Those feeling stressed or anxious during the pandemic are not alone. According to a poll done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over Covid-19. Something that may improve mental health issues such as stress and anxiety could be maintaining a physical exercise routine. According to health specialists and psychologists, participating in regular exercise can improve mental health.
Bill Sigsbee, Brookhaven College psychology professor and licensed psychologist, said the brain is a social animal, and it needs oxygen and movement. He recommends participating in exercise with a friend to make the activity a more engaging experience. “To me, it’s even better as one can exercise with a friend and possibly discuss the things that are bothering them, and then there is ‘catharsis’ while exercising as well,” he said.
According to Sigsbee, participating in physical exercise is known to help defeat depression and can be more effective than stimulants such as drugs or alcohol. “Physical exertion produces endorphins along with adrenaline and the result is one just ‘naturally’ feels better,” he said.
Katharina Star, from Very Well Mind, a mental health resource website, said physical exercise can help ward off mental health problems before they start and can also help alleviate symptoms of existing mental illnesses. It can also enhance the well-being of those who are already mentally healthy. Star said physical activity can distract us from negative thoughts and emotions and can promote self-confidence by helping participants lose weight and tone their bodies.
She said mental and physical health have a direct correlation to each other. Stress is known to cause illness, and illness can be linked to stress. By improving overall health and participating in exercise, people also stand a chance at lowering physiological reaction to current and future stresses.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak hit the U.S., people are dealing with stress and anxiety brought on by several factors including health complications, business and school closures, financial woes, food scarcity and decreased human interaction. We could potentially end up with a crisis on our hands – a mental health one.
In March, the World Health Organization released a memo highlighting the negative effects the pandemic could have on the general population’s mental health. The memo urged people to practice empathy and also encouraged coping mechanisms such as eating sufficient and healthy food; keeping in contact with family and friends; and engaging in physical activity.