A pandemic lockdown means well by protecting a community as a whole from a contagious disease, but it has negative side effects, too. After all, we’ve spent more time indoors, unable to visit with friends and loved ones, juggling work and virtual learning with the kids, and, for many, working in less-than-ideal conditions. With vaccination underway, the country may not need to impose new lockdowns, but the effects have been building. Learn about the health symptoms of lockdown, including lockdown isolation and anxiety, and how to cope with lockdown health effects.
With “safer-at-home” orders and social distancing recommendations in place, many people have found themselves home alone much more than ever before. In fact, according to a report from the AARP Foundation and United Health Foundation, two-thirds of U.S. adults reported experiencing social isolation during the pandemic. Of those adults, half reported the social isolation led to a lack of motivation and 37% say it has made them feel depressed. According to the report, the health effects of social isolation can be worse than obesity, and prolonged isolation could be as detrimental as smoking 15 cigarettes each day.
Per the AARP Foundation/United Health Foundation study, 66% of adults stated the pandemic has increased their anxiety level. This heightened anxiety can lead to excessive worry, trouble sleeping, feelings of nervousness, trouble concentrating, and panic attacks. Unfortunately, most adults (and children) are not seeking out support for these higher levels of anxiety. In fact, only 11% of adults say they sought out help from a medical professional when feeling down or sad, according to the AARP Foundation/United Health Foundation report.
Not surprisingly, working from home, juggling virtual learning with the kids (or even a “pod” of kids), and limited social interaction can all play a role in elevating your stress levels. Throw in financial concerns and worries over job security, and stress becomes a constant companion. This stress can manifest itself in many ways from tight muscles to headaches to trouble sleeping to stomach problems. It also can worsen chronic health problems and mental health conditions.
Stress and anxiety manifest in many ways, including headaches. As such, more people are experiencing an increasing number of headaches during the pandemic. According to a study published in the September 2020 issue of The Journal of Headache and Pain, 59.6% of respondents reported an increase in migraine frequency with 10.3% experiencing chronic migraine. In addition, 64.1% of all respondents say the severity of their migraine headaches have increased. Check in with your doctor if you’re struggling controlling your headaches or migraine symptoms.
During the pandemic, millions of workers traded their office workstations for the kitchen table, the couch, or a favorite chair. That also meant they no longer had their ergonomic chair for support and their computer screen was no longer at eye level. Instead, they sat hunched over a laptop. As a result, more people are experiencing back pain and tight shoulder and neck muscles.
Many people who were fortunate enough to work from home are starting to return to the workplace. But for some, working from home may become the new normal. Working on a laptop at the kitchen table or on the couch likely means you are not maintaining proper posture and ergonomics to keep your hands and wrists healthy. The result is carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes numbness, tingling or weakness in your hand. This can interfere with using your hand throughout the day and even your sleep at night. Severe cases of carpal tunnel may require surgery. If not treated, it could result in permanent nerve damage and loss of strength.
With closed gyms and “safer-at-home” guidance, many people have spent less time getting some exercise and more time on the couch. As a result, they are experiencing reduced movement and flexibility. For many people, this can be improved with daily walks or simple exercises, such as stretching, sit-ups, and jumping jacks. For older people, though, that loss of movement and flexibility could affect their gait and lead to increased weakness. While daily walking could lead to improvement, there is the possibility of an unsupervised fall that could result in injury. Invest in a walking stick or hiking poles if you need stability to safely walk outdoors. Advance to a walker or even a wheelchair if necessary.
Throughout the pandemic, not only are people spending more time looking at screens as they work from home, but they also are watching more TV as they binge the latest streaming hits. In doing so, though, many people are feeling the effects of all that screen time in their eyes. When looking at a screen, people tend to blink less often, which results in less moisture in our eyes. Eyes start to dry out and become scratchy and itchy, which, in turn, can lead to blurry vision. A dry environment can further aggravate your eyes. Remember the 20-20-20 rule: Look away from your screen every 20 minutes for 20 seconds at something 20 feet away.
Although a self-imposed or ordered lockdown feels overwhelming, there are many healthy ways you can cope to boost your mental and physical health. One of the best ways is to turn off the news and social media. It’s always a good idea to limit screen time in the best of times, but that’s especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting regular exercise and plenty of sleep can also go a long way in reducing stress and anxiety. Eating a healthy diet and limiting or avoiding alcohol and tobacco also can reduce the negative effects of lockdown.