Daniel GallucciMar 1

Feeling Sick? Why Stress May Be to Blame

An aerial view of a hand holding a hot cup of lemon and ginger tea.

How one woman regained her footing after being bowled over by Covid-19

For the foreseeable future, we must all accept the fact that Covid-19 will continue to alter our lives. The pandemic has upended our daily existence, causing environmental changes that can have a very real impact on our health.

Patient A

Take Patient A—we’ll call her Anna. Anna had been suffering from what she calls “weird neurological symptoms” for five months. She is married with two young children and two elderly parents living in two different seniors’ homes.

When Covid-19 hit, she and her husband both lost their full-time jobs and their income vanished. As a glass-half-full kind of person, she accepted her sudden job loss and oncoming challenges with a silver lining, convincing herself the pandemic was the impetus to a new beginning.

Then, her 82-year-old mother got hit with the coronavirus.

Over the following weeks, Anna struggled to manage new and unexpected responsibilities: moving her mother to a hospital, helping her children get their online schoolwork done and fixing a leak in her basement that required $4,500 in repairs, significantly reducing their savings. Her husband continued to be unsuccessful in his job search and their application for a loan was denied.

Prior to the coronavirus tossing her (and everyone else’s) life upside down, Anna felt healthy, minus the occasional headache or dizzy spell. Nowadays, she’s bombarded by headaches, light sensitivity, dizziness, difficulty sleeping, nausea and a progressively sharp pain radiating down her neck.

The Medical Treatment

Anna eventually saw her family doctor who prescribed an antidepressant for depression and anxiety. In addition, Anna learned she had high blood pressure for the first time in her life.

On the surface, you can see why the doctor made this diagnosis: her symptoms, blood pressure and family history should all be considered. But what becomes just as important, maybe even more so, is her environment.

Ignoring environmental factors exposes shortcomings in how we have come to define health. We want numbers. We want data. We want statistics. Yet these bits of information are only capable of providing a tiny glimpse into one’s overall health.

One look at the dark circles under Anna’s eyes and her half-eaten fingernails tells us plenty about her health. It tells us that her depression, anxiety and high blood pressure can be the result of the changes around her—her environment—and her struggle to adapt to those changes.

Acknowledging Environmental Stress

During my follow-up with Anna, something she said stood out to me.

“I can handle one, two or even 20 problems. What I can’t handle is this growing sense of not knowing what the future holds for me and my family.”

It is not difficult to see how a culmination of factors took her from a path of health and wellness to one of illness and despair. Her environment had changed so dramatically and so quickly that she found it difficult to cope. The stress kept her up at night, which quickly forfeited her morning workout. Her ritual of a smoothie and hardboiled egg for breakfast was replaced with nothing but coffee.

Taking Action

To alleviate her suffering, Anna had to decide where she could take action, working on the immediate things she could control, accepting her limitations and asking for help.

Eventually, Anna got better at building resiliency. A large part of that was allowing much of the other stuff to fall by the emotional wayside. Easier said than done, so she made it a daily practice.

Long Road Ahead

Anna had become so fixated on her headaches she forgot the intertwined lives and circumstances beneath the headaches. She still has a way to go before she can go back to her doctor and remove herself from the medications, but she’s on her way. She’s exercising, has resumed following a healthy diet and is doing what she can to improve her sleep habits.

This doesn’t mean she never gets knocked down. What it does mean is that she keeps getting back up and remains focused on restoring her health at the place where it begins: the dynamic interaction between biology and her environment.