Stress, COVID-19 & Shingles

Mother and Daughter having Virtual Zoom with Family During COVID-19 Stress

2020 has been a stressful year for most Americans.  In March, we endured the onset of a national pandemic that continues to affect all of our daily lives in some way.  Many of us have lost loved ones, experienced job losses, juggled working from home and “virtually schooling” our children, and dealt with the worry and stress of contracting or spreading COVID-19.  Perhaps your daily life doesn’t look as drastically different as some people’s, but the worry, stress, and upheaval caused by COVID-19 has been enough to put you over the edge.

The demands and hardships of life were stressful enough before COVID-19, but adding COVID-19 to the mix has really thrown us for a loop.  All of the added stress that we are dealing with is having a toll on the mental health and physical health of Americans.  Stress affects our bodies in many different ways, and one of those ways is its adverse effect on our immune system.  Stress weakens the body’s immune system, which can put us at greater risk for a variety of health issues. One of the side effects we’re seeing lately is a connection between stress, COVID-19 & Shingles.

What is the Shingles virus?

One of the viruses brought on by a weakened immune system is the Shingles, or Herpes Zoster, virus.  Over the past months of the COVID-19 pandemic, health professionals are seeing an increase in the number of Shingles cases in our country.  Shingles is a common viral infection.  It causes a painful rash, that blisters, and usually spreads on just one side of the body.  Anyone who has had the Chickenpox virus is at risk for developing Shingles, as this virus lays dormant in the body and then resurfaces as the Shingles virus at a later point in life.  Shingles can occur at any age, but it generally affects older adults.  However, there has been an increase of Shingles cases in young people in their 30’s and 40’s since the onset of the pandemic.

What is causing the rise in cases of Shingles? How is it related to COVID-19?

So, what is causing this uptick in the number of Shingles cases in our country?  Many experts believe that it is due to the excess stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Research has shown that depression, sleep disturbances, stressful life events, and psychological disturbances can put someone at a greater risk for developing Shingles. If stress is a trigger for the Shingles virus, what can we do to reduce stress in our bodies?  Here are 3 tips:

Tips to Reduce Stress in our Bodies

  1. Exercise at least 3 times/week:  Exercise has a huge effect on our physical and mental health.  It helps to release “feel good” endorphins in our bodies, which improve our emotional state and help us to feel less stressed.  It also is a physical release for pent up anxiety that we may have.  Exercise also keeps our bodies tuned up and physically healthy, improving our heart, lung, and brain function.  It is one of the best things you can do to reduce stress in your life and keep your body healthy.
  2. Connect with your support system:  None of us were made to go through life alone, which is why this pandemic has been so hard for so many of us.  We miss the physical touch of hugs, dining with friends in restaurants, and large family gatherings.  Even though we miss these things, we can find other ways to connect with people. Gathering outdoors with friends and family is a perfect way to stay connected and still socially distance.  Maybe walking with a friend a few times of week, gives you the support and social interaction that you need.  Find those friends that encourage you and support you, and make it a point to regularly connect with them.  Maybe you can’t do the same activities that you used to do together, but do not forsake being with the people whom you love and care about.  We need each other!
  3. Journal:  If you have never tried journaling, now is a good time to start.  Get out a pen and notebook, and just start writing; and, if you prefer a digital journal, that is great too.  We often do not even know how we are actually feeling until we begin to write those feelings out.  As we’re writing and getting our thoughts out on paper, our brains are able to more fully process our emotions and thoughts.  You will be amazed at how writing out your thoughts and feelings releases some of the stress that you are feeling.  Give it a try!

These are hard and stressful times, and we all need to do whatever we can to reduce our stress levels and stay as connected and supported as we can.  Our physical and mental health depend on it!  If you find that your physical or mental health is suffering due to the stress of COVID-19, please reach out to us at Waters Edge Counseling.  We are here to help you, and we now provide a way for you to schedule an appointment online. Or, as always, just give us a call at 912-319-5552!