The COVID-19 pandemic, and the stress that has come with it, have changed our lives in many ways. Those changes can take a toll on your health, both physically and mentally. But you can do a few things to limit their effects.
Many aspects of the pandemic can make you more anxious or worried than usual. If you have trouble sleeping or notice changes in your appetite or energy, it's a good idea to take breaks from the news and social media and find time for hobbies and exercise, even if it's just doing some stretching or taking a daily walk.
The hardships caused by the pandemic can be even tougher to deal with if you feel isolated because of social distancing. If you feel sad, hopeless, or cranky a lot of the time, it's important to connect with friends or family and talk about how you're feeling. If you feel down for several days, or you have thoughts of hurting yourself, reach out to your doctor or a mental health hotline for help.
Anxiety can affect you physically, too. Headaches and migraines are among the most common symptoms caused by worry and uncertainty during the pandemic. In addition to unplugging and being more active, meditation or breathing exercises can help ease your stress.
Thinning or falling clumps of hair can be a troubling sign of pandemic stress, but it's only temporary. It happens when more hairs than usual go into the "shedding phase" at the same time. You may start to notice it 2 to 3 months after the stress kicks in, and that it stops after the stress eases up.
If your jaw feels sore or your teeth hurt or are sensitive, you might be clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth without knowing it. Stress can cause this, and it usually happens when you're asleep or concentrating really hard. Along with muscle-relaxing exercises, your dentist also might recommend that you sleep with a mouth guard.
Washing your hands is an important part of curbing the spread of COVID-19, but doing it often can break down the natural oils that protect your hands and dry them out. If you notice that your hands are drier than usual, especially if you have a condition like eczema, try using a smaller amount of soap, and warm water instead of hot. When you're done, pat your hands with a towel, then use hand cream or petroleum jelly right away.
During the pandemic, screens have become a connection to the outside world, whether it's a monitor for work, a TV for entertainment, or a phone for social media. But spending too much time in front of one can lead to burning, itchy, watery eyes and even blurry or double vision. To protect yourself, turn off overhead lights to ease glare, make sure your corrective lenses are the right prescription, use artificial tears to help with dry eyes, and be sure to take frequent breaks.
During the pandemic, several things have made it easier to put on extra pounds, like working from home, exercising less, and stress-related snacking. Don't be too hard on yourself, but if you feel like you need to get a handle on your eating habits, you can make a weekly plan for meals and snacks, keep track of what you eat each day, or, if you work from home, go to the kitchen only when you can sit and enjoy food.
Bad habits are even harder to ditch with time on your hands and few distractions. Whether it's drinking alcohol, smoking, or playing video games for hours on end, it's easy to slip and miss (or ignore) the warning signs. If you're doing something in secret or a loved one has tried to talk to you about it, it's probably time to cut back. If you have trouble breaking an unhealthy habit, your doctor can help.
The dining table or kitchen counter isn't necessarily a good substitute for the ergonomic workstation in your office. Over time, sitting in a slouched position or having your monitor at the wrong height can damage parts of your spine and cause all kinds of neck and back issues. It's best to designate a work area and follow guidelines to make it as comfortable as possible. And don't forget to get up and walk around often.
A comfortable work setup is important for other parts of your body, too. Make sure the height of your chair is set so that your forearms are level with your keyboard. Keep your keyboard flat or tilted away from you (never toward you). It's also a good idea to take breaks and shake your wrists often. It can help to keep your hands warm, too.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
- Depression and Anxiety: "Rising Tide: Responding to the Mental Health Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic."
- CDC: "Coping With Stress."
- New York Presbyterian: "How to Avoid Depression During the Coronavirus Outbreak."
- Cleveland Clinic: "Tips for Managing Pandemic Headaches."
- American Academy of Dermatology Association: "Can COVID-19 Cause Hair Loss?"
- United Kingdom National Health Service: "Overview: Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)."
- UCLA Health: "COVID-19: How to Care for Dry Hands After Washing Them So Much," "Ergonomics for Prolonged Sitting."
- Mayo Clinic: "Eyestrain."
- University of Missouri Health Care: "Pandemic Weight Gain -- It's a Thing."
- AMITA Health: "Are You Slipping Into Unhealthy Quarantine Habits?"
- PIH Health: "Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the Office."