As the global pandemic has raged on for several months, we’ve now had enough time to begin not just to wonder, but to reflect on its impacts. Many people have experienced an increase of stress and anxiety during this time, and certainly we have all had to make adjustments in one way or another. One big takeaway lesson we’ve learned from this time is that physical symptoms are not just solely the product of physical health concerns. We are now ever more aware that there is an integral link between the mind and body, leading to both positive impacts and challenging ones. While it may be difficult to confront the realities that a pandemic has brought, COVID-19 has taught us about the link between the mind and body.
It is important to acknowledge that this has been a difficult time and that some of the information below can be challenging to read. Here is a link for increased support and guidance for navigating the current circumstances.
Physical Wellness Without Contracting COVID-19
Being quarantined or practicing social distancing can come with more impacts than just being “bored.” Loneliness and worry are powerful emotions that can be felt deep in the soul, but can they also be felt in the body?
Before the term “pandemic” became a common word in our vocabulary, experts were already looking into the negative impacts of social isolation, especially for seniors. A meta-analysis study found that loneliness and lack of connection could have health risks comparable to obesity, air pollution, physical inactivity, or smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. Humans are social creatures, and the connection appears to be a biological need crucial for physical wellness and survival.
Seniors are now at an even greater risk with nursing homes and assisted living centers having to restrict visitor access in order to protect their facilities. This is a challenging dilemma, as social isolation could increase the risk of early death. People are trying to stay healthy through social distancing while needing to mitigate the risk of potential depression, cognitive decline, and cardiovascular issues that can occur at every stage of life from isolation.
Heightened Stress Level
It’s no denying that people are experiencing an increase in their daily stress level. Doing a regular task like grocery shopping may now inspire more anxiety about how close people are and fears of potential contact with the virus.
There is additional stress in the uncertainty of how long the threat of the virus will last as well as the quarantine efforts, how culture will change, how your finances have been affected, and the health of loved ones. In addition, your go-to stress relief may be less accessible now or may be less relaxing than before.
When people are in a state of chronic stress, physical health can be significantly affected. During a stress response, the body’s heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, muscles tense, breathing can become rapid, and digestion is slowed. When this happens, people can frequently experience tension headaches, panic attacks, digestive dysfunction, nausea, and lower libido.
There are also long term impacts such as exacerbated respiratory problems, increased risk for hypertension, heart attack, or stroke. Additionally, long-term effects on the endocrine system may increase the stress hormone cortisol, increasing fatigue and risk for diabetes or obesity.
COVID-19 Toll on Emotional Wellness
As the pandemic has become “the new normal,” it can be easy to forget how many changes or sacrifices that have happened. As a society, there is a pattern of grief about “what could have been” and exhaustion from undergoing global shifts.
Change and Loss
There can be a tendency to minimize personal loss in the wake of the pandemic. Often people say, “Well it could be worse” when referring to missed graduations, canceled vacations, senior year being online, or your favorite establishment closing. However, these changes and losses add up to create noticeable effects on emotional and mental wellness.
This can be especially challenging for children and teens. They miss vital developmental milestones such as the events leading up to graduation, touring college campuses, or engaging in final performances or games from extracurriculars. These milestones are important as adolescents are building independence and developing social and emotional skills. Teens may experience increased anxiety or depression from missing these events.
Experiencing continued adjustment and stressors can increase anyone’s risk for anxiety and depression. This can cause changes to mood, thought processes, motivation, and a variety of physical symptoms. Mental illness is associated with problems with sleep and appetite, lethargy, restlessness, aching muscles or pain, and stomach issues.
Experiencing mental illness makes it difficult to engage in necessary life roles in work, relationships, or school. It can also lead to other unhealthy behaviors such as increased alcohol or drug use over or undereating, especially in a pandemic when there are more social restrictions. Behaviors that attempt to reduce symptoms can then exacerbate symptoms of mental illness.
Substance Use and Misuse
It is a well-known truth that in times of stress, we are driven to employ practiced survival strategies in order to continue on and cope with what happens in our lives. In the wake of this global pandemic, trends suggest that the use of alcohol has been their primary means of coping for many Americans.
Overall, our country has seen a spike in alcohol sales since stay-at-home orders went into place, especially initially, highlighting a clear need for more effective coping strategies. It’s important to notice and pay attention to how we respond to the stresses in our lives, and make sure that it isn’t ultimately leading to a pattern of behavior that is unhelpful to us.
Coupled with concerns about mental illness and the effects of isolation, many individuals face heightened problems on both extremes, mental illness, and substance misuse. They require specialized dual diagnosis treatment to return to a path of health and well-being.
Soothing Stress for Mind and Body Wellness
After reading this, it is understandable to want to throw your hands up in the air. We are in a time when it is easy to feel helpless or overwhelmed. What is important is acknowledging that the pandemic can affect emotional and physical health in various ways and pay attention to it, remembering mental wellness impacts physical health and vice versa.
Here are a few ways to address mind and body stress to help your overall health:
- Breathing. Focusing on your breath by breathing deeply and slowly can be a powerful tool. Breathing in this way can help lower your heart rate and blood pressure as well as calming the brain. At first glance, focusing on your breathing and practicing deep breaths can seem unimpressive or even childish when recommended as a viable treatment option. Still, there is actually so much to be gained by being mindful of your breathing!
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation. The tension and relaxation of muscles can help reduce muscle pain and promote lowering anxiety. There is a script here for you to use and practice for yourself to increase relaxation.
- Eating and Sleeping Habits. Check-in on how many hours of sleep you are getting and what nutrients you have been consuming. Having a balanced diet and a regular sleep schedule can significantly aid you in dealing with stress. In general, having a daily routine for waking, eating, and sleeping helps the body and mind to function at their best.
- Physical Activity. As the body holds much of stress, bringing in movement can be a helpful release. This could look like doing a workout routine or running, or just giving yourself time to stretch your body or go for a walk can still be wonderful supportive activities to add to your daily routine.
- Connection. Make time to talk and commune with others and get support. Find the people you feel like you can be authentic with and make regular time to get together either virtually or with social distancing measures.
- Get Help. This is a difficult time, and it can be vital to receive counseling support. Attending therapy can help to provide a space to process concerns and check in on the state of your thought patterns. In counseling, you are also able to create and tailor a unique plan fitting for your needs.
If you notice yourself or someone you love experiencing increased anxiety or depression during this time or are even noticing that your own drinking habits seem to be getting out of control, now is the time to seek help.
Promises Behavioral Health Drug and Alcohol Rehab Programs
Promises Behavioral Health offers dual diagnosis and drug and alcohol treatment in Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Massachusetts. You can choose the residential addiction treatment center that best suits you, based on your needs and location.
Our recovery centers offer:
- Anxiety treatment
- Depression treatment
- Medical drug detox
- Residential treatment
- Outpatient treatment
- Drug rehab for professionals
- Men’s and women’s addiction treatment
- Non-12-step rehab treatment
We have been on a long road that will have challenges, with good days and tough ones too. Noticing and caring for yourself is essential. If you or someone you know is in need of counseling for support at this time, please reach out to us today or call 844 875 5609!