Lent, Passover, and the coronavirus — how are they alike?

Mar 19, 2020 | 8 comments

Yes, we’re all staying home, trying to flatten the curve and slow the contagious COVID-19 coronavirus. Which got me to thinking — this could be a good time to kick some unhealthy habits and adopt some new healthy ones.

Lent began on Wednesday, February 26, and continues through Thursday, April 9. It’s one of the most important times of the year for many Christians around the world, and many abstain from meat and other indulgences such as chocolate or giving up alcohol or junk food. The idea is to take this time to assess your life, to respect your body. The Harley Street Stop Smoking Clinic reminds us that this could be a time for “new beginnings and fresh starts” and what could be better than giving up smoking?

The sooner a smoker quits, the faster they will reduce their risk of cancer, heart and lung disease, and other conditions related to smoking.

  1. Enjoy the beautiful springtime free from cigarettes. Spring in Ecuador is eternal, and so be grateful for our moderate weather – open your windows, or step outside on your balcony or terrace to breathe the fresh air. Cherish the fact that you’re getting your priorities in order, and you’re forevermore not going to be a slave to nicotine.
  2. Improve your self-discipline and self-belief. Harley Street notes that quitting smoking is, for many, difficult — after all, nicotine is a powerfully addictive drug. But they note that quitting smoking means you are following in a “great tradition of people pursuing the best versions of themselves, as well as bolstering your self-confidence in knowing that you can quit smoking, so you can achieve anything!”
  3. Finally, quit smoking for good. You may have some withdrawal symptoms but be reassured that they will be gone for good after just two weeks! You will have better energy, better skin, and better immunity! As reported in Scientific American, smoking or vaping could make you more vulnerable to a severe infection with the novel coronavirus and although there have not been many studies investigating this link specifically, a wealth of evidence suggests that smoking suppresses immune function in the lungs and triggers inflammation. There have been far fewer investigations of vaping, but preliminary research suggests it may do similar damage. 

All of us develop bad habits over time. Isn’t it time to get rid of the ones that limit your potential and replace them with positive behaviors?

Freedom! The Jewish tradition of Passover begins on Wednesday, April 8, and ends the evening of Thursday, April 16. Chabad.org writes that during the Passover Seder, congregants recount in detail the plight of the Israelites as slaves in ancient Egypt and celebrate their eventual freedom and salvation. They note that Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn wrote that the rabbinic instruction to drink four cups of wine (or grape juice for those who avoid alcohol) during the Sedar could serve as a framework for examining your own life towards “freedom from any negative practices that hold us back.”

  1. Stop.  “Before you get clean, you must get out of the mud.”  Medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides said, “A sinner should abandon his sins,” and the first step to breaking free from a habit is to simply stop doing it. But it’s not that simple for many, so explore replacing a bad habit with a good one, eliminating the triggers, and joining forces with someone supportive, which is definitely doable online. I googled “stop smoking support group” — there are so many opportunities to join others with the same health goals.  James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, writes, “Visualize yourself succeeding. See yourself throwing away the cigarettes or buying healthy food or waking up early. Whatever the bad habit is that you are looking to break, visualize yourself crushing it, smiling, and enjoying your success.”
  2. Adopt. In the Jewish tradition, the second step on the path toward breaking free is to “immerse yourself in an alternative positive reality. When dropping an old habit, adopt a new one to take its place and fill the void.” Every time you want that cigarette or you reach for the potato chips or candy, or you mindlessly watch reality television instead of studying Spanish or reading that novel, instead find a place where you can do five minutes of resistance exercises. This works in two ways — you’re doing something positive both for your body and for your sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. Click here for visuals for that five-minute stretch.  You can do these exercises 20 times a day — if you need to!
  3. Rationalize. Really understand how your decision to replace a bad habit with a good one will affect your life for the better. After the Israelites received the Torah they said, “naaseh v’nishma” (“we will do and we will understand”) and this is the next step to change — acceptance, learning, and understanding — and believing in yourself.
  4. Internalize. You will stop old behaviors, adopt healthy ones because you have believed in yourself and the positivity of change. The fourth step is to fully understand and internalize this change within you.You have the power to make this Passover narrative your own success story, no matter what behavior you undertake to change. It will be for the better. We will all get through this, and some will look back at this time as the time that they unchained themself from a negative habit, unburdened themselves and replaced the habit with one that enhances their health.

Harley Street Stop Smoking Clinic. Stop smoking for Lent.
James Clear. How to break a bad habit and replace it with a good one.
Lifehack. 15 simple and quick office stretches to boost work efficiency. 
ScientificAmerican.com. Smoking or vaping may increase the risk of severe coronavirus infection.
Food, Nutrition, and Your Health columnist Susan Burke March moved to Cuenca after 35 years as a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in the United States. She currently serves as the Country Representative from Ecuador for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 

Susan helps people attain better weight and health, and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions that can be improved with smart lifestyle modifications. Contact her at SusantheDietitian@gmail.com

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