How is Covid-19 Stress Affecting You?

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues into 2021, many of us are left feeling exhausted and dreaming of life returning to normal. You may feel yourself more tired or depressed than normal, struggling to get a good night of sleep, with increased feelings of anxiety. The good news is that you aren’t alone. The CDC reported that in June 2020, levels of symptoms of anxiety disorders were 3 times higher and depressive disorder rates were more than quadrupled when compared to 2019. But the pandemic isn’t affecting everyone in the same way.


Studies have shown the effects of Covid-19 are being felt differently across genders. Men are more likely to suffer from greater health consequences of the virus, given the protective qualities of estrogen against viruses. But while women are slightly protected from having a severe reaction to Covid-19, they are seeing greater effects on their mental health.


Increased symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia in response to stress are caused by an increase in cortisol levels, which decreases estrogen and progesterone levels. Lowered levels of estrogen are detected in the Amygdala region of the brain, the area responsible for emotions and moods. This is why women statistically have higher rates of depression and anxiety. The brain stem also has numerous estrogen receptors and when levels of estrogen are not optimal, women may have difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep. While estrogen is mainly considered a sex hormone, it also is very important to the female brain, and elevated stress and cortisol will affect circulating levels of estrogen and numerous neurological symptoms.


A new study by Frontiers in Global Women’s Health demonstrates greater adverse effects of life during the pandemic on the mental health of women when compared with men. Female participants of the study reported “lower quality of sleep, lower sleep efficiency, and greater symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, depression, and trauma.” According to the KKF Coronavirus poll, women worry more about the risk of exposure to Covid-19 and worry more about the negative impacts on their mental healths from Covid-19. Women were also reported to worry more about the health of their family and losing income due to a workplace closure or reduced hours. Women are also the primary caregivers in the home, which only adds to the overall amplified levels of stress.


One study on Chinese college students stuck in isolation during the height of the pandemic pointed to a solution to breaking the cycle. The study questioned the students on their sleep quality, negative emotions, aggression levels, and exercise levels. Initially, nearly half of the participants reported poor sleep quality and high levels of anxiety around Covid-19. The researchers found that 45 minutes of vigorous exercise a day during the pandemic “sufficiently reduced negative emotions.” Feelings of depression, anxiety, and aggression were all seen to decrease as physical activity increased in the participants. The researchers did report a “sweet spot” for the length of exercise, too little or too much exercise had negative effects on the mental health of participants, but 45 minutes of vigorous exercise was the perfect amount. The author of the study suggested that physical activity offsets the psychological burden and negative emotions brought on by the pandemic.


Our recommendation is to work on decreasing the stress hormone cortisol which will help to increase your estrogen. This can be done with meditation, getting outside in nature for walks, taking time for yourself, and engaging in activities that you enjoy. Headspace is an app Dr. Johnson uses to de-stress and meditate. Adding a daily cardio exercise routine can also help to increase BDNF, a brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which helps with mood, sleep and decrease cortisol. While it is very important to exercise daily and keep up with our busy lives, it is also important to consider your emotional health, and take a mental health day if needed.


If the symptoms above sound familiar to you, email our office at thejohnsoncenter@gmail.com or call 276-235-3205 to schedule a free consultation with Dr. Johnson.

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Norfolk and Virginia Beach; Serving the greater TidewaterArea.