Well, it’s officially 2021. And all I can say is… wow.
What a year 2020 turned out to be. One might even call it Biblical, with the level of pain and suffering that so many people have endured. There were locusts and plagues—not to mention 29 (and counting) named tropical storms in the Atlantic, which killed thousands.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans have lost their jobs and housing—all while navigating the daily drama of a fractured and divided country, the likes of which I have never seen. To quote Queen Elizabeth II’s famous speech from 1992, it has truly been an “annus horribilis” in every sense of the term.
And as much as I wish it was all over at midnight on January 1st—like hitting a big “reset” button—you and I both know life just doesn’t work that way.
Yes, there is some hope for a return to normalcy on the horizon…with the approval of vaccines and rapid at-home testing. But, as you may already know, my optimism on this front is cautious at best. And as we enter into another new year, it’s crucial to understand that the crisis isn’t over yet.
We still need a strong game plan in order to kick this pandemic—and everything that came with it—to the curb. COVID-19 has upended the entire globe, and none of us will be safe until we all are. (Let that message sink in.)
Needless to say, it won’t happen overnight. And in the meantime, we must continue to be vigilant.
Keeping that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of recommended resolutions for all of us to make—and keep—throughout the new year. They break down to six critical action points that will simplify your life… and help you to thrive in 2021, even amidst the relentless chaos.
Resolution #1: Steel yourself against stress
This is the main resolution that I’ve been trying to address in my own life, personally, as well as in the lives of my patients. And you can probably imagine why.
Admittedly, half of my appointments are now spent playing therapist—offering my patients a shoulder to lean on, and a safe space to open up and talk about their feelings.
Emotions are running high, families are cooped up at home together, and so many people are feeling as if their lives are being taken away from them. There has been an astronomical rise in the amount of mental health issues people are dealing with. And marriages and partnerships are strained.
Make no mistake—the problems we are facing now are going to continue to impact us for years to come. So I urge you to be proactive about addressing the stress in your life—starting today. Because you and I both know it won’t go away on its own.
But don’t attempt to eat your anxiety away by turning to food for comfort. Instead, focus on constructive outlets that can make a positive difference—like regular exercise.
Exercise is the best medicine
Consistent exercise is one of the most effective, drug-free ways to combat anxiety. It triggers the release of feel-good endorphins that kill pain, bust tension, elevate your mood, and offer a sense of calm. You’ll sleep better and feel better about yourself. And your immune system will benefit, to boot.
So, especially if your gym remains closed, get creative. Find ways to work out from home. There are plenty of online classes, many of which are free, that you can attend from your own living room (or back yard!).
There are also affordable apps and a lot of videos on YouTube that can coach you through workouts at no cost. Sure, it may not offer the same camaraderie that a your typical, in-person workout class would—but if you commit to doing it every day, it absolutely will relieve stress.
You don’t have to maintain a grueling schedule to get these benefits, either. There are so many ways to exercise without grunting and lifting weights.
Like taking a daily walk—which also gets you outside for some fresh air and sunshine. Or simply walking up and down the steps in your home, or the hallway of your apartment building.
You could even adopt some mind-body practices like yoga (or just chair yoga, if you struggle with chronic pain), tai chi, qi gong, and meditation. In fact, simply breathing deeply is powerful enough to calm your nervous system.
No matter what type of exercise you choose, just make sure you take a few moments for yourself to do it—and keep doing it, every day. As always, aim for just 2.5 hours total per week… which breaks down to about 20 minutes of physical activity each day.
Get extra support from adaptogens
Of course, having healthy coping skills still won’t make the pandemic go away. So it’s critical to give your body extra support to weather this relentless and unprecedented storm. And adaptogens are particularly great tools to have on hand for that added support.
These supplements are natural extracts that help your body adapt to difficult circumstances. You don’t need to take them all, but here are a few of my top recommendations to help guard your body against stress and enhance immunity:
- Rhodiola rosea—30 mg, three times per day.
- Schizandra chinensis—60 mg, three times per day.
- Ashwagandha extract—150 mg, three times per day.
- Eleutherococcus sinensis root extract—150 mg, three times per day.
- Panax ginseng—50 mg, three times per day.
Most of these extracts are readily available in health food stores and from online retailers.
Resolution #2: Boost your mood—and your mind
Of course, I think we can all agree that one of the most troubling aspects of this pandemic is the psychological trauma associated with it.
People are afraid and unsure of how to keep safe—and there are conflicting messages virtually everywhere. This has created challenges with day-to-day mental functioning—whether it’s decision-making, planning, or focusing on tasks.
I call this phenomenon “COVID brain,” and it’s something I’ve experienced firsthand.
My brain is usually like a steel trap. But even I have been unusually forgetful since this pandemic took hold. And I have a feeling I’m not alone. After all, we are all on overdrive… and the statistics tell the tale.
These numbers are truly staggering, with research suggesting that mental health screenings have nearly quadrupled in the wake of the pandemic. In other words, more Americans than ever are showing clear clinical signs of depression and anxiety.
If that sounds like you, just keep this critical reminder in mind: You don’t need to lean on risky drugs to carry you through this crisis. Especially when safer, more effective approaches—like cannabidiol (CBD)—can do that naturally.
A natural prescription for anxiety and depression
CBD has quickly become one of my treatments of choice for managing anxiety, depression, and even sleeplessness.
Unlike its cannabinoid counterpart, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD does not have psychoactive effects. But clinical studies show it does have a potent positive effect on serotonin receptors in the brain… without the mood swings, insomnia, and sexual dysfunction that so often accompany drug treatment for depression and anxiety.
I’ve said it before, but this plant really can do it all. And the loosening restrictions on medical marijuana means it’s easier to access than ever before. But of course, that also means consumers need to be more wary, too.
The CBD products I recommend to my patients are high-quality and rigorously tested to assure you’re getting exactly what you’re paying for. They are all full spectrum hemp—to ensure you’re getting all the hemp plant has to offer. (Remember, cannabis has hundreds of different active components in it—and you want the power of all of them!)
I also recommend CBD capsules, CBD balm, and CBD oil. That’s because there’s no “one-size-fits-all” dosage or form. And yes, you can use all three forms simultaneously. CBD is safe and non-addictive—meaning you can’t overdose on it. So you have free rein to experiment—with dose as well as with combinations of different products and delivery methods—and, ultimately, see results you may never have thought possible.
From a very high-level perspective, I typically recommend CBD capsules for everyday relief and comfort and CBD balm for any specific, painful spots that require immediate treatment. Then, CBD oil offers the best absorption and makes it easier to find specific dosages you may need for each individual concern. I recommend starting out with a small amount and working your way up until you reach the desired result. (This process is known as titration.)
In combination with a clean diet and regular exercise, I can’t think of a safer or more user-friendly way to take the edge off of chronic anxiety, depression, or sleeplessness. And speaking of sleep…
Resolution #3: Sleep soundly
It goes without saying that sleep is a vital component of good health. Lack of sleep causes a long list of problems—from lowered immunity and heightened risk of chronic disease, to hormonal imbalances that lead directly to brain fog.
Without proper sleep, the stress hormone cortisol spikes, which drives down dopamine production—leaving you feeling depressed and down in the dumps. Over time, it can also restrict blood flow to the brain.
So, if you struggle with sleep, here’s what I recommend…
Try to maintain regular sleeping patterns and aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. (This may mean cutting back on caffeine, particularly in the afternoon.)
You’ll also want to avoid blue light (like the kind that comes from electronics) for at least an hour before bed, and sleep in a dark, quiet environment (use room darkening shades, eye masks, and ear plugs, if necessary). This will help to prevent any circadian disruption that could send your sleep/wake cycles into a tailspin.
In addition, supplements—like CBD and melatonin—can make a big difference, too. I touched on the forms and dosages for CBD above, so here’s what I recommend for melatonin…
Your body releases melatonin in response to darkness—in fact, it’s the very hormone that’s responsible for regulating your circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycles (among other key roles).
I’ve begun taking 3 mg every night before bedtime—the same starting dosage I recommend to everyone. But you can go higher, slowly increasing the dosage in increments if needed. Just never exceed 20 mg per night.
(Plus, recent research associates a daily dose of melatonin with a lower risk of testing positive for COVID-19, as I discuss in more detail on page 6!1)
Resolution #4: Stay busy and connected
There is nothing “social” about social distancing—which is why I hate the term. Health guidelines wisely urge us to isolate and stay in our bubbles. But the fact remains that this behavior is not natural to humans.
We are very social creatures. But of course, we also want to stay alive. So we must adapt. Luckily, we live in an age where we can be isolated and still be in touch with our friends, family, and loved ones—and even complete strangers.
You can host dinners and attend courses virtually via Zoom. You can use WhatsApp to connect with people all around the world. And you can use FaceTime to video-chat. (Many people are even dating on Zoom now! When I was a child, this was the stuff of science fiction or The Jetsons. Yet here we are today, with technology literally in our hands.)
Bottom line: Don’t stay isolated. Instead, use these technological advancements in whatever way makes you feel comfortable and connected. Because let’s face it—isolation and loneliness kills. (It’s particularly hard on the heart—and it’s a contributing factor behind dementia, too.)
And if human connection still remains hard to come by? Well, you might consider rescuing a four-legged companion. Because believe it or not, they might just end up rescuing you.
In fact, researchers from the U.K. conducted a survey of 6,000 participants during the country’s lockdown period, lasting from late March to early June of this year. Roughly 90 percent of respondents reported having at least one pet.
And whether it was a dog, cat, guinea pig, or fish, that animal companion ended up providing a significant buffer against psychological stress.2
More than 90 percent of the survey’s respondents said that their pet helped them cope with the emotional fallout of lockdown. And nearly all of them said that their pet also helped keep them fit and active.
Of course, being a pet owner requires a lot of time, energy, and devotion. But in return, they give back at least as much in physical and emotional health benefits. So give them all you’ve got… and let love do the rest.
Don’t forget to take time for you
Now, on the other end of the spectrum, if you’re one of those people who’s going stir-crazy in a full house, here’s my best advice: Make and take time that’s just for you, whenever possible.
And no, do not turn on the news. Protect your peace and turn the 24/7 news cycle OFF. In fact, while you’re at it, turn off all of those pesky alerts, too. After all, these breaks are important—especially if you feel your mood slipping.
Instead, how about starting your morning with a puzzle, brainteaser, or a bit of light reading? These are all great ways to engage your mind and keep you sharp, and will set the tone for a more vibrant day ahead.
You could also look into virtual tours of museums and cities that you have always wanted to visit. Even catching up on the latest shows on any of the million streaming services you may have is a good way to ease your mind. (Just remember to get up and move, too. I don’t encourage day-long binges!)
At the end of the day, I realize quarantine is rotten and challenging—in more ways than one. But try to exercise kindness and patience with yourself as well as others.
Resolution #5: Keep your weight in check
While this may not be a year for typical resolutions, I’m certain weight loss will still be at the top of the list for most people. And you know what? Good. There’s no time like the present to clean up your diet and lose that quarantine 15 (or 20, or 30)—which, in turn, will have a profound effect on your mood and focus, too.
So, ditch the “sad” Standard American Diet (SAD). Stop reaching for those comfort foods—like bread, baked goods, and pasta. And opt for fresh, unprocessed, whole foods instead.
After all, a healthy diet is one of the most critical components when it comes to staying healthy during periods of intense stress. So, here are two simple, basic rules of thumb:
1.) Cut out all sugars and grains.
2.) Opt for organic, nutrient-rich produce and grass-fed and finished protein whenever possible.
This strategy will prime your body to withstand pandemic stressors. But it will also bring you closer to your goal weight—which will, in turn, reverse the underlying conditions (like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure) that make you more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Resolution #6: Rein in runaway inflammation
Inflammation is the root cause of most illnesses. Simply put, it’s your body’s way of telling you that something just isn’t right.
And guess what? Stress is a huge trigger for chronic, systemic inflammation—and goodness knows none of us has experienced a shortage of that over the past year.
Excess inflammation can also contribute to depression and anxiety, greasing the wheels of a vicious mind-body cycle. And with a long winter still ahead of us, it’s safe to say you’ll need every defense against it as you can get.
The good news is that, if you follow through on the first five resolutions I laid out today, it will automatically help rein in some of the inflammation you may be experiencing. And you’ll almost certainly feel the benefits.
But the issue of inflammation is so critical for the year ahead that I’ve been working on a comprehensive protocol to address it. I’m wrapping it up now, and it should be ready in the coming weeks. I’ll be sure to let you know when it is via my Reality Health Check e-letter, so if you’re not already receiving it, make sure to head to my website (www.drpescatore.com) to sign up.
In the meantime, remember that it’s the little changes that we make in our daily lives that really lead to lifelong changes. So, take it step-by-step.
Sure, you may fall off the wagon or make a few stumbles. But as long as you set a goal and firmly resolve to get from point A to point B, it really doesn’t matter how much you zig-zag along the way.
You can get there—we can get there. And using the steps I outlined here today, I imagine we all will. So, here’s to a happy, healthy, simple 2021.
SIDEBAR: Measure inflammation levels—and a whole lot more—from your very own living room
If you don’t want to wait for your next physical to get a clearer picture of your inflammation levels—or your overall health in general—here’s a brand-new option that I’ll be recommending to all of my patients in 2021 and beyond.
The Choose Health kit tests for a handful of key markers in order to give you a critical snapshot of six of the most prominent factors that steer your health: inflammation, oxidative stress, cholesterol, visceral fat levels, insulin resistance, and average blood sugar.
All you have to do is perform a simple finger prick at home. Then, you send it out to one of the company’s accredited laboratories… and voila! In just a few days, you get a complete, easy-to-follow report with personalized health recommendations based on your individual results and desires.
I’m so impressed with the ease and convenience of this quick, affordable, and comprehensive at-home testing kit, that I’ve decided to partner with Choose Health in order to offer it directly to my patients and readers alike.
Testing starts at $68 and goes up from there. (The price of your test will depend on the markers that you select to test—though I recommend testing for all six.)
You can use this link to order and save 10 percent off the core kit: http://choosehealth.io/drfred (discount should automatically be applied in the cart).
- Zhou Y, et al. “A network medicine approach to investigation and population-based validation of disease manifestations and drug repurposing for COVID-19.” PLoS Biol. 2020 Nov 6;18(11):e3000970.
- Ratschen E, et al. “Human-animal relationships and interactions during the Covid-19 lockdown phase in the UK: Investigating links with mental health and loneliness.” PLoS One. 2020 Sep 25;15(9):e0239397.