How the virus turned our lives upside down
The pandemic is horrifying enough. Yet we are also seeing very real and very dangerous serious side effects resulting not from the virus but from the isolation, distancing, and stress. This is true for all of us but especially so for anyone with chronic health conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure.
With the world in the grip of a deadly virus, our lives are on lock down. We’re isolating ourselves at home, social distancing, quarantining, and staying clear of restaurants and movie theaters and concerts and coffee houses. And avoiding one another. That intense and lengthy isolation is inflicting a terrible toll on our physical and mental health.
As our families and businesses and social lives suffer, our anxiety levels rise. At the same time, our daily lives don’t even feel like lives anymore. Far too many of us are also struggling to just pay rent and put food on the table. Others are facing violence that turns home life into living nightmares. Meanwhile, a virus that just won’t quit is killing record numbers of us in our own communities and around the country. This upside down world all looks the same but affects us in deeply troubling ways.
Some of the health threats are right in front of us every day. Others wait for us down the road. Being healthy when this all started last year is no longer any sort of guarantee something serious isn’t brewing inside us right now. We need to wear masks and distance and wash our hands, of course, but we also must take care of ourselves.
This pandemic within the pandemic is hitting us hard in our hearts. For example, doctors are reporting increases in stress-induced cardiomyopathy — also known as broken heart syndrome. This is detailed in a recent study in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Increases in serious heart problems are the result of pandemic stress. In this way the emotional and physical stresses around us can keep one’s heart muscle from pumping, resulting in symptoms like that of a heart attack, including shortness of breath, chest pain or palpitations. Though this type of stress alone generally doesn’t result in blockages of your heart, you should contact your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms along with dizziness, fainting, or shortness of breath. You could have a serious heart issue.
A May 2020 study in The American Journal of Physiology reports, “Confinement-induced decreases in physical activity levels and increases in sedentary behavior may provoke a rapid deterioration of cardiovascular health and premature deaths among populations with cardiovascular risks.” For people already at risk due to factors like diet, weight, smoking, or family history, our current pandemic is an unprecedented and dangerous scenario. Fitbit – the company that sells wearable devices that track physical activity levels of 30 million users – reports a large reduction in step counts ranging from 7% to 38% in almost all countries when compared to the same time period last year.
Solitude and Loneliness
It takes very little effort to find high quality evidence on the impact of isolation. One study published in The National Library of Medicine found isolation increased the risk of premature death from all causes while also increasing the prevalence of disease. Current evidence, in fact, indicates that heightened risk of death from a lack of social relationships is greater than that from obesity. Though our devices keep us connected in some ways, the real need for human connection is clearly not fulfilled in a world that is social-distancing.
Over half of Americans are feeling some adverse effects caused by pandemic stress, according to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Sleepless nights. Headaches. Stomachaches. Irregular menstruation. Depression. Anxiety. Mood swings. Anger. Nightmares. The stresses we’re under are causing physical changes in our bodies that can affect nearly every part of us. Even dentists are reporting increases in patient grinding their teeth, leading to tooth fractures and jaw problems. And doctors are seeing patients with physical symptoms for which there’s no obvious cause.
For older people, the health risks are especially burdensome. They’re not only subject to increased risk of death from COVID itself but also more likely to have greatly increased risks due to chronic health factors. They’re also more likely to suffer from intense loneliness from being shut in (in care facilities and in their own homes), from feelings of worthlessness, and from ageism itself.
The good news is we’ve got you covered. Our Southwest Health clinics in Platteville and Cuba City are home to the region’s strongest team of primary care practitioners. They are a remarkable team of experts who can help you stay on the path to your best you. During the pandemic and beyond!
Visit your doctor. Schedule a checkup, or make time to talk with a health professional about your risks, your struggles during this turbulent time, and find out how this pandemic is affecting your health. This could be the most important doctor visit you ever make. You won’t be sorry, and you may, in the end, be really thankful you did.