Working from home and having all the time in the world to bake/garden/do your laundry may have sounded like a dream a month ago, if it weren't for the pandemic that necessitated it. For millions in coronavirus-induced isolation, being stuck at home can have a real impact on mental health — but it can influence your physical health, too. The coronavirus quarantine can affect your body in multiple ways, from straining your neck to stressing out your heart.
"Uncertainty and change can lead to negative effects on our physical health if not managed properly," Dr. Regina Benjamin, M.D., former U.S. Surgeon General and member of the American Heart Association Board of Directors, tells Bustle. "You may be experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, and fear which can lead to adverse effects for your cardiovascular health." Long-term activation of the body’s stress response system means that you're exposed to stress hormones like cortisol for extended periods, and that can put you at risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Stress might also be messing with your body's sleep cycles, which can open the door to illness. "Quarantine isolation and extra time at home likely has a lot of people thrown off their usual sleep routine," Dr. Benjamin says. Confinement at home and anxiety about coronavirus might make you sleep-deprived or restless at night, and being chronically tired is a risk for diabetes and heart disease.
Lower levels of physical activity can also create issues. "Staying at home in quarantine for substantial amounts of time can make it difficult to remain physically active," Dr. Seema Sarin, M.D., internal medicine specialist at EHE Health, tells Bustle. "An individual’s physical health and quality of life can deteriorate from sedentary behavior and low levels of physical activity." Lack of movement long-term can weaken muscles and joints, and also raise your likelihood of various illnesses. Regular exercise has been linked to lower risk of conditions like diabetes and kinds of cancer, which is why it's a good idea to stick on a workout livestream or a Spotify playlist and dance around your living room till you sweat.
Self-isolation may also throw off your posture, with knock-on effects. "Working from home during quarantine without a correct office set up can lead to significant back, spine, and neck problems," Dr. Sarin says. "Having your head tilted forward and down during the day can cause pressure on the upper spine, leading to serious damage." The spine is only supposed to support about 10 to 12 pounds, she says. Bad posture day after day can lead to herniated discs, nerve inflammation, or annoying back pain. She recommends standing up and going for a walk between Zoom calls if you can, and trying to set up a real desk to prevent straining your back.
Simple stuff can help you if you're feeling your body struggling. Get moving when you can, eat nourishing foods when possible, and try to sleep when your body needs rest. "Practicing mindfulness and meditation may help you manage stress and high blood pressure, sleep better, feel more balanced and connected, and even lower your risk of heart disease," Dr. Benjamin says. Keep in touch with your healthcare providers if you have a history of chronic illnesses, make sure you have all the medications you need, and pay attention to your body. It's getting through this day by day, just like the rest of us.
Dr. Regina Benjamin, M.D.
Dr. Seema Sarin M.D.