How COVID-19 stress quietly impacts us

Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – Social distancing, lockdowns, growing unemployment, and economic uncertainty have led to an increase in the need for mental health treatment.

Twenty-five percent of adults say their biggest stressors this year have been social distancing and loneliness.

Forty-eight percent say they hide their feelings if they’re suffering from stress. Our health expert, Karen Owoc, is here to explain how stress quietly affects our health and what you can do about it.

What Is ‘Quiet Stress’?

When we think of stress, we envision shouting, loud outbursts, swearing, and anger. These signs of stress are pretty apparent.

But over half of Californians say they’ve suffered from ‘quiet stress’ this year. That is, there were no loud outbursts, no visible expressions of anger, and tension.

Instead, their stressful feelings have been kept hidden. People under quiet stress will UNDERreact vs. overreact, and there’s a down side.

Quiet stress may sound benign, but it can be the source of many ailments (such as heart disease, lowered immunity, addiction) that you may not readily associate with stress.

The Effects of Quiet Stress

If stress is chronic, it can quietly erode your health. Here are some of the quiet signs stress.

  1. Increased Hair Loss

One type of hair loss is called ‘telogen effluvium’ and is known to happen after chronic stress, a shock, or traumatic event. Hair loss typically occurs about three months AFTER the stressful event.

Hair loss is usually on the top of the scalp, and characterized by an increase in hair shedding.

It’s most noticeable when washing and brushing the hair, or you may find more hairs on your pillow and floor.

The good news: The hair loss is temporary and this hair will usually grow back after the stress is gone. The challenge is getting rid of the stress.

The Fix: Acupressure for stress and anxiety [DEMO] —

  1. Sit back in a comfortable position.
  2. Place your right thumb or forefinger between your eyebrows.
  3. Apply pressure in a circular motion on this point for 5 to 10 minutes. The pressure should be gentle and shouldn’t cause discomfort.

You can do acupressure on this point several times a day, or as needed for your symptom to go away.

  1. Excess Abdominal Fat (even if you’re not overweight)

Stress changes the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) that’s secreted in the body. A Yale University study found that lean women with exaggerated responses to cortisol have abdominal fat.

Abdominal fat (a.k.a. visceral fat) is distributed and stored centrally around the organs vs. at the hips and thighs, which is why it’s so dangerous. This kind of fat is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.

People who are exposed to excessive amounts of cortisol, such as severe recurrent depression and Cushing’s disease, also carry excessive amounts of visceral fat.

The Fix: Exercise to calm down, such as walking outside 30 minutes daily, is one of the best ways to combat reduce chronic stress. Not only will the walking lift up your mood, connecting with nature will have a calming effect.

Practice a healthy lifestyle, which includes getting adequate exercise, relaxation, and sleep.

  1. Erratic Sleep Patterns

People can often have difficulty falling or staying asleep when under stress, particularly when grieving, or under intense work strain.

A good night’s sleep is essential to reduce stress (and levels of cortisol).

The Fix:

• Maintain a consistent sleep schedule.

• Diffuse lavender essential oil an hour or so before going to bed. You can also rub 1-2 drops on your pillow.

• Keep your bedroom is dark, cool, and quiet.

• Wear ear plugs to block out noise.

• Wear a sleep mask. When the brain senses pure darkness, it produces and releases melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain and regulates sleep and wakefulness.

• Melatonin production and release increase when it is dark and decrease when it is light. However, melatonin production declines with age, which could explain why older adults may have more difficulty sleeping.

• Limit stimulants like caffeine to the morning because if you’re a regular coffee drinker, your body may never fully clear the caffeine from your body.

  1. Back Pain

When people experience back pain, they often instinctively assume it’s due to something they did (e.g., exercised improperly, carried or moved something too heavy) or to poor posture.

Under stress, your breathing rate may change and cause more tension. When your shoulders, upper back, and neck tense up, the tension will radiate throughout the full length of your back muscles and spine.

Stress-related back pain is as serious and debilitating as back pain from an injury — especially is it lingers.

The Fix: Practice deep breathing exercises. Stretch slowly to elongate the tense, shortened muscles on a daily basis.

NOTE: Back pain can also be a sign of a heart attack or an impending heart attack. If you are suffering from back pain, and it’s not the result of an injury, then evaluate your level of stress, and see your doctor.

  1. Loss of Appetite

Being stressed can have two opposing effects. It can intensify your drive to eat due to the high levels of cortisol circulating in your bloodstream.

On the flip side, when you’re under stress, you may not feel as hungry because you’re preoccupied with pressing issues, which distract you from the need to eat.

If this continues, a malnourished body will threaten your immune system.

Your body will not be able to function properly with insufficient calories and nutrient-deficient food.

The Fix: Realize how important it is to eat, and if necessary, set alarms to remind yourself to eat AND drink at regular times of the day.

Even a simple meal can make a tremendous difference and cab keep your energy levels and your mood elevated.

  1. Getting Sick More Often

Did you ever notice you get colds more often than others?

According to an analysis of 27 studies, you’re more susceptible to catching a cold when under psychological stress.

An underlying cause of the common cold is cortisol. Excess cortisol depresses your immune system making it more vulnerable to viruses.

The Fix: Incorporate some stress-relieving practices into your routine — massage, acupuncture, meditation — anything that makes you to SLOW down your breathing and slow down your pace.

The Takeaway: Address the stress. You can incorporate these “fixes”, but for long-lasting effects, try to resolve the source of the stress. Coming up next week: Techniques to Calm Down and Release Anxiety.

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