What Is the COVID Lockdown Doing to Our Bodies?

4 min read

Video Producer: Hera Khan

Video Editor: Varun Sharma/Ashutosh Bhardwaj

Ask yourself: have you felt more lethargic lately, tired all the time despite less physical activity like walking or going to your workplace or out with friends?

Being isolated and confined to one place for days on end has real impact on the human body.

Our mental health is in a tizzy - with high cases of anxiety, depression, stress and more reported - but so is our physical health.

From quarantine constipation to fatigue and lowered immunity, our physical health has also taken a hit.

If you are one of the privileged ones to be at home, you know the drill. We stare at our phones the whole day getting bombarded with news and new content, games, apps, and more.

“Even for work, we are not used to being so hyper focussed in meetings,” says Dr Kamna Chibber, a clinic phycologist at Fortis Hospital. We could let our eyes wander and we were still present, but without that physical presence, we need to maintain a constant connection to retain the information and show we are attentive.

“Earlier, we had cues from all our senses, now there are limited to sight and sound. These are overburdened, we aren’t used to relying on them alone, and so we are exhausted.”
Dr Kamna Chibber

This is How Lockdowns Impact Your Body

Mental and physical health are as interconnected as your body and mind.

Depression often results in insomnia, weight fluctuations from eating too much or too less, fatigue and more sensitivity to pain, reports Healthline.

Moreover, anxiety is famously linked to the gut- when you’re anxious, the pit you feel in your stomach is real, and feelings of constipation, loose motions, cramps and stomachaches are a natural body response.

Psychoneuroimmunology has a long history, and studies like these prove that mental issues and prolonged stress can weaken your body’s defences and translate to an actual reduction in immunity.

This is especially dangerous in a pandemic where COVID-19 hits harder on those with weaker immune systems.

Dr Chibber says that our body has three typical stages of responses in the face of a stressor:

  1. The alarm phase, which is fight or flight: Your body releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol and your heart races as you prepare to fight or flee. A prolonged feeling of increased stress, however, can put you at serious risk.
  2. The maintenance phase: You try to cope, if your central nervous system senses the danger is over, your hormones will get the signal to go back to normal. But this doesn't happen, the response will stay.
  3. Exhaustion: Prolonged stressors lead to the final stage of exhaustion- where the reaction keeps for a long time and other health complications arise.

For a short while, anxiety and stress can move your immunity but if this state of tension persists, it can have the opposite effect. The stress hormone cortisol switches off the parts of our immune system that fight infections and prevents the release of substances that cause inflammation. So people with chronic anxiety disorders are more vulnerable to colds and other infections. In the times of COVID-19 with extended stress and chances of lower immunity, the threat to our lives becomes more real.

Mental Health and Your Body

  • Cardiovascular system: A study by King’s College London linked major depression to cardiovascular disease. Stress increases the blood pumped and raises your blood pressure.
  • Respiratory system: When stressed, your breath quickens to quickly distribute oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. If you have a respiratory condition like asthma this can make it difficult to breathe
  • Digestive system: We know that diabetes is a risk factor for COVID-19, but a study points out that if a person has diabetes and depression, the depression can actually make symptoms of diabetes worse. When stressed, your body produces extra glucose for more energy, but for when prolonged your body finds it difficult to keep this level of blood sugar up and this increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Anxiety - and the surge of hormones - can lead to heartburn due to increased stomach acid, and nausea, stomachs and diarrhoea.
  • Reproductive system: Your menstrual system is thrown out of sync with prolonged stress due to the hormonal imbalance leading to delayed, missed or heavier periods. Stress often results in lower libido.
  • Muscular system: Your body tightens up when stressed, and for extended periods to time, this can turn to body aches and even headaches.

Loneliness Has Real Effects on Our Bodies

While we like to divide ourselves into binaries of extroverts and introverts, human beings are inherently social. Another thing that we fundamentally enjoy? Choice. Take these two away and most people in the global lockdown are increasingly lonely.

Despite the rise in telecommunication and virtual connections, our negative feelings of isolation are compounded. And again, the strain of loneliness shows in our bodies.

In senior citizens - who are already vulnerable in COVID-19 - loneliness can increase their existing medical conditions like cardiovascular diseases.

Loneliness affects our sleep, our eating habits, our metabolism, and all of this puts our body into a funk.

Dr Chibber said that there is hope at the end of the tunnel - even if we don’t know when this particular tunnel will end.

“Accept the uncertainty, right now this is a strange time and the feelings we have are normal. Focus on what you can control.”

It’s important to heal your health holistically - from out to in. So create routines, exercise and work on social connections to help your mental and physical health.

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