If you’re thinking about the COVID pandemic as an assault against physical health alone, you’ve got it all wrong. The statistics on illness and death are staggering—but there’s been an equally staggering toll exacted on our mental health. Nearly one third of Americans are experiencing symptoms of clinical depression or anxiety, and the Well Being Trust estimates we will suffer up to 150,000 additional deaths tied to the social isolation and economic stressors associated with COVID-19.
In nonpandemic times, making choices that benefit both physical health and mental health was relatively straightforward, for these choices were often one and the same. Doing good for your body has tangible benefits for your mood and psychological well-being. For example, exercise significantly reduces anxiety and depression—at rates comparable to pharmacotherapy. Likewise, healthy sleep habits that foster physical homeostasis and more efficient immune system functioning also significantly reduce our risk for depression, anxiety and bipolar illness.
Yet the pandemic has uprooted our normal guideposts for navigating decisions about our health. Today, choosing to make healthy choices for minimizing risk of virus infection comes at a cost to our mental health, in both the short and the long term.
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