At the start of this quarantine, I noticed a slew of social memes that shared a sentiment of: “We’re stuck at home right now, so let’s be hyperproductive!” There are all these social media posts encouraging us to think of this time as an opportunity to do all the things we’ve dreamed of — write a screenplay, start an online business, do a bunch of house projects. The initial conversation around the COVID quarantine, at least in the United States, is, “Okay! Let’s take a Type A approach to this! Let’s do EVEN MORE than we usually do!”
But the logic in this message is backward. We’re under a lot of stress right now — even listening to the news or reading headlines is stressful — and stressful times are times when we need rest and sleep and extra nourishing food and restorative movement. It seems however that reality is setting in now. This is a time of crisis and what we need is self-care, not a longer to-do list and more stress.
When you consider the current crisis through the lens of the work we do at FLO Living, which is helping women improve their lives by understanding and supporting their unique biology, the real mandate during this time is clear: we need to prioritize rest and nourishment and let concerns about productivity take a backseat.
And this isn’t just feel good advice. Scientific research overwhelmingly shows that the more we can reduce stress levels — specifically, the more we reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol — the more resilient the immune system is going to be, which is what we really need right now given what is going on with COVID19.
In addition to setting aside concerns about productivity, we, as women, can support our immunity by understanding our innate hormonal rhythm, called the infradian rhythm, and organizing our daily and weekly schedules around it. That’s because the more we support our infradian rhythm, just like you know you should support your circadian rhythm, we reduce our stress, support our immunity, and experience more ease in our lives (which boosts our immunity even further… and on and on it goes in a positive upward cycle!).
In this time of crisis, unprecedented in our lifetime, we can’t afford to ignore our unique female biology. Our immunity and resilience depend on us letting go of concerns about productivity — and tuning into and supporting the natural rhythms of our hormones.
Fight the Urge to Be Productive
This time of isolation is an opportunity for women (and for all people) to reflect on how modern life might not be sustainable for the environment and the economy. It is also a chance, especially for women, to look at the expectations and conditioning that we are supposed to be productive all the time and how those expectations are toxic to our health.
Even in the best of times, being constantly and consistently productive isn’t sustainable. Now, in crisis, it is both unrealistic AND dangerous. When we cling to the myth of productivity, we sacrifice optimal health.
It is really interesting to me to notice the conditioning to be productive and how illogical it is from a biochemical point of view. Anytime we push ourselves to the breaking point, it stresses our immune system. But pushing ourselves to the limit is especially dangerous during stressful times. The pursuit of productivity drags down our immune system even further and provokes illness.
The real success in this situation — the real win — is not being massively productive in quarantine. The win is getting through this crisis with your health intact, period. Full stop. That is it.
How to Organize Your Schedule During Quarantine
Biochemically, women’s bodies follow two innate rhythms: the 24-hour circadian rhythm and the 28-day infradian rhythm. Using these two natural rhythms as a guide when planning your schedule is a powerful form of self care. When you align your activities with your natural strengths during those times, you reduce the stress load on many systems of your body. Keeping your stress down keeps your immune system up — and perhaps nothing is more important during this crisis.
Your biology, if you align with it, will protect you from burnout and enhance your immune response. This is what it means to be in the flow, which is one of the central themes of my new book In the Flo. If you push, push, push yourself and then crash, you will be out of the flow. You will be less resilient and more vulnerable to illness.
Here is how to use your innate infradian rhythm to organize your schedule for less stress and greater resilience during the COVID crisis.
In your follicular (the days after your period and before ovulation)
On these days (and it doesn’t have to be everyday), take a minute or a few minutes to get organized, do research, and investigate what you want to do with this down time. What really matters to you? There is a lot of clutter on social media, so it is important to think about what really matters to you. If you do want to take a meditation class or another type of online class right now, which one is best for you? Or maybe now isn’t a time when you want to learn a new skill, which is fine, too. Ask yourself which self-care practices are best for you. You can also use this time to plan ahead a bit, perhaps outlining recipes you want to make in the next couple weeks. Use the follicular phase to map things out.
If you are in ovulatory phase (the middle of your cycle)
This is a good time to start things and kick off any plans you set in the follicular phase. For extroverts, it is also a good time to have video chats or virtual dinner parties. And these aren’t just fun things to do to pass time in isolation. Connecting with others will boost your serotonin and dopamine, and that helps boost both mood and immunity. If you are an introvert, making social plans right now might stress you out. So don’t! Instead, write down thoughts and dreams and whatever is coming to you verbally. Get it out on paper.
If you are in luteal phase (the days after ovulation and before the start of your period)
This is the time for logistics and necessary domestic tasks, like paying bills, doing some clean-up at home, or if you are struck by the urge to do some spring cleaning, now is a good time. Do something during this phase that makes you feel accomplished and like you finished something.
In your menstrual phase (the days of your period)
During this phase, prioritize rest. Make a gratitude list during this time. Gratitude is one of the best antidotes to anxiety and projecting worries into the future. Focus on what you are grateful for right now.
That is how I would organize things during this time. Pick the phase you are in right now and start there. This will put you in the FLO and it is a great way to support your immune response during the COVID crisis.
And don’t forget the fundamentals of the circadian cycle — getting enough high-quality sleep at night and getting some sunlight in the morning or midday (for vitamin D, mood, and to promote better sleep at night) — to keep immunity strong. And when you have moments when you feel more energized and maybe want to do some things, that is great, too, just make sure what you’re doing is one of your priorities, not something you are doing because you feel like society expects you too or because you “should.” My priorities right now are healthy eating, homeschooling my daughter, and taking care of myself and my family, and I make sure my daily activities reflect that.
For many actively dealing with COVID infections, this is a severe health crisis. If you are not actively sick, and are even in a position to think about how to optimize your day, you are lucky and privileged. Focus on your essential values and make lots of time for rest.
Resources for a Strong Immune System During the COVID Crisis
If all you do during this time is cook for your family, care for your children and pets, care for yourself, and keep your house clean, that is MORE THAN ENOUGH. That is a full time job.
And I encourage you to really consider using this time to get in touch with your unique hormonal rhythms and to base your decisions and self-awareness off of them. Living in line with your biological reality, your infradian rhythm, is a profound act of self-care and one of the best ways to protect and support your immunity.
If tracking your cycle is new to you, check out the MyFlo app. If you want to do a deep dive on women’s hormones, immunity, and scheduling your daily and weekly activities in line with your infradian rhythm, check out my new book In the Flo, which is the first book ever to talk about the infradian rhythm.
If you are cooking for yourself and your family more right now and are looking for new recipes, check out my personal instagram @alisa.vitti. I post a lot of what I’m cooking and eating based on my cycle.
If you’re looking for more support and guidance during this time, check out FLO 28: The Cycle Syncing Membership.
Most of all, whatever you do, resist the cultural messages telling you to ramp up productivity right now. This is a time of crisis, and the most important thing you can do right now is rest, breathe, and be.
FLO 28: THE CYCLE SYNCING® MEMBERSHIP
A Revolution in Nutrition, Fitness, and Time Management for Women
FLO 28: The Cycle Syncing™ Membership is a revolutionary method for women to care for their bodies and find more flow in their lives. You’ll learn how to shift your self-care to support your cycle and play to the unique strengths you have in each phase. When you begin Cycle Syncing, you’ll start to have more energy for everything that matters the most to you. And, you’ll feel more energized, relaxed, happier and more free in all areas of your life.