Help your family stay healthy and strong while coping with the stress of COVID-19.

Over the last few months, families across the nation have been overcoming a number of challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Parents are home from work, kids are out of school, and stay-at-home orders are still in full effect. These changes, combined with very real concerns over getting sick, have left parents and kids alike feeling more stressed than ever before.

Stress isn’t just a simple natural reaction to difficult situations. Chronic stress also hurts our immune systems and makes it harder for our bodies to fight disease, as well as build immunity to new viruses. The good news is there’s plenty you can do to keep your family’s immune system strong and healthy.

Here are 8 effective things you can do to help bolster your family’s immune system.

1. Base your family’s diet around whole foods, including plenty of vegetables and fruits.

Your family’s diet is the foundation of their overall health and is what powers their immune system. Research shows that a low-fat, plant-based diet heightens white blood cell function, which, in turn, helps our immune system produce more antibodies to fight viruses.

Diet is a very personal matter for every family, but it’s universally recommended by health authorities to base meals around whole foods and a variety of fresh produce as much as possible.

2. Motivate your family to take the time to do whatever makes them feel less stressed.

We can’t stop stress from affecting our family members, but we can be there to remind them to take care of themselves. Decompressing, or releasing stress and tension, by practicing self-care is something everyone—from preschoolers to grandparents—can benefit from. It also positively impacts our immune system function.

Self-care may look different for every person, but all that matters is that it’s effective for that individual. Parents may need to talk with their younger kids to learn more about what they find most relaxing.

3. Refresh your family about handwashing and hand-sanitizing best practices.

Now is a great time to refresh your family about how to stay safe and protect others from exposure, especially kids and teens.

Remind them to wash their hands with soap and water often and for at least 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer can also be used when soap and water aren’t available. Everyone should wash their hands after using the bathroom, touching their face or nose, and immediately after returning from a public area.

You can find more information on CDC-recommended handwashing and general safety guidelines here.

4. Encourage your family to wear a face mask when venturing into public spaces.

The CDC is still recommending that individuals wear a cloth face mask when in public spaces, even if they are not showing symptoms or are at high risk. Exceptions include any kids under the age of two or family members who have a breathing condition.

If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can even make your family some fun DIY face masks.

5. Clean your home often and disinfect high-touch surfaces on a daily basis.

How often you clean your home is based on a few factors, such as whether family members are leaving the house, if anyone may be exposed while at work, or if there are any high-risk family members in your home.

Even if your family is low-risk, it’s advised to still disinfect high-touch surfaces on a daily basis and especially after coming home from running errands or having a visitor. High-touch surfaces include any surface or object you touch multiple times on a daily basis, such as tabletops and countertops, doorknobs and light switches, phones and tablets, remote controls, etc.

For more detailed information on how to properly clean and disinfect, check out this CDC webpage.

6. Make sure your family is getting plenty of quality, restful sleep every night.

Stress can easily affect sleep cycles by making it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. In some cases, a family member may seem to be getting the right number of sleep hours, but their sleep isn’t restful. When sleepless nights start to become a habit, the immune system begins to suffer.

Check in with your family and ask them how they’ve been feeling in terms of sleep. Remind your kids and adult family members that taking naps is encouraged right now.

7. Spend more recreational time in safe outdoor locations rather than staying inside.

A great way to boost your family’s immune systems while also reaping a number of other health benefits is to make a concerted effort to spend more time outdoors together.

Breathing in the fresh air and getting some natural vitamin D from the sun (in small spurts) is invigorating. Being outdoors also prompts higher activity levels and movement compared to being indoors.

Spending time out in your yard or walking around your neighborhood is great. If you do go to a public outdoor space, be mindful of touching any surfaces like park benches or playground equipment.

8. Support your family’s daily multivitamin with a vitamin D supplement.

There is no magic vitamin or mineral to ramp up your immune system, but you can fill in possible nutritional gaps in your family’s diet with a standard multivitamin. Select a daily multivitamin designed for gender and age for best results (i.e. daily women’s vitamin or daily children’s vitamin).

In addition to this multivitamin, you can also include a vitamin D supplement. Doctors have found that an extra 1000 to 2000 IU of vitamin D will ensure you’re not only getting enough of this crucial vitamin but also that your body can properly process other vitamins and minerals, like calcium.

As stay-at-home orders begin to lift, continue taking preventive measures and practicing social distancing.

Governors and mayors will likely begin to lift stay-at-home orders in their cities and states. This is wonderful news, as it marks the start of life slowly beginning to return to normal. However, as stay-at-home orders end, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t mean social distancing should stop.

Even as your family begins to venture back out, continue taking a proactive approach to safeguarding their health just as you were before. With time, your lives will resume as normal, but until then, it’s worth the effort to protect you and your family’s health.