Adult experiencing stress
The continuing COVID-19 pandemic is a continuing cause of stress. Photo via Pixabay

In the beginning, COVID-19-related restrictions were as novel as the coronavirus itself — and a bit of an adventure. People leaned into staying at home, baking, crafting and spending newfound free time with family and housemates.

Now, nearly 20 months later, the novelty of those early days has worn off and the pandemic has long since set in, taking a toll on many people’s emotional well-being. Patients are increasingly seeking medical care for feelings of anxiety and worry. And during appointments for other concerns, they are mentioning they are feeling stressed.

A morbidity and mortality weekly report, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April 2021, noted that during August 2020 to February 2021, the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder increased from 36.4% to 41.5%, and the percentage of those reporting an unmet mental health care need increased from 9.2% to 11.7%. Increases, providers reported, were largest among adults age 18 to 29 years.

Additionally, it’s not just the apprehension about getting sick weighing on people. There have been other factors in play as well. Financial stressors, job losses, virtual learning challenges, feelings of isolation, not being able to socialize with friends and family for so long, not being able to travel to see loved ones — these are all things that patients have cited as contributing factors.

Uncertainty can be a big trigger for anxiety and there is a general sense of “pandemic fatigue.” In some cases, fear of the virus has given way to frustration over the effects of the pandemic.

Such stress and anxiety manifest in many ways. This can include sweating, headaches, upset stomach, frequent urination or diarrhea, shortness of breath, muscle tension or twitches, feeling light-headed or dizzy, chest pain or sensation of chest pounding, and insomnia or trouble sleeping. While relaxation techniques — deep breathing, stretching and mindful meditation — may help, it is important to discuss these physical symptoms with your medical provider.

Furthermore, with the holiday season fast approaching, these feelings of anxiety may become exacerbated. Consider turning to healthy diversions to manage stress and keep the mind occupied. This includes exercising, sticking to a routine, eating a healthy diet, connecting with loved ones, volunteering, helping a neighbor or trying out a new hobby.

As always, it is important to be mindful about your mood and how you are feeling. Every stressor, however minor, can seem bigger and more amplified due to the fact we are in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

What’s more, remind yourself that having anxiety does not mean that you are not “strong enough.” Don’t hesitate to seek help if you are struggling with anxiety. Share your concerns with your loved ones and talk with your doctor. And if you or someone you love is experiencing a serious mental health crisis, don’t hesitate to call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 24 hours a day, at 1-800-273-8255.

Dr. Abisola Olulade is a board-certified family medicine specialist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group.