Parents, especially moms, have a way of getting right to the heart of the issue.
I still remember back in seventh grade when my father told me he was embarrassed that I would consider getting up to sing karaoke with his colleagues’ wives at a restaurant. I was crushed.
But I took it upon myself to sing better, and now can hold a tune enough to get random compliments at church.
Long before the pandemic, my mother tossed out a few zingers about my health.
Once about 12 to 18 months postpartum with baby number four, she patted my belly and said something about how this shirt might not be so flattering to me.
Yes, Mom, that’s a mummy tummy. And I have no idea what to do about it.
A few years later, she watched an in-person interview I did with Dr. Nicole Beurkens on sensory processing disorder. (A powerful watch or listen, by the way, if you have kids struggling with sensory issues). She said frankly, in an email, that she thought my hair looked very unhealthy and wondered if I needed a trim.
At that time, I always — always — wore my hair up out of practicality, and only put it down for very special occasions.
This video recording was one of them. I had taken time to blow dry my hair and make it look as best as I could.
However, looking back, my mom was right. My hair was really unhealthy, and I didn’t realize it until a few other health issues collided.
- First, my fingernails became so weak that I could not pry the plastic top off a spice container to refill from my bulk storage. This had never happened before.
- Second, I realized that not everyone loses as much hair as I do in the shower and began to worry that perhaps my hair was actually thinning — well before my 40th birthday.
- And finally, I struggled off and on with skin rashes, even having to figure out how to treat cellulitis (a skin infection) naturally. I accomplished that, but there were clearly some underlying issues going on in my body.
My skin and my hair were signaling me to pay attention.
How Pandemic Stress Is Screaming Loudly at Us
I firmly believe that any crisis, and particularly this global pandemic in which we find ourselves, accentuates and brings to light problems that already exist.
These problems in society and in our health fly under the radar in normal times. But when stress and social divisiveness increase sharply, every problem we’ve had becomes magnified.
The isolation our kids have felt and the stress of worrying about the pandemic have increased suicidal thoughts to the point where one in four young people have considered that awful act. Suicide was already in the top two leading causes of death for kids and teens before all this.1
Way back in June 2020, the CDC released a report stating that over 40% of adult participants reported adverse mental or behavioral health conditions. Those who already suffered from mental health issues saw an increased rate of over 50%.2 Depression in adults tripled, worse than post 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina.3
And what about kids? Numbers aren’t clear on pandemic mental health impacts, but experts are very worried about kids’ physical and mental health, and for good reason. We KNOW it’s getting worse, and look where our poor young generation started before the pandemic hit:
- 1 in 4 teens will have an episode of major depression during high school.4
- An estimated 31.9% of adolescents had any anxiety disorder. (2001-2004)5
- Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children.6 This is a clinically diagnosed disease! And how many kids felt high anxiety before that wasn’t diagnosed?
- Plus, another 7% already had diagnosed behavior problems, and nearly 1 in 10 struggling with ADHD.7
I fear what those numbers will look like under the magnifying glass of lockdowns, school uncertainty, isolation, and fear for so many months.
In one small study in China, after just one month of lockdown, 22.6% of children reported depressive symptoms and 18.9% were experiencing anxiety.7
One expert says that the mental health footprint of COVID-19 exceeds the medical footprint, again citing over 50% of adults having moderate to severe or severe COVID-19 related distress.8 That source relates stress to the fear of getting sick, which would mean as the pandemic subsides and people trust widespread inoculation, the stress-related illnesses will go down and mental health will go back to “normal.”
I don’t believe this is true.
I predict the economic stresses and lockdown-related changes in routine will have much longer-lasting health consequences.
Dr. Jennifer Love, a California-based psychiatrist, told NPR, “The mental health component of COVID is starting to come like a tsunami.” And in December 2020, researchers felt that “mitigating the hazardous effects of COVID-19 on mental health is an international public health priority.”9
It’s quite clear that a pandemic has immense negative effects on the mental health of our society. But how do these mental-health issues affect our physical health, viruses aside?
It turns out that stress is very related to physical symptoms and many Americans are experiencing this connection.
We can’t change world news and events. So what are we to do to support our mental and physical health in these times?
Download a free copy of 10 Foods to Fight Depression & Anxiety in Kids, and see what a difference the right foods can make in your family members’ moods.
This mini-ebook tells you 10 of the best foods you can feed your kids to build brains that are resilient to depression & anxiety & more. It includes ideas to USE each of the foods, and I hope you’ll get your kids involved in the preparation as well.
My Own Stress Story
It’s been a long road for my health, and it took me quite a few months (or years) of denial to admit that I was actually quite sick.
I will get into more details in other posts, but here’s just a short list of the issues we uncovered while listening to my hair, nails, and skin sending out signals:
- mitochondrial dysfunction
- irregular cycles
- parasitic infection
- lead toxicity
- a connective tissue autoimmune disease
Although I had to do a lot of digging to find all of these root causes, and I still have work to do, I truly believe that stress is both part of my root cause and my exacerbating factor.
I can look back at 10 years of intermittent rashes of all different varieties and over all parts of my body and see that in the few months before or when they started, my body or mind was under some sort of large stressor.
Sometimes I was working on a big project for the blog and not sleeping enough.
Sometimes I had just completed a restrictive diet like the Whole 30.
Last year, I sent myself into the most devastating health spiral yet because I was preparing for a vacation. Ironic, right?
Pretty much every article I read about pandemic stress cited experts claiming that stress is something that can be mitigated with a few simple lifestyle changes and, of course, over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines or steroids.
I believe there’s much more to it, and that stress is part of the tip of the iceberg, not just a symptom to be covered up.
Pandemic Stress Symptoms We Must Listen to as a Society
I don’t think anyone would argue with me if I state that before 2020, we were already rather stressed, anxious, depressed, and disconnected:
- We were seeing negative effects of social media and screen time on both teens and adults.
- Prescription treatments for depression and anxiety hit record rates.
- Depression increased 30% in children in the last 10 years.10
- Adults miss work more for depression and mental health issues than any other reason,11 costing employers $17-44 billion a year.12
Our mental and social-emotional health was suffering.
It’s very clear that the pandemic has magnified these issues.
If mental-health statistics and our bodies were crying out for help before, they are definitely getting louder.
It’s time that we listen!
Here’s just a short list of physical symptoms people have seen that experts correlate with stress in the midst of this pandemic:
- hair loss
- irregular menstrual cycles
- sleep loss and insomnia
- stress rashes
It will take time for all these statistics to clarify what the real impact of this pandemic will be on our nation’s physical, mental, emotional, and economic health.
But it’s clear NOW that we need to take action to move things back in the right direction. We can’t wait for those statistics to come to light in a few years!
Pandemic Stress Hair Loss Is Real
Experts all over are seeing women especially complain of hair loss, sometimes with hair coming out in clumps in the shower. This is obviously a huge concern, especially since increased hair loss was one of my own clear siren calls to poor health.
Most experts say that stress-related hair loss happens about three to four months after a stressful incident, which is why the increase in pandemic hair loss caused by stress mostly began in mid-to-late summer. People were surprised, because they felt their stress had decreased, and yet they were seeing this new symptom.
From a holistic or functional point of view, I believe that hair loss is a sign of other underlying physical diseases. People who specialize in hair might disagree.
Gretchen Friese, a certified trichologist (that means a doctor specializing in diseases related to hair and scalp) says that “shock hair loss” is a temporary hair loss from excessive shedding due to a shock to the system.13
That’s way too much hair to come out every single shower…and the pic on the right is my “before” getting a haircut shot when I realized Mom was right, and my hair was too thin to stay long. 🙁
However, her example on RealSimple.com is that women who have given birth will often experience this kind of hair loss in the months following. Anyone who has actually given birth has probably noticed that they lose very little hair during pregnancy, and then lots of hair in the baby’s first six months of life. This is caused by hormonal changes necessary for growing a new tiny human.14
I think Friese means the change in hormones causes stress, and I don’t doubt that a temporary episode of “shock hair loss” can happen a few months after a stressful event.
But unless hair loss is a time-limited event that resolves itself rather quickly, I think we should all listen to our bodies and try to hear if they are crying in pain and trying to tell us that something deeper is wrong.
If you’ve found yourself losing more hair during this pandemic, perhaps you need to learn more about stress mastery.
I would love to help with that — see below.
But perhaps it’s also time to take a step back and look at your overall health and what else your body might be trying to tell you.
Pandemic Stress Effects on Women
It’s been all over the news lately that women are taking more of the brunt of this pandemic than the opposite gender.
Women are working harder; feeling the stress of virtual and hybrid schooling; having more trouble balancing working at home and being a parent; doing most of the housework; and quite often worrying more about their family’s health, budget, and ability to source food when it becomes scarce (toilet paper too!)
Women under 40 are a much higher risk group for all of the mental-health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic according to a December 2020 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders.15
Interesting that many moms of young children are women under 40! Also interesting that frequent exposure to social media and news concerning COVID-19 exacerbates all those risk factors. (Ladies, take breaks from social media. Don’t read the news so much. And keep your kids away from the news, too.)
Pandemic stress eating has become a new turn of phrase, and although both genders are definitely susceptible, women tend to be emotional eaters more often than men.
Women’s bodies have also been showing their pandemic stress in the form of irregular menstrual cycles and even changes in cervical discharge and breast tenderness, despite normal hormone levels.9
It makes sense that extreme stress would impact our fertility, because our bodies want to protect us from achieving pregnancy when life is too scary to bring a child into the world. I’m not sure that this pandemic actually makes life too scary to bring a child into the world, but if your body feels that amount of stress, it’s going to start shutting down functions like fertility.
One of the easiest month-to-month ways to observe, assess, and adjust your stress is to monitor changes in your cycle.
Stress and Sleep – Before and During the Pandemic
We don’t really need statistics or experts to tell us that the pandemic has changed sleep for both adults and children.
But here is some evidence:
- Express Scripts reported to NPR that anti-insomnia prescriptions increased 15% early in the pandemic.9
- A Canadian study found that half of the adult participants have clinically meaningful sleep difficulties, up from “just” a third before the pandemic. (Note again that a problem that already existed was magnified and exacerbated.)16
- The same study showed that one in four actually gained sleep not commuting in the morning, and sometimes virtual school allowed that to happen for parents with young children and teens.
Our experience echoes that last point. I actually got more sleep the first few months of lockdown, and I noticed something very interesting in my teenager.
At first, when school was canceled, he slept until 11 or even noon. After a few weeks, his sleep evened out so that he was waking up between 8 and 9. We never changed his bedtime, which is key.
I believe his wake time regulation shows a sleep deficit that was corrected by not having to wake up so early.
Many adults actually shifted their sleep going to bed later, which may negatively impact their circadian rhythm with health effects cascading as the months pass.
I bet you could have predicted this fact: women were more likely to have their sleep negatively affected.
Whether this has to do with pandemic anxiety, the burden of work, school, and housework, or a general more highly sensitive nature, I’m not surprised at all.
Here’s the good news: Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona, tells Forbes that fixing sleep difficulties can have a positive impact on mental health like depression and anxiety.16
Although sleep is one of my kryptonite weaknesses when it comes to health, almost every expert I interview underscores how important it is. And it’s not just for kids. We’ve discussed many times how to improve your sleep both with quick hacks like these and with more extensive measures.
So if sleep has been a struggle for you, tackle it! Try something, anything, to get more hours in bed and more time in deep, restful sleep.
Your immune system and mental health will both thank you.
Is Stress Rash Really a Thing?
A few examples of my rash issues over the years…NOT fun! More to come on my many attempts to solve the problem…
Mary Stevenson, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at NYU Langone, says this: “When our sympathetic nervous system is ‘revved up,’ it causes histamine release, which causes hives. Histamine is a compound released by cells in response to injury, and in allergic and inflammatory reactions.”17
Most experts describe a “stress rash” as an immediate reaction to severe stress, such as an outbreak of hives. Most sources also admit that stress rashes can be an exacerbation of a known issue such as eczema, acne, psoriasis, and more, or an allergic reaction.
Surprise, surprise, women are more likely to get stress rashes, and they often don’t show up until the 30s, 40s, or 50s.
Dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian admits, however, that we don’t really know why the skin responds to stress hormones like cortisol.18 She claims they know how to fix it, but I say conventional medicine just knows how to cover it up.
Almost every conventional source I read tosses out some stress-reducing platitudes and then recommends over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines or steroids. This only covers up a symptom that is likely our body crying out for help!
In fact, the mere fact that often stress rashes don’t show up until later in life tells me that it may be a powerful build-up of many health deficiencies finally showing up in the skin as an early warning sign before health really deteriorates.
Listen to your skin, ladies; it has a lot to say.
These awful photos are my personal 2020 experience. Flaky. Itchy as H-E-double-toothpicks. So tight I would bleed on my pillow. Swollen like I was stung by a bee. I never knew what I would wake up to on any given day, but it was clear that my health was a mess…
In my case, my stress rash was finally diagnosed as an autoimmune disease. I’m “lucky” to have one of the 80% of autoimmune diseases that haven’t even been named yet. #eyeroll
It’s a connective tissue disorder, so it would be related to lupus, which showed a 12% increase from January to August 20209 — much larger than the same time period in 2019. I’m guessing that by now that you’re not surprised.
Over the years, I’ve worked on my skin as a candida rash issue, by trying Gut Thrive in 5 to rebalance my microbiome, and then working on the mitochondrial dysfunction, lead toxicity, parasites, and more. It’s a long story, and I hope to share it soon.
Wish you could control your stress instead of feeling like it’s controlling your life, your sleep, and your temper?
Women react to stress differently than men and need special strategies!
I was certified as a Stress Mastery Educator for this very reason – so I could bring HOPE to moms like me feeling like life is getting the better of them (and in my case, getting very angry about it).
This course is VERY quick, consumable, and full of support to make it work in your busy life!
Build the “new, calmer you” in just a few minutes a day… CHECK OUT THE COURSE HERE
Can Stress Really Affect Your Physical Health This Much? Isn’t It All in Your Head?
It’s easy to assume that stress on our minds should only affect our mental health or perhaps our ability to concentrate.
But think of the last time you had to speak in public, sometimes even on Zoom. Did you get butterflies in your stomach? Did you have diarrhea or constipation? This is a direct example of stress impacting your physiology.
Ever had a headache because you’re worried about something or maybe stressed out about an upcoming test or a medical procedure? Same thing. Our bodies record an imprint of what our brains are experiencing.
In fact, up to 80% of doctor’s visits are said to have stress as a root cause. We know stress exacerbates cardiovascular disease; and, in fact, deaths from cardiovascular disease have drastically increased since COVID started stressing us all out.19
The mind-body connection works in reverse, too.
Consider the impact a beautiful walk on a sunny day has on your mood or research-backed evidence that deep breathing, meditation,20 and feeling gratitude21 decrease the stress hormone cortisol.
It’s alarming to think that so many problems in our health and culture have been magnified by the pandemic.
But what we can see, we can solve.
Let us embrace that silver lining!
If the pandemic has to make everything seem worse, at least we can pay attention to these issues and work hard to eradicate them in our own families.
I challenge you to see this pandemic and stress statistics as your siren call to make healthy changes!
What You Can Do to Reduce Your Stress Symptoms
Here’s the thing — we can’t change the events that happen to us.
We can’t shorten the duration of this pandemic or change whatever situation it’s thrown us into, whether that’s working at home, kids’ virtual schooling, economic distress, and so on.
We can only change our reactions to that stress.
That means that those lifestyle changes that are tossed out as platitudes:
–they all really do matter.
But if you understand the connection between your brain and your body, you can figure out how to make them matter more. How to increase their effects on your mental and physical health.
That’s what stress mastery is all about.
I’m a Certified Stress Mastery Educator, and I’m really passionate about sharing this empowering information with other busy moms in particular. Here’s how.
Stress Benefits of a Pandemic
When you are intentional about your attitude and perspective, even a pandemic can end up with positive results.
I mentioned that lockdown allowed me to get a lot more sleep. This truly was the beginning of my healing from the awful rash and swelling I was experiencing.
The divisiveness of the pandemic has clarified my friendships.
The influence of co-morbidities on how severe COVID-19 has been for people has forced me to take a new look at health from all angles.
Ladies, we can come out on the other side of this stronger than ever.
My fingernails are now as strong as they always were. My period has never been so light and easy to manage. My cycles are a regular length.
On this day as I write, my rash is completely gone thanks to homeopathy.
And I hope–I think–I hope that perhaps my hair is falling out less.
I’m ready to inspire others to take this pandemic and see it as the push they need to finally focus on their health.
Not just a new diet or a resolution you’ll break.
Not “just” eating more healthy food.
It’s time to look at all aspects of health, especially the underdogs of sleep and stress.
- Centers for Disease Control. (2020, August 14). Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm
- Ettman, C.K., Abdalla, S.M., Cohen, G.H., Sampson, L., Vivier, P.M., Galea, S. Prevalence of Depression Symptoms in US Adults Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Netw Open, 3(9), e2019686. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.19686
- Centers for Disease Control. (2020, December 2). Anxiety and Depression in Children. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/depression.html
- Heller, K. (2016, May 17). Depression in Teens and Children. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/depression-in-teens-and-children/
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2017, November). Any Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Children and Teens. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children
- Kluger, J. (2020, July 23). The Coronavirus Seems to Spare Most Kids From Illness, but Its Effect on Their Mental Health Is Deepening. Retrieved from https://time.com/5870478/children-mental-health-coronavirus/
- Asmundson, G. (2020, October 28). COVID stress syndrome: 5 ways the pandemic is affecting mental health. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/covid-stress-syndrome-5-ways-the-pandemic-is-affecting-mental-health-147413
- Pattani, A. (2020, October 14). Sleepless Nights, Hair Loss And Cracked Teeth: Pandemic Stress Takes Its Toll. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/10/14/923672884/sleepless-nights-hair-loss-and-cracked-teeth-pandemic-stress-takes-its-toll
- Kam, K. (2016, December 2). Troubling Trend: Depression Rates Rising in Teens. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/depression/news/20161219/depression-rates-rising-teens#1
- Contributor. (2013, July 10). The Causes And Costs Of Absenteeism In The Workplace. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/investopedia/2013/07/10/the-causes-and-costs-of-absenteeism-in-the-workplace/#887f66c3eb65
- Centers for Disease Control. (2016, April 1). Depression Evaluation Measures. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/health-strategies/depression/evaluation-measures/index.html
- Hong, H. (2020, November 4). Why Is Everyone Losing So Much Hair Right Now? Here’s What Experts Have to Say. Retrieved from https://www.realsimple.com/beauty-fashion/hair/hair-care/hair-loss-covid
- Barnes, Z. (2015, January 6). Why Being Pregnant Makes Your Hair Fuller—And Giving Birth Makes It All Fall Out. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/a19890201/pregnancy-hair/
- Xiong, J., Lipsitz, O., Nasri, F., Lui, L., Gill, H., Phan, L., et. al. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health in the general population: A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders, (277), 55-64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2020.08.001
- Dangor, G. (2021, January 28). Has The Covid-19 Pandemic Been A Nightmare For Your Sleep? Experts Share Tips. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/graisondangor/2021/01/28/has-the-covid-19-pandemic-been-a-nightmare-for-your-sleep-experts-share-tips/?sh=29a46e223dce
- American Institute of Health. (2019, December 26). What to Do When Stress Gives You Hives. Retrieved from https://www.stress.org/what-to-do-when-stress-gives-you-hives
- Washington-Harmon, T. (2021, January 31). What Is a Stress Rash, and How Can You Treat One?. Retrieved from https://www.health.com/condition/stress/stress-rash
- Centers for Disease Control. (2020, January 12). Deaths and Mortality. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm
- Knurek, S. (2018, November 27). Understanding cortisol, the stress hormone. Retrieved from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/understanding_cortisol_the_stress_hormone/
- UC Davis Health. (2015, November 25). Gratitude is good medicine. Retrieved from https://health.ucdavis.edu/welcome/features/2015-2016/11/20151125_gratitude.html