We all know by now how becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus can affect physical health. We’ve seen what it’s done to millions of people around the world. Even if we’ve been fortunate enough to avoid infection ourselves.
But how about what NOT getting infected can do to our health? I’m talking about stress levels we feel as the pandemic rages around us.
Such as lockdowns and shortages of food and other necessary products. Plus job losses. And being unable to spend as much time with family and friends as we’d like.
That stress can wreak havoc on our physical health. Especially when it extends over a two-year period. With seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel.
Measuring the Consequences
The National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau knew there was a chance the pandemic could go on for a long time.
So, early on they began surveying Americans. In order to determine how it was affecting their emotional wellbeing and mental health.
The coronavirus has physically hit older populations harder than younger ones. All age groups have felt considerable stress from the effects of the virus. But younger populations have felt that stress more strongly.
In fact, more than 20% of people ages 18-29 have reported being affected by stress accompanying the pandemic.
4 in 10 Americans Report Symptoms
Four in 10 adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. That’s just since the beginning of 2020 when the pandemic reached our shores. Prior to the pandemic, it was only one in 10.
Among those symptoms are difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%). As well as increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%).
These symptoms are being attributed to a variety of factors. Including isolation, loss of income, and school and business closings. Suicidal thoughts have more than doubled.
Essential workers report disproportionately higher rates of anxiety and depressive disorder. Including those people working in medical facilities.
That’s hardly shocking. Especially considering they must work outside their homes. And may be unable to practice social distancing.
Loneliness Linked to Poor Health
Also unsurprising is the fact that adults in poor health prior to the pandemic report higher rates of anxiety.
Especially those with chronic conditions. One study found 18 percent of those diagnosed with COVID-19 were later diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Such as anxiety or mood disorders.
Prior to the pandemic, there was already a significant body of evidence pointing to the link between loneliness and poor mental and physical health.
Due to sheltering in place, especially during the first year of the pandemic, that situation has grown progressively worse.
Virus Just One of Culprits
Of course, the pandemic is not the only thing causing stress among Americans of all ages.
There’s also out-of-control inflation. Including sky-high food prices. Plus food shortages, political divisions and civil unrest.
Many of us worry about the direction some of our younger and adult children are heading. Or about their ability to make it on their own.
Some people are concerned about the future of our country. They see America as veering farther and farther away from ideals established by the Founding Fathers.
A Need for Change
Most patient care in America is clearly divided between the physical and emotional/mental. That’s unlike how it is in a number of other countries.
Some health experts would like to see that change. Paul Gionfriddo is one of them. He’s the president and CEO of Mental Health America.
More widespread mental health screening of the entire population would be a good place to start. That’s what he told CommonWealthFund.org.
“It’s the cheapest thing you could possibly do. And it would allow us to characterize things like the effects of the pandemic in real time. The findings would also enable us to customize services to different geographies and patient populations.
“Right now, our understanding of need is shaped by advocacy groups. (And) care providers and payers, who are only seeing a sliver of the population.”
He added that healthcare providers need to start giving people what they want. Rather than what those providers think they need. For example, only 25% of people with stress issues want to see a professional. The others just want more information.
5 Ways to Reduce Stress
Change comes slowly, if at all. In the meantime, there are things we can do to help reduce our stress. Including these five from the American Psychological Association:
- Take a break from the news. A vast majority of it is bad news. That can weigh on a person over time.
- Practice the rule of three good things. At the end of each day, reflect on three positive things that occurred. Even if they were small things.
- Practice self-care. Devote 15 to 30 minutes each day to something that provides a break from routine. It could be taking a short walk or watching a sitcom.
- Stay connected with family and friends. You can do this through in-person visits, calls, and emails or texts. It’s a great way to support each other.
- Keep things in perspective. Reduce the negatives and accentuate the positives. Take a this-too-shall-pass attitude toward problems.
It’s natural to feel stress when we look around us these days. Knowing what it can do to our health should provide plenty of incentive to fight it.