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Managing stress, eating wisely especially important now, says doctor and CLC grad

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Apr 08, 2020

With the majority of America under stay-at-home orders to help thwart the COVID-19 pandemic, managing stress and eating healthy foods are critical steps in fighting the virus now and building a healthy lifestyle for the long-term. That’s the word from Dr. Melanie Smith, a 1982 College of Lake County graduate who is a family practice physician at Advocate Aurora Medical Center in Burlington, Wis. 

“With many homes now stocked full of food supplies, the best way to prevent rapid weight gain is to reduce the stress that often creates an urge to eat,” said Smith, who has a special interest in helping patients fight obesity. “Stress produces a hormone, ghrelin, that makes you feel hungry.  If you’re starting to feel a need to eat something, drink a glass of water and see if the hunger is still there. Then go for walk. Also, use your preferred ways to manage stress, whether it’s deep breathing, meditation or praying to help you stay on course.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic now occupying most of the 24/7 news cycle, Smith said one daily routine she’s changed in the last three weeks is to avoid watching the news or going on social media in the evening. “I do night meditation,” said Smith, who added that many of her patients are now feeling anxious, depressed or having difficulty sleeping at night. “Anything to reduce stress at end of the day is important.”

Besides controlling food cravings by managing stress, eating healthy foods is important as it can help build up one’s immunity to viruses. “Our immune system is affected by diet, so when you shop for groceries or order take-out food from restaurants, make sure to choose healthy options such as fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains,” Smith advised. “Packaged foods may be convenient and have a longer shelf life than fresh foods, but they (packaged foods) tend to be high in salt content and are not as healthy as fresh produce or fish.”

Smith, who has been a practicing physician for 25 years, said she is now dons a surgical mask when reporting to work and is meeting with patients via phone and video conference.She added that her clinic currently has enough personal protective equipment (PPE). Additionally, the clinic has proactively set up a tent outside where people with COVID-19 symptoms are being diverted.

Finding the positive amid the pandemic, Smith said she and her colleagues have been grateful for the outpouring of support from the Burlington community. “The local coffee shop and pizza place have delivered donated coffee and food to our clinic,” she said. “One of my patients is making face shields from a laser printer. Another one made cloth masks. People are really stepping up. It’s wonderful to see everyone working together.”

The collaborative spirit also means continuing to heed the advice of health care experts. “The biggest thing people can do to help fight the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home,” she said. “If you have questions, call your doctor first. If your child has sniffles, don’t bring him or her into a clinic. Please call first and speak with a doctor. We don’t want children or anyone getting COVID-19 from health care workers.”

Smith earned an A.D.N. (associate degree in nursing) from CLC in 1982 and a B.S.N. in nursing from the University of Illinois-Chicago. Later, she received her D.O. degree from the Midwestern University/Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. Smith completed her residency at the University of Illinois’ College of Medicine at Chicago/Christ Hospital. In 2010, she was CLC’s nominee for the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Illinois Community College Trustees Association.

Smith said she considers COVID-19 to be the “biggest crisis” of her lifetime, adding that it will force many to re-evaluate priorities. “It will be long time for our society to recover from this, economically, emotionally and psychologically,” she said. “I hope we’ll place renewed value on life’s important things, such as family, loved ones and community.”


About College of Lake County:

The College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. The College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.