Pandemic Reopening’s Effects on Health and Mental Health

By Dale Mayo

Large crowds abandoned social distancing over Memorial Day weekend; tens of thousands of people are protesting daily in crowds in the streets; some businesses and restaurants are opening again - it almost seems as though the coronavirus pandemic is no longer an issue.  It is still an issue, with about 7 million people infected and 400,000 known deaths (including more than 110,000 in the US), on the rise in 21 states (as of June 10)[1] and still killing 1,000 people per day.[2], [3]  While we are coming out of lockdown in phases, many of us are still social distancing and wearing masks - epidemiologists have weighed in on when they might begin to fly, hug, or do 18 other everyday activities again.[4]

The pandemic, the resulting shutdown, and stay-at-home orders have taken a physical and psychological toll on a large percentage of Americans.  In response to a WebMD poll, nearly half the women and a quarter of the men said they had gained weight.[5]  According to Census Bureau data, a third of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression, almost double the number from a 2014 survey.[6]  For our waistlines and mental health, this phased reopening may be a good thing - we can get outside more to garden, walk, run, bicycle, or whatever makes you feel good.   

The Quarantine 15

Quarantine 15

Many people have packed on pounds during the lockdown -- the so-called Quarantine 15 -- so don’t be too upset if you’ve gained some weight over the past few months.  It’s easy to see how we gained weight – closed gyms, closed parks, closed playgrounds, and grocery deliveries or pick-ups have replaced shopping.  When offices closed, some people lost a routine that provided a fair amount of movement – walking or biking to and from the car, office, or metro and everyday activities like walking out to get lunch.  During this time we may also have been eating less healthfully (more comfort foods, which tend to be higher in sugars, fats and low-nutritional carbs – e.g., cookies and chips) and in general eating more and drinking more alcohol.[7], [8], [9]  The coronavirus shutdown may have triggered other causes of weight gain:[10]

  • Lack of Sleep.  Which may increase late-night snacking and may change hormone levels that increase hunger but also make you feel not as full after eating.
  • Stress.  Human bodies respond to stress by producing cortisol, which increases appetite.
  • Anxiety, Depression and Antidepressants.  Weight gain can be a result of depression and is also a side effect of some antidepressants. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased levels of anxiety and depression across the country. In early June, Zoloft, one of the most widely prescribed antidepressants is in short supply.[11]
  • Quitting Smoking.  Some people may have quit smoking during the lockdown.  While it’s one of the best things you can do for your health, you might gain weight.

For some people, a few pounds extra can be dangerous.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 70% of adults aged 20 and over in the US were already overweight or obese before the pandemic started (2015-2016),[12] which means they are at higher risk of a number of health problems:[13]

  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Depression and anxiety

Mental Health

Reports of mental health problems – especially anxiety and/or depression - during the pandemic are higher among younger adults, women, and the poor than in other groups.  Those with lower incomes face harsh problems – unemployment, food scarcity, and low-wage jobs that can’t be performed from home.  Many do not have health insurance or savings.  A map in the Washington Post article (see image below) shows percentages of adults with symptoms of anxiety or depression in each state and it appears – not surprisingly - that some of the states with the highest poverty rates[14] and those hardest hit by the virus are faring worse psychologically. 

This is an unusually stressful time, and some situations may seem hard to overcome.  If you feel in need of assistance, please call or link online to any of the following:

Exercise and Mental Health

An avenue for those who are ready to get out and move around, exercise is good for helping your body and your mind.  While not a panacea, exercise can be as effective as drugs in some cases of depression.[15], [16] People who maintained or increased their level of exercise during the lockdown are less likely to report feeling depressed.[17]  You don’t have to be a competitive athlete to reap the benefits of physical activity - we all have heard about runner’s high, and some of us have experienced it firsthand. According to a Harvard Health Letter, low-intensity exercise sustained over time ... “that kind of activity spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. The improvement in brain function makes you feel better.”[18]  It also protects against diabetes and cardiovascular disease, lowers blood pressure, and improves sleep.  Two recently published studies of women over 60 show that light physical activity vs. sedentary behavior significantly lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease among women 63 and older across all racial and ethnic groups.[19]

"Full garden shot" by Linda N. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you haven’t been exercising during the pandemic, start slowly and choose an activity or two that you enjoy so that you will stick with it. Even light or moderate activity sustained over time can help with both weight loss and depression. Finally, maintain a healthy diet with plenty of greens, seafood, and whole grains.

Recommended Seafood Recipes

While we can’t help you exercise, can help you with your healthy diet, as we offer high quality seafood – fish, shellfish, and crabs and lobster – carefully prepared and packaged in portions designed for quick and easy preparation.  It’s easier to get moving when you’re powered by healthy fats and proteins.  Here are some of our favorite recipes.

Parchment Baked Halibut

Grilled Shrimp Kebabs

Easy Scallop Tacos

[1]  Darrah, Nicole. Covid climbing:  Arizona Arkansas, Utah, and 18 states where coronavirus is on the rise again. The Sun, US, Inc.. June 10, 2020.

[2]  Rushe, Dominic. Fauci:  coronavirus pandemic that ‘took over the planet’ is far from over. The Guardian. June 9, 2020.

[3]  Safi, Michael. The first wave of Covid-19 is not over – but how might a second wave look? The Guardian. June 5, 2020.

[4]  Sanger-Katz, Margot, Claire Cain Miller and Quoctrung Bui. When 511 epidemiologists expect to fly, hug and do 18 other everyday activities again. The New York Times. June 8, 2020.

[5] Koenig, Debbie. Quarantine weight gain not a joking matter. WebMD Health News. May 21, 2020.

[6] Fowers, Alyssa and William Wan. A third of Americans now show signs of clinical anxiety or depression, Census Bureau finds amid coronavirus pandemic. Washington Post. May 26, 2020.

[7]  Balzer, Deborah. Packing on pounds during COVID-19 and how to turn it around. Mayo Clinic News Network. May 11, 2020.

[8] Koenig, Debbie. Quaratine weight gain not a joking matter. WebMD Health News. May 21, 2020.

[9]  MacMillan, Carrie. Drinking more than usual during the COVID-19 pandemic? Yale Medicine. June 4, 2020.

[10]  WebMD website, reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on May 29, 2018.

[11] Edney, Anna. Zoloft falls into shortage as virus anxiety strains supplies. Bloomberg. June 1, 2020.



[14] Knueven, Liz. The typical American household earns $61,000 a year.  Here are 15 states where the typical resident earns even less. Business Insider. August 19, 2019.

[15]  Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression  Harvard Health Letter. Pub July 2013, updated March 25, 2019.

[16]  Ducharme, Jamie. Can exercise prevent depression?  Here’s what the science says. Time. January 25, 2019.

[17]  Reynolds, Gretchen. A possible remedy for pandemic stress:  Exercise. The New York Times. May 27, 2020.

[18]  Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression  Harvard Health Letter. Pub July 2013, updated March 25, 2019.

[19] Older women:  Every bit (of movement) counts.  NIH, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Research Feature. May 13, 2019.

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