Jun 21, 2020 - Health

The toll of the coronavirus

Illustration of a man in water surrounded by viruses

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We have pandemic hair. Distressed skin. Emotional turmoil and existential fear about the gruesome drumbeat of news. And we're sitting around in our shabby wardrobes feeling lonesome from the requisite social distancing. But there is hope!

Why it matters: The social and psychological toll of COVID-19 — which comes at the same time that our nation is pursuing its all-important quest for racial justice — is affecting our physical and mental health.

Let's talk about our bad habits:

  • We are carbo-loading beyond belief, indulging in "emotional eating" that is particularly pronounced among quarantined children.
  • Our faces are a mess. We have "maskne" — blemishes related to the trapping of oil against the skin behind our face masks — and we're piling on skin-care remedies because we're bored and need to do something. (Right?)
  • Here's the clinical description, per the WSJ: "Doctors said acne flare ups and other skin ailments such as psoriasis and eczema are surging as the health crisis causes stress levels to skyrocket and upends eating, sleeping and hygiene routines."
  • We are grumpy, not getting enough sleep, drinking too much, missing our friends and colleagues, sick of seeing ourselves on Zoom, and ... oh gosh. (Please insert your own gripes and comments here.)

And then there's rosacea! The red blood vessels that come to the surface of the face when you have, like clients of Manhattan aesthetician Jaime Carson, been spending too much quality time with booze and cupcakes.

  • "What I've been seeing is a big increase in wine drinking and sugar consumption, which causes breakouts and lowers your immunity," Carson tells Axios. "It's the stress causing people to reach for more sugar, then it becomes a reward every day."
  • Beware: "You’re going to wrinkle faster. Every time you're having more processed sugar in the body, you’re aging faster and faster."

We don't feel good. Various polls tell us things that we already know, like that we are scared about getting coronavirus, concerned for our family members and so forth.

  • Big negative events — like pandemics and major disasters — are correlated with increased use of tobacco and alcohol, which in turn correlate with more violence, says Dr. Joshua Morganstein of the American Psychiatric Association.
  • "People will have trouble sleeping, they feel unsafe, they are distractable," Morganstein tells Axios.
  • "We are dealing now with three disasters," he says: The pandemic, the ensuing economic catastrophe, and America's confrontation with the cruel truth of systemic racism.
  • People need to know that their fears and concerns are entirely normal, Morganstein says.

Comforting advice from a life coach: "We’re dealing with isolation — the physical distancing — then there’s loneliness when we feel alone and trapped and we don’t have any interaction with others," Anita Kanti of Orange County, Calif., tells Axios.

  • "Instead of calling this social distancing and isolation? Let's move that phrase to 'social bridging.'"
  • Social media can be good, Kanti says — but it can also amplify our demons. "The reason why our brains get annoying is we’re very good at imagining these worst-case scenarios."

The bottom line: Take a walk, have something wonderful for lunch, call your best friend. Interestingly, Morganstein of the American Psychiatric Association pushed back against my questions about when one should reach out for professional support.

  • Self-care — like getting good amounts of sleep and engaging with other people —can help us, he said.
  • Limit the amount of "disaster media" you consume, he advised.
  • Use your social support networks, including faith groups and 12-step communities, to beat back any feelings of being overwhelmed and revive your personal inventory of hope.
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