Many of the bloggers I follow are posting “this is what I posted last year at this time” posts and it got me thinking. What did I post in April of 2020? Predictably, a lot! I remember our daughter being home for nearly three months and walking with her every day…sometimes more than once-a-day. I remember when the virus was called Corona virus and then seemingly overnight became COVID-19. I wrote about it all. We were ordered to stay home so I posted about my favorite candle and diffuser home scents. We were all socially distanced so I bloggingly asked “who do you really miss these days?” And I of course wrote the pandemic requisite “United We Band” blog and stressed we weren’t stuck at home, we were safe at home. Turns out we were somewhat stuck at home albeit safe and many of us still are although several states, including mine, have opened up…at least officially. Also turns out all those predicted and promised “few weeks” to “flatten the curve” lasted much longer than expected and we are now learning some of the results of the isolation and lockdowns. Some are good, some are not so good, and some are a bit surprising.
THE QUARANTINE 15
It should come as no surprise that many of us, me included, put on weight in 2020. But, it might be worse than expected.
A survey by the American Psychological Association reported that 61 percent of the adults surveyed reported an undesired weight change…some an undesired weight loss…since the start of the pandemic. In total, more than 40 percent said they gained weight and the average weight gain was 29 pounds.
According to the Trust for America’s Health State of Obesity 2020 report, 42.4 percent of U.S. adults are obese, marking the first time the rate has topped 40 percent. Sadly, childhood obesity is also growing, with nearly 20 percent of those aged 2 to 19 obese. If you add these numbers with the 30.7 percent of adults who are overweight and the nearly 10 percent severely obese, this means 73 percent of the population is either overweight, obese, or severely obese.
Thank you COVID, right? We’ve been homebound for both work and school, bored, unable to participate in many of our favorite physical activities, and food was right there for the taking…either convenient in the pantry or ‘fridge or delivered to our doorstep with a simple push of a button. And now we’re paying the price. I know I am.
It’s important we get a handle on our new love handles, as unhealthy weight increases cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and mental illness. Besides, who wants to buy all new clothes now that we’re finally getting out and getting out of our year-long altheisure wardrobe?! You probably have a closet full of clothes you haven’t worn in months. Get out and wear it and get outside people! Things are opening up and it’s time to get off the overeating treadmill and get on a real one!
IT’S WHAT FOR BREAKFAST…AND MORE
And on that note, a funny thing happened on the way to us gaining weight last year: we seemed to crave breakfast cereal. Connection? I’m thinking yes. It may come across as and odd COVID creature of habit, but it does make sense.
We needed comfort during the stress-filled year and we longed for the good old “normal” days. What better way to serve a bit of nostalgia than to open a box of your favorite childhood cereal? For me that would be either Cocoa Krispies or Frosted Flakes and when I did opt for a bowl of cereal, I wasn’t alone.
Cereal sales jumped almost 10 percent in 2020 and even though that may not seem like a big increase, consider the fact that sales had dropped in both 2019 and 2018. Pretty sure Post and Kellogg’s loved learning that stocking up on non-perishable foods was just one of the many outcomes of not being able to shop for food as often as we were used to pre-pandemic lockdowns. Seemingly overnight shelf-stable foods were equally if not more appealing and considered “smart buys” than all those fresh perishable foods we’d been enjoying.
I have no idea where this trend stands today but I do know I still love those childhood staples.
HAIR TODAY GONE TOMORROW
It’s no secret that we saw lots of gray roots and growing out hair last year, but have you ever heard of telogen effluvium? Me either, but apparently many suffered from it and still are.
TE, as I’ll call it here, is temporary hair loss and excessive shedding due to a shock to one’s nervous system. Yeah, pretty sure we were all living in total shock one year ago and extremely nervous so it’s not shocking that our bodies responded to it all in new and uncommon ways.
The not totally uncommon TE usually begins a few months after someone suffers a stressful or traumatic experience…think even something as joyous as giving birth as many a new mom experiences hair loss. With the pandemic, it’s all about stress and the increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Chronic stress is known to create some annoying and dangerous symptoms and survey after survey has found that increased rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts increased last year. We couldn’t go to work or out to eat. Many lost their jobs and many lost their beloveds. Kids weren’t allowed in schools and churches shut their doors. We couldn’t visit with friends and families and many places of exercise were closed. Any one of these would cause stress and anxiety. We had them all at once. It’s no wonder we lost our minds and lost our hair.
Keep in mind that hair loss is totally normal under normal circumstances. We all shed 50-100 strands of hair each day. But, if you’re losing more than usual and notice clumps falling out, see a specialist. TE is reversible since it’s a hormonal imbalance and not genetic like say alopecia, so any hair loss you’re experiencing is very well temporary. It is, however, a wake-up call that you need to monitor your stress level, improve your diet, socialize safely, and get out in the sun and do some exercise. Be patient though, hair-loss treatments take time, usually three-to-four months, so don’t expect overnight success.
MAN’S BEST FRIEND SHOWS UP
Being forced to socially isolate and be apart from beloved social circles resulted in an abundance of loneliness (more of that in a bit) but that loneliness was somewhat alleviated by none other than man’s best friend.
Shelters, breeders, rescue groups, and pet stores all reported an increase in demand for four-legged people replacers. Pet adoption skyrocketed last year and we all know the health benefits of simply petting a dog much less owning one. And although dogs are my pet of choice, other living beings also proved beneficial, including everything from fish to plants. When real people aren’t available, we all still long to care for someone or something, need a reason for being and having a purpose, and if Fido or Flipper does that, then adopt and purchase away!
NOTHING TO SNEEZE AT
This one pertains mostly to kids; those kids who have been homebound and prevented from going to school and other places where they socialize. Lockdown policies were put in place to protect them but we’re slowly finding out they may adversely affect them down the road. Just ask their immune systems.
Immune systems of children aren’t designed to develop in isolation from the big bad world, which is full of bacteria, parasites, viruses, fungi, and other potentially harmful substances. But, interacting with these microbes is extremely important to build up immune systems. Important components in those immune systems that educate our bodies on how to fight illness and infection are still developing into adolescence, but lockdown and social distancing restrictions are also restricting needed exposure to microbes and thereby restricting fighting them. Yes, we need to prevent the spread of disease and practice proper hygiene, but we also need to allow our immune systems to interact with safe and essential microbes. Sadly, it might be our kids who suffer most from the elimination of this essential process for going on more than a year now.
Since the youngest among us don’t have fully developed immune systems, a year removed from maturing them is now predicted by some to show up sooner rather than later in autoimmune diseases such as asthma and common allergies. Even the air our kids have been breathing has been “masked up,” leading others to predict a future “pandemic youth” will show higher than average rates of allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases. Perhaps it’s time to open up the schools and let kids be kids again.
MY ACHING BACK
This one comes as no surprise: we’ve become a nation of aching bodies. Hmmmm…can’t imagine why. We’ve sat in front of screens for more than a year, all while seeing our physical activity decrease. Enter aching backs, stiff necks, and sore shoulders…and a demand for physical therapy.
Working on laptops while lounging on a sofa, spending day after day slumped over a computer screen, and sitting at stiff and hard kitchen chairs to do homework and spreadsheets have officially taken a toll on our bodies (many of which are also heavier as I wrote about above) and now that we’re peeking outside our homes, physical therapists are hearing cries for help.
In 2020 physical therapy demands dropped dramatically but today many PTs and OTs report practices are almost back to normal thanks in part to pandemic-related injuries. Not only are there the aching backs, there are injuries resulting from trying a new exercise such as running or biking when gyms closed as well as COVID-19 recovery problems. Therapists are seeing both patients with new ailments as well as those whose previous injuries have flared back up.
Doing things we normally do in not normal places has whacked us out, figuratively and physically. We are a society in pain. We are more anxious and more nervous. We are stressed out. Our emotions and brains are stressed and so are our bodies. The answer? It’s a simple one: keep moving! Your mind, body, and spirit will thank you.
In an odd twist of fate, as our bodies slowed down during the past 12 months, our minds have perhaps been busier than ever and raced. Maybe you’ve had trouble focusing or experience increased wandering of the mind. Perhaps your dreams have become more frequent and vivid or worse, you’re having more nightmares. Not to worry; it’s all related to lockdown brain fog.
Recent months of isolation and monotony have resulted in both mental downtime and a roaming mind. During “normal” times, we are usually mostly oblivious when our minds wander but when we lose control of practically everything – like we did last year – we notice everything and are more in tune with our minds, mindfulness, and wandering minds. It’s not a total bad thing though.
Our inner mental lives are important and it never hurts to pay attention to them. Mind wandering can help us make new connections and see familiar things in a whole new way and discover new things. It’s pretty safe to say we all gained new perspectives in 2020. Maybe we learned we actually prefer working from home. Maybe we didn’t miss all those “friends” we thought we would. Maybe we discovered new hobbies, books, playlists, or podcasts.
Sadly, those same minds have experienced more stress, anxiety, and worry, all of which are often linked to increased repetitive thoughts, zoning out, and rumination. We in turn are restless, are rest deprived, and own restless minds. Maybe you’re one of those who all of sudden doesn’t need an alarm clock or find yourself napping in the middle of the day when you never really had since you were forced to as a child. Restless minds both wander aimlessly and have spontaneous thoughts, the latter of which may help us plan better and make decisions more decisively. Spontaneous thoughts also help us process memories, both good and bad ones but when our minds wander our thoughts are often drawn to the future…a future we are all hoping is better and brighter.
THE EYES HAVE IT
I clearly remember hearing we were all going to have to wear masks but they were hard to come by. There was much debate as to whether home-made versions were really effective and talk of doctors not being able to access N95s was rampant. Now, a year later, most of us are still masked up and you can buy them everywhere.
Some are wearing masks sporting everything from sporting teams to cartoons, flowers to messages. Others are content with simple black versions or those blue “surgical” style ones. Whatever ones are chosen, they’re said to prevent the sharing of the virus but they also mask personalities and prevent true connection.
Just yesterday in church something very random crossed my mind and I leaned over and asked my husband about it, which made him give me a “WTH, we’re in mass!” look, which got us both giggling. I quietly chuckled so hard that my eyes teared up and as I wiped the joyful tears away I thought to myself, “people may think I’m crying because they can’t see my smiling face under my mask.” That, made me sad.
Masks erase and hide some of our most expressive features. We’ve all had to adjust to a new normal where faces were concealed by masks but it has also forced us to look into each other’s eyes. And that’s a small good thing. They are, after all, windows to the soul. Sometimes those eyes have looked fearful, sometimes happy, and sometimes sad. In the end, we just miss seeing anyone…really seeing them… and it’s time to open our eyes to getting out, going out, and being out.
During the past year we’ve all become familiar with many new words and phrases including WFH, contact tracing, herd immunity, flatten the curve, and social distancing. One you may not be as familiar with is “she-cession,” which is an emblematic term referring to the fact that under COVID-19 restrictions and job displacement, women left the workforce at nearly four times the rate of men. You know it’s serious and prevalent when a new word is coined.
There’s so much more to this topic than can be addressed in this small space, but just know that many women stepped away from their jobs or were laid off to manage homeschooling their children and take care of their families during truly unprecedented times. Maybe they just wanted to be home with their kids. Maybe their spouse’s income was more substantial and needed than theirs. Maybe they had no choice and were true victims of a pandemic.
Whatever the case, the wage gap is ebbing closer and closer to what it was 20 years ago and men are more likely to say working from home has positively impacted their careers. At the end of 2019, back when we had no idea what was looming, more than half of American jobs were held by women. We need to make sure that is the desired state at the end of this year.
ALONE AND LONELY
And now the biggie…loneliness took hold of this country in a big way last year and we are only now beginning to see the repercussions.
In a word, social isolation has taken its toll on society. People are by nature social creatures and while restrictive measures were put in place to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, they also reduced the spread of what we all really need and crave: genuine person-to-person contact and communication. This lack – an undeniably long-term and unhealthy lack – of vital human interaction may be affecting us more deeply than we know or could ever imagine. FaceTime and Zoom calls were fun and novel at first, but quickly wore thin. No amount of them could replace a hug from grandma or a kiss from someone dear.
Yes, we all feel loneliness at various points in our lives but it’s usually short-lived and temporary. This collective bout of loneliness feels never-ending and sadly, when loneliness hits, it can be devastating.
- Many aren’t sleeping well. Many are self-medicating. Others have taken to drinking more.
- Anxiety and depression commonly characterize loneliness and their numbers skyrocketed last year. More than half of American adults said their mental health has suffered because of the pandemic. Prescriptions for antidepressants shot up 14 percent after the initial outbreak.
- Suicides and drug overdoses have far surpassed the death rate for COVID-19 among high school students, an age that’s all about socializing.
- In Japan, suicide claimed more lives in October than 10 months of COVID.
- Those suffering from loneliness have a higher risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, a weakened immune system (not good during a pandemic!), and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Before the pandemic, the elderly was cited among those hardest hit by loneliness and it’s this same age group that was slammed by the virus as well as the resulting isolation and loneliness. Images of nursing homes cut off from the world will likely forever haunt generations to come. People who fail to find meaningful connection for an extended period of time often give up. They stop trusting others and experience deep shame over their inability to connect. They are lonely but their fears and uncertainties prevent them from fixing it. They literally shut down.
Television is rarely a go-to recommendation for much, but during lockdowns it did prove helpful in the effort to ward off loneliness. Many turned to it to alleviate boredom and to have a voice of some kind permeating through their home, giving the illusion of company and companionship. TV has also provided a way for us to go somewhere and escape our inescapable isolation. We also turned to TV to stay informed about the virus. We’ve learned however, that not all TV is a good prescription for loneliness. Most would agree that today’s news is probably the worst place to go for any sense of encouragement and can actually worsen loneliness with its incessant parade of negativity, division, violence, and fear. You’re better off sticking to old school comedies and movies and even a touch of silly reality TV than news reports about how horrible this country is.
We may never know the real long-term effects of our extended social distancing and isolation but we do know the resulting loneliness is hard on the mind and the body and that there is a real connection between isolation and pain. Most predict those affects will be far-reaching and very, very damaging.
So, as you go about your day today masked or unmasked, enjoy that bowl of cereal, pet your pet or water your plant, look people in the eyes, and reach out to those who need a friend. It’s now up to all of us to stay healthy and get healthy. We know the results of both of those are healthy and good.