Escaping the virus that causes COVID-19 does not mean your health will be unaffected. The conditions we are currently living under at home have put us at high risk for developing stress-related diseases — and many people are already seeing the negative impact of coronavirus-related stress on their bodies.
Here’s how to identify the stressors, and some tricks to handle them.
Stress and the Body
Increased stress results in increased cortisol levels, and cortisol is referred to as the stress hormone. Being in a chronic state of stress can have an impact on everything from sleep difficulties to headaches to gastrointestinal illnesses. Cortisol also affects the metabolism of fat and carbs and stimulates the production of insulin.
The result? Increased cravings for junk food. Indeed, social media has been full of memes about people overeating and drinking alcohol more than usual as a way to cope with stress. According to Nielsen, US sales of alcoholic beverages rose 55% in the week ending March 21. Spirits jumped by 75% compared to the same period last year, while wine sales are up 66% and beer sales rose 42%.
“The pandemic has been prompting many people to engage in overeating or unhealthy eating to get relief from boredom, worry, other unpleasant emotions,” Nikki Winchester, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and owner of the Cincinnati Center for DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). She tells Parentology, “People are reaching for food more than ever because it doesn’t render us incapable of doing our jobs, like alcohol or drugs, but still feels good and brings relief. This is causing lots of people to gain weight; the ‘COVID-19’ pounds is no joke!”
Insomnia is also on the rise as a result of pandemic-related stress. Winchester notes that while we may have more time to sleep, it’s difficult to sleep when worried, and sleep quality suffers as well.
“Even if we are getting more sleep, this pandemic is draining,” she notes. “We are a lot more emotionally and physically exhausted. For those who have been staring at screens more, this impacts our energy levels in a different way than being in person.”
Stress can cause physical pain, as well. Dr. Rajan Grewal, DO of Wild Flower Psychiatry, is a board-certified psychiatrist in private practice and an adjunct professor and clinical researcher at the University of Arizona Department of Psychiatry. She confirms that “Being in a nearly constant state of worry can lead to muscle tension and headaches.”
What You Can Do
Due to closures of gyms and social distancing guidelines, people have lost access to the facilities where they found stress relief. Those who previously battled a stressful day with a good workout at the gym or attended a yoga class have lost that outlet. Massage, another way to combat the physical impact of stress, has been off-limits during this time of social distancing.
But here are some options that can help with coronavirus stress at home.
- Start working out at home.
Check out the many apps that have workout routines. Many require only basic equipment like exercise bands or utilize items you have around the house such as water jugs.
- Yoga is easy to do at home.
It provides relief on two levels. Yoga reduces stress and the stretching helps with muscle tension that can cause backaches and headaches. Yoga practices are available through YouTube channels and apps.
- Meditation helps relieve stress.
If you’ve never done meditation check out the selection of meditation apps.
- Walking is an excellent form of exercise.
It helps to get out of the house and vitamin D helps in regulating our mood.
As the nation gradually reopens, only time will tell if the nation’s stress levels will start to decrease. But these small steps might make the stress a little bit easier to bear.
Coronavirus Stress at Home– Sources
Dr. Rajan Grewal, DO of Wild Flower Psychiatry
MedicineNet – Stress, Hormones and Weight Gain
The Harvard Gazette – Insomnia in a Pandemic
Market Watch — Alcohol Sales Spike
Healthline – The Benefits of Vitamin D