Is the Pandemic Affecting Our Stress Levels, Putting Us at Risk?

The coronavirus pandemic has become a health crisis unlike any other we’ve experienced in the past 100 years. The virus has led to the loss of over 5.4 million lives already and has severely burdened health and food systems in many parts of the world. Our lives have also changed accordingly. Aside from lockdowns, restrictions, and the looming threat of another major outbreak, previously unknown terms like “social distancing,” “face masks,” and lockdown have become common in everyday conversation.

In addition to all these problems, stress has also emerged as an important threat.

This virus has impacted every segment of society in one way or another. School closures affected students worldwide, and over 255 million people have lost their sources of livelihood. Small and medium-scale enterprises have experienced intense economic strain, and many have had to shut down or operate at less than optimal capacity. Global poverty is projected to rise for the first time in a generation. The pandemic-triggered global recession has the fastest downgrades in global economic downturn projections in the last 30 years. 

The development of vaccines and recovery rates bodes well for the future, and the outlook is mainly positive at this points, though there’s still a poitential for things to go south. But aside from the pandemic itself, the endless conversations and debates on COVID-19 may have other health implications we may not yet fully understand.

The American Psychological Association (APA) reported in October 2020 on the potential impacts of long stressful events like the coronavirus pandemic on mental and physical wellbeing. The report spoke of a “second pandemic,” which would continue long after the coronavirus threat is no more.

Current reports show that a cross-section of adults in America is already struggling with the fallouts of the pandemic. Stressors resulting from the coronavirus, such as grief and trauma, set people up for serious long-term consequences.

The APA’s survey indicated the following:

  • 61% of US adults have experienced undesired weight changes since the pandemic began.
  • Almost half of US citizens have canceled or delayed their regular healthcare services since the start of the pandemic.
  • Two in three people have reported changes in their sleep patterns since the pandemic began.
  • 48% of parents have experienced increased stress levels.

These reports show a connection between stress and the coronavirus pandemic, which can have severe consequences for our overall health.

We will probably not know the full scope of coronavirus-related stress effects until long after the pandemic is over. However, current studies from the US, Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world show how people cope with the situation, and the results do not make for pleasant reading.

The pandemic appears to have triggered some individuals’ physical and mental illnesses while exacerbating existing conditions in others.

Anxiety and Depression

The lockdown witnessed in many parts of the world caused a significant spike in anxiety and depression cases. Studies show that individuals are dealing with higher symptoms of anxiety and depression than before the pandemic. Studies involving over 10,000 people in China revealed that 35% of individuals were more anxious than usual, and up to half battled pandemic-related depression at the height of the pandemic.

In the US, 14% of people reported severe psychological distress at the pandemic’s peak, three times pre-pandemic level figures.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome of persistent, widespread pain often accompanied by emotional and mental distress. According to StuffThatWorks’ community members, stress is the most common aggravating factor for fibromyalgia, and in susceptible individuals, pandemic-related stress may worsen or trigger fibromyalgia. This report analyzed the effects of the pandemic on fibromyalgia patients, and the findings show that reduced activity due to the pandemic has led to increased pain and fatigue in people with fibromyalgia.

Obesity

The coronavirus pandemic has significantly raised obesity levels. Job losses, grief, stress, and a more sedentary lifestyle have increased waistlines across the US. Official data shows that 16 states have experienced over 35% increase in obesity rates since the pandemic.

Insomnia

The pandemic has altered our routines and way of living. The shift to virtual living and many health restrictions appears to have affected many people’s sleep patterns. According to this report, the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic come along with high rates of insomnia.  

Fatigue

The pandemic has raged on for two years now, and people have become exhausted. Stay-at-home orders and social distancing have left many people feeling lonely and worn out. These effects undoubtedly affect people differently, but there is no disputing the gloom and lethargy the pandemic has imposed on many people.

Substance Abuse

The uncertainty associated with the pandemic has caused a rise in the quantity and frequency of substance use. Some people have found it challenging to access their regular drugs, so they have turned to newer substances. The early months of the pandemic also saw an 18% increase in overdose cases in the US.

Handling pandemic-related stress is not very different from dealing with other forms of stress.

Here are some ways to handle stress during the pandemic:

Exercise Regularly

Even if social distancing guidelines prevent you from hitting the gym, you can walk and run in your yard or neighborhood. Exercise releases endorphins that relieve tension and reduce stress.

Mindful Eating

Poor eating habits have a way of causing stress and vice versa. Being mindful of the food we eat can help prevent weight gain, which increases stress. Avoiding unhealthy snacks or junk food that can affect you emotionally can also help.

Make Meaningful Connections

Staying isolated leads to fear, anxiety, depression, and high stress levels. It is vital to connect regularly with family and friends via phone, email, social media, and other means. Maintaining connections helps manage the stress and reassures those we care about that they are not alone.

Avoid The News as Much as Possible

The media is saturated with grim facts and figures about the pandemic. Exposing yourself to enormous amounts of negative information can significantly raise your stress levels. Only watch the news if you need to. You can spend your free time learning a new hobby or language, playing board games, enjoying more uplifting media content or getting needed rest.

The bottom line

The coronavirus may be out of your control, but you can control how you react to it. Understanding your stressors and knowing how to cope with them can help you take better care of yourself, leaving you energized and prepared for a post-pandemic world.

This entry was posted in Science on by .

About Mihai Andrei

Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.

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