It was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020, that the Covid-19 is officially a pandemic after affecting 114 countries in just three months and infecting almost 118,000 people. Seven months later, the number is nowhere close to what it was in March. It is nowhere close to dying down unless a vaccine is released.
The COVID-19 outbreak is still evolving worldwide and is termed a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). And to avoid the risk of getting the virus, the countries declared lockdowns, compelling everyone to stay at home to circumvent catching the virus. Schools and colleges were shut; offices announced work from home for their employees, small business establishments were shut; basically, everything came to a standstill, including our social lives.
Everyone is trying different ways to cope with this self-isolation by cooking, baking, trying out new jobs, online courses, and many more things to keep themselves occupied. But no matter what we do, the experts have suggested that negative feelings associated with prolonged isolation will affect all of us.
Being secluded for so long ultimately ends up affecting our mental as well as physical health, which may manifest as feelings of sadness, irritation, anxiety, frustration, among others. This cycle takes a toll on us, and the effects may stay with us beyond the pandemic.
How is Home Isolation Affecting Our Mind and Bodies?
The effects of reduced physical activity can affect you psychologically and physiologically. For example, injured athletes may experience emotional disturbance when they are injured and cannot continue their game. This happens because the game was their coping mechanism that is no more there to keep these negative feelings away. It is vital to remember that isolation not only numbs your brain with boredom but also starts making people lethargic in the absence of physical activity, says clinical psychologist John Vincent, University of Houston.
Loss of Muscle
Everybody enjoyed staying at home at the beginning of lockdown but eventually started to realize the ill effects. It takes months to build muscle, but just a short period to lose it. The Journal of Applied Physiology says that if a person is inactive just for two weeks, they can begin to negate their heart and muscle gains, as mentioned by the US News and World Report. It also works the other way around. A study says that obese people can lose out on four months of exercise in just one month, reducing their work-out capacity, increased cholesterol, and insulin sensitivity. When we lose out on muscle, you are losing out on not only our bulk but also your strength, says Keith Barr, a professor of molecular exercise physiology at the University of California-Davis.
Effects on Heart and Lungs
Alexander Choker, a physician-researcher who studies stress immunology at the University of Munich, states, "The pure fact of being confined affects the body. If you change your environment in a quite extreme way, it is changing you." When you stop exercising or any physical activity, your heart does not pump as hard. Without the increase in the heart rate, it starts to get weaker. "Being confined and isolated affects human physiology as a whole."
This is the same effect on your lungs. A lot of people experience deterioration in their lung function since they no longer have any physical activity, as observed by Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonologist from Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. This is highly concerning as a person with poor lung function is more susceptible to contracting the COVID-19 since it is a respiratory disease. People need to increase blood flow to their lungs with physical exercise and other activities to avoid this.
In the same study by Alexander Choker noticed that participants who had isolated themselves for around three months experienced changes in their sleeping patterns, immunity, endocrine functions, metabolism, and neurocognitive systems. PTSD causes a lack of sleep or disturbed sleep. Your body needs to retune in the morning with sunlight, which helps synchronize the body's circadian rhythm. If you stay in a dark room all day and do not receive the required vitamin D, your body will feel fatigued, and this will affect your sleep pattern too. If you are unable to do so, artificial light can do the trick also.
If you are at home all day without much to do, or working from home and taking breaks at short intervals, you are bound to make frequent visits to the kitchen and consume food more than you would typically consume on a full working day. These things even increase your food intake window of each day by a few hours, which elevates your insulin level, increasing the body's fat storage, says associate professor of anatomy and physiology at the University of Notre Dame, Giles Duffield. It is usual for your body to gain weight when stressed, and 2020 is an extremely stressful year, people are bound to gain excessive weight. But when weight gain turns into obesity, the body starts to resist the insulin, leading to chronic metabolic diseases or diabetes.
Effects on The Brain
A sedentary lifestyle can affect your mind negatively. When you exercise, the body produces certain chemicals that help destroy the toxins in the blood and can prevent them from killing the brain cells by entering the brain, says Keith Barr. If you stop exercising, the amino acid byproducts do not get broken down efficiently and end up as neurotoxins in mind. It is not easy to spot the physical symptoms in the body after isolation, though they are there and can be harmful. It is imperative to stay at home as much as you can until the virus dies down, but it is even more critical to prioritize your physical and mental health instead of just staying stationary at home.
For the past eight months, a lot of us have cooked our own meals (probably for the first time), attended online classes, or worked from home. We mostly sit in front of the computer or laptop all day long for work or recreational purposes and fail to realize the damage it is causing to our bodies. We all have a specific way of sitting in front of the screen, and no matter how hard we try to sit straight, we subconsciously give in to the slouching position with the shoulders hunched, bending forward and, and straining our neck. This affects different parts of our bodies such as the back, hips, neck, and eyes, leading to problems that can last lifelong, says Brandon Brown, an epidemiologist and associate professor in the Center for Healthy Communities University of California-Riverside. To avoid posture problems, stretch your muscles, and occasionally even lie down on the floor to readjust your back, Brown suggests.
Stay Home, Stay Safe, But Stay Healthy
Practicing all measures in such challenging times to not give into its effects is essential at this moment. Keeping your mind and your body fit is the need of the hour so that you can come out of this pandemic not only free from the virus, but also from the damaging effects that it has on us by putting us into isolation. Fortunately, we are not in this alone and need to fight together to come out of this. But till then, people need to connect at least virtually and maintain social contact. This will help you cope emotionally and mentally and be able to provide support to others.