Not feeling like yourself? The surprising impact of the pandemic on your health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone. Even if you didn’t get sick with COVID this year, the world turned upside-down. We’re taking a closer look at the surprising impacts of the pandemic on your health -- and what you can do about it.
The far-reaching impact of COVID-19
When COVID-19 started spreading in the United States, life changed for everyone. Seemingly overnight, schools, businesses, and sports began shutting down. Words like “social distancing” and “flatten the curve” became part of our vocabulary. We implemented new habits like wearing a mask, frequently washing our hands, and many began to work and attend school remotely. Many of us even got sick with COVID-19, and some even lost loved ones this year. The pandemic will have long-lasting and far-reaching effects on all of our lives.
Reasons you may not be feeling your best
You may be surprised to learn is that even if you avoided contracting COVID, the pandemic has probably impacted your health. Even as we get back to more normal activities and the world begins to reopen, you may not be feeling quite like yourself. Here are some ways your health may have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Long-term effects of COVID-19 infection
If you were infected with COVID-19, you may still be dealing with long-term effects several weeks or months after you recovered. Post-COVID conditions occur in people who had severe illnesses as well as those with more mild infections. Scientists are studying the impact of post-COVID conditions, which include:1
- Brain fog (difficulty thinking clearly or concentrating)
- Continued loss of taste or smell
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Lingering cough
- Body aches or muscle pain
While you’re generally no longer contagious with COVID ten days after the onset of symptoms, you may feel the effects of your infection long after that. If you still don’t feel like yourself four weeks or longer after your COVID infection, you may have “long COVID”.
According to the American Psychological Association, 61% of adults report that undesired changes in their weight since the outbreak of COVID-19. The average weight gain was 29 pounds a person, and 10 percent of survey participants said they gained more than 50 pounds.2
Weight gain impacts more than just your waistline. While many may joke about their “Quarantine 15”, pandemic weight gain is no laughing matter. Weight gain of more than ten pounds can lead to an increased likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke. It can also impact your quality of life and make it harder to do the things you love.3
While some people did manage to lose weight and adopt more healthy habits during the pandemic, you may be among the many who gained a few pounds. Whether the stress and uncertainty of the past year caused you to snack more than usual, you weren’t able to go to your favorite class at the gym, or you enthusiastically took up baking as a hobby, those pandemic pounds aren’t benign and may be the reason you’re not feeling your best.
In the middle of March 2020, schools closed for the rest of the semester, and classes met virtually. Additionally, many offices transitioned to remote work environments. Churches, restaurants, gyms, and stores temporarily closed. While we’ve learned how to safely reopen, especially as the vaccine becomes more widely distributed, many of us have experienced lasting changes to the way we live and work.
Many people lost jobs due to COVID-19, and others - especially women - left the workforce. This number was greatest for women with children under the age of ten, and 2020 saw more women leave the workplace than men.4 And according to Pew Research, only 20% of US adults worked from home before the coronavirus outbreak, but 54% would want to work from home after the outbreak ended.5
In the past year, we’ve learned to work, school, shop, and gather differently. Snow days may be a thing of the past as virtual schooling options provide more flexibility for education. But many also report “Zoom fatigue” and difficulty getting work done without interruptions at home.
Whether the pandemic led you to a job change, remote work, or unemployed, a lifestyle change can have surprising effects on your health. You may find yourself living a more sedentary lifestyle, struggling from new aches and pains (especially if your couch has become your desk), or you may find that you’re feeling more isolated and lonely. And job loss can lead to increased stress, which also impacts your overall health.
Burnout and stress
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is an occupational syndrome that results from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The WHO also says that burnout is characterized by depleted energy or exhaustion, negative feelings or cynicism towards your job, and a reduced ability to get things done.6
And even if you aren’t experiencing burnout in your job, you may be able to relate to one or more of these characteristics in other areas of your life. Increased or changing work responsibilities, maintaining vigilance during the pandemic, and other major life changes can lead to overall feelings of burnout.
The chronic stress of living life in a pandemic can also take its toll on your mental and physical wellbeing. Long-term effects of stress can lead to many health problems, including:7
- Muscle aches and pains
- Chest pain
- Stomach upset
- Sleep problems
- Change in sex drive
- Lack of focus
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
Stress impacts every system of your body. And many tools people use to manage their stress haven’t been available during the pandemic; gyms have been closed, it’s been difficult to get together with family and friends safely, and time spent on stress-relieving activities has been reallocated. If you’ve been feeling increased levels of stress this year, that stress can impact your body as well as your mind.
Grief and loss
At the time of publication, more than half a million people have lost their lives to COVID-19 in the United States. If you’ve lost a loved one this past year, your grief can also impact your mental and physical health. Your body experiences grief as stress and the health impacts of stress are extensive. Grief can also cause you to experience depression, anxiety, and loss of sleep or appetite.8
You may also have experienced other forms of loss due to the pandemic, including job loss, loss of in-person events, or loss of milestones such as graduations, weddings, family reunions, and even funerals. These losses are still significant, and you may experience feelings of grief with these as well.
Don’t neglect your health
After a year of intense focus on COVID-19, it’s time to start focusing on your overall health. If you’ve experienced life changes due to the pandemic, your body and health may have been impacted in ways that you can’t immediately see. But you don’t have to solve these problems on your own. Your primary care doctor can help you identify health impacts from the past year and help you develop a proactive plan to get you feeling more like yourself.
At MedHelp, we care about the health of your body, mind, and spirit. Whether you have an urgent care need or you’re just not feeling like yourself, our urgent care and primary care doctors can help. If it’s been a while since you last saw your primary care doctor, schedule an appointment today. And if you don’t have a primary care doctor, we can help you choose one that fits your schedule and your needs. Walk-ins are always welcome for urgent care visits.
1 Centers for Disease Control: Post-covid conditions. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
2 American Psychological Association: One year later, a new wave of Pandemic health concerns. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
3 Kawachi I. Physical and psychological consequences of weight gain. J Clin Psychiatry. 1999;60 Suppl 21:5-9. PMID: 10548135.
4 McKinsey and Company: Seven charts that show COVID-19's impact on women's employment. March 8, 2021. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
5 PEW Research: How the Coronavirus Outbreak Has – and Hasn’t – Changed the Way Americans Work. Parker, K., Horowitz, J., and Minkin, R. December 9, 2020. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
6 World Health Organization: Burn-out an "occupational phenomenon": International Classification of Diseases. May 28, 2019. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
7 The Mayo Clinic: Stress Symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
8 Centers for Disease Control: COVID-19: Grief and loss. Retrieved April 10, 2021.