends and neighbors via phone, short visits to deliver food or care packages, or sending snail-mail to a loved one. Who doesn’t love harkening back to the art of hand-writing cards and letters!

For those who have the resources to do so, ask how you can support those who are finding themselves in times of financial trouble right now. For those in need of support, do not be afraid to reach out. Many mutual aid funds have been created across the globe as a result of this pandemic– you can find a great comprehensive list here. These resources remind us that cooperation is required to sustain a global response to the pandemic. Our collective work “has to be about building on — rather than fearing — the fact that we’re all interconnected and impacted by COVID-19; that we’re all in this together.”

In solidarity,

The MPact Team

References and other resources:
Managing Life at Home During the Covid-19 Outbreak – Yale Medicine
Making Health and Nutrition a Priority during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic–AmericanSocietyforNutrition
Healthy Diet – WHO
Staying Active During the Coronavirus Pandemic – American College of Sports Medicine
Maintaining Mental and Physical Health During COVID-19 – Psychology Today 
Stretches for Exercise and Flexibility – American Heart Association
Why is Walking the Most Popular Form of Exercise – American Heart Association
COVID-19: Managing Your Overall Health – NCDHHS
Managing Life at Home During the Covid-19 Outbreak – Yale Medicine
How to Stay Physically and Mentally Healthy While COVID-19 Has You Stuck at Home – TIME
Guidance for the public on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus (COVID-19) – UK Gov
Mental Health and Psychosocial Considerations during the COVID-19 Outbreak – WHO
Coping with Stress during the 2019-nCoV Outbreak – WHO
Pandemics – American Psychological Association
Dimensions of Wellness, A Worksheet!! – Rada Yovovich

Reviewed by

Thatayotlhe Junior Molefe, Executive Director, Men for Health & Gender Justice
Johny Tohme, MPact
Gregory Tartaglione, MPact
Stephen Leonelli, MPact
Omar Banos, MPact
Mohan Sundararaj, MPact
Angel Fabian, MPact
George Ayala, MPact