Patients who are infected with COVID-19 but survive continue their battle with the novel virus in unexpected ways. Some have permanent lung or heart damage, while others find themselves battling ongoing fatigue. With the emphasis on active cases and survivors, the lasting effects of the pandemic on the mental and physical health of the population are often overlooked.
The disruption the pandemic has brought to daily living on a global scale is unprecedented. Businesses and schools closed, and individuals were forced to weigh the risk of engaging in essential tasks like trips to the grocery store. Shortages of food and other vital products were commonplace, increasing the stress and anxiety people were already feeling.
Six months into the quest to flatten the curve, the indirect effects of the pandemic on our mental and physical well-being is beginning to surface.
The Prevalence of Mental Health Needs
Social distance and isolation are taking their toll. A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals the effects these mitigation measures are having on mental health.
In June, 40 percent of adults polled reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse. Of those, 31 percent indicated symptoms of anxiety or depression, while 13 percent admitted to starting or increasing substance use as a coping mechanism. Another 11 percent revealed they gave serious consideration to suicide.
Equally troubling is the effect the lockdowns and ongoing social distancing is having on children. The social distancing and isolation of children require a total change in the psychosocial environment to which they are accustomed. Forcing these new measures can result in higher rates of suicide and other mental health emergencies for children and teens.
Children who are isolated from their peers for long periods are more prone to suicide. With many schools across the country staying closed for the start of the new school year, and the cancellation of many sports seasons, isolation for many children will continue into the foreseeable future.
COVID and Obesity
Maintaining mental health is not the only concern when exploring the long-term indirect health effects of COVID-19. Too much time indoors, coupled with easy access to food and snacks, is creating concerns about obesity. A study published in Obesity in April indicates childhood obesity worsened during global lockdowns due to alterations in diet, sleep, and physical activity.
With summer camps, sports, and other outdoor activities restricted during the pandemic, pediatricians are concerned that the change in eating habits and levels of physical activity might lead to a future increase in childhood obesity.
The urge to overeat, along with the lack of physical activity, is not an issue that affects only adolescents. Closure of gyms, adult sports leagues, and other group physical activities is increasing the risk of obesity in adults as well.
It is important to find ways to resist the urge to over-eat and to stay active during the pandemic. Following dietary guidelines and physical activity recommendations are key to preventing obesity and other health-related issues.
There are several ways to keep active and fit during the pandemic.
- Get creative about physical activity. With some indoor facilities closed and public outdoor spaces becoming more crowded, thinking outside the box is required. Use your body weight to build and maintain lean muscle mass, which burns calories. Turn the radio on and dance to your favorite music for at least 30 minutes. Incorporate yoga or pilates into your routine using home videos or streaming workouts.
- Go old school. Break out the bicycle or jump rope and get back to enjoying fitness in a safe, socially-distanced way. Add in a few old-school pushups, jumping jacks, and burpees for a full-body workout.
- Try an exergame. If you love video gaming, playing an “exergame” can help keep you fit. There are several options for exercise gaming, including dance routines and sports simulators.
Addiction on the Rise
The use of drugs and alcohol to cope during the pandemic is part of the CDC’s ongoing analysis of the indirect effects of COVID-19 on society. With depression on the rise, more people are turning to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and control feelings of anxiety.
Other addictions surfaced during the pandemic, including online gambling. With people spending more time indoors, the lure of virtual betting and other online gaming can be irresistible. Roughly 2 million people in the U.S. alone are labeled with severe gambling problems, with another 4 to 6 million considered mild to moderate. Studies show the brain similarly reacts to gambling as drugs and alcohol, producing the same kind of euphoria that prompts our brains to want to engage in the behavior repeatedly.
Individuals struggling with a gambling addiction can locate a counselor near them.
Online Educational Resources
Online resources are a great way to educate ourselves about the hidden long-term health effects of COVID-19. Whether you are interested in pursuing a health career or simply learning more about how to protect your own health and well-being, online courses provide the tools you need from the convenience of your home.
Oli is a working mum who has a passion for teaching and all educational things. With a background in marketing, Oli manages the digital channels and content at Courses.com.au.