What really happens to your body when you’re quarantined

What was your first reaction when you were politely asked by the government to stay at home and keep to yourself as much as possible while the coronavirus rages on? Were you thinking, yippee, finally some me time? Or was it more of a sense of dread, knowing that you’d be staring at the same four walls, day after day? While there is no nationally-imposed quarantine on the general population at this time, The New York Times indicates that individual municipalities do have the power to impose and enforce quarantines as needed. Plus, what with the fact that all the bars and restaurants seem to be closed and most forms of entertainment canceled, well, we’re all kind of on lockdown anyway — unless you count quick, panicky runs out to the grocery store to face crushing disappointment as they continue to be out of bread and toilet paper.

Whether you’re staying home alone or going stir-crazy with roomies, kiddies, and/or significant others, quarantine is bound to be tough both mentally and physically. Yes, the main reason we’re in self-quarantine is to protect our health and that of everybody else, but we all need to be aware of the effect that the quarantine itself is likely to have on our well-being.

Stress eating could pack on the pounds

When the going gets tough, the tough… get eating. Well, quite a few of us do. As Psychology Today points out, the anxiety, fear, and uncertainty we’re all feeling due to COVID-19 is a sure trigger for stress eating or even going on big-time food binges. Eating may serve as a temporary distraction from all that scary stuff going on, it may allow us to self-soothe, and it can even replenish our energy levels which are depleted by stress. This may be one of the reasons why the foods we crave so much in troubled times tend to be high in fat and sugar, since both of these provide quick energy.

Oh, and another reason we may be stuffing our faces night and day? Proximity. Working from home means working only steps away from the fridge, after all, and away from the eyes of judgmental coworkers who might remark upon our need for that fifth frozen Snickers break of the morning. If all this sounds painfully familiar (painful like your by now too-tight waistband), don’t feel too bad. Page Six reports that quarantine has even Ja Rule binging on more than just Netflix: “We ended up in the house for a while so I would have a snack — like a full apple pie and ice cream, like, ‘F*** it’ … I got these chocolate chip cookies with almonds and mint and macaroons dipped in chocolate.” Which sounds kind of awesome, actually… got any left to share, Ja?

Anxiety could also kill your appetite

There are some people, however, whose appetites just die entirely once the stress kicks in. While the anxiety diet may be an effective one, it’s anything but fun. According to Healthline, stress levels increase the body’s production of the hormone cortisol, which not only kills the appetite but tends to be accompanied by additional not-too-fun symptoms including nausea and muscle tightness. What’s more, cortisol kicks the stomach into high-level acid production, and stomach acid may lead to the development of ulcers.

If you find yourself not wanting to eat much of anything, first be sure you’re getting plenty of sleep. Being well-rested may help your stress levels. You should also try to establish a schedule for eating instead of waiting for hunger to strike or the mood to be right, since neither may ever happen. Finally, choose a few foods you can just about tolerate — soup, maybe, or crackers — and stick to those until you start getting sick of them and think you could maybe branch out a bit into trying something else.

You could get out of shape pretty quickly

Okay, so your gym workouts are canceled due to coronavirus, since most gyms are likely closed for the duration. If you use this as an excuse to quit working out altogether, though, this is a decision you’ll soon come to regret. Several different exercise science studies show that it only takes two weeks of inactivity before your fitness level starts dropping (via U.S. News and World Report). And if you were still, shall we say, a work in progress before going on workout hiatus, you’ll go downhill much quicker than had you started out at Olympic athlete levels. In fact, a 2014 study showed that obese adults who’d been regularly working out for four months and then took a month-long break lost nearly all of the aerobic fitness gains they’d made over the previous months, as well as their previously-improved insulin sensitivity and HDL cholesterol levels.

San Diego-based certified strength and conditioning specialist Pete McCall warns that if your body’s grown accustomed to a consistent exercise routine, once this challenge ceases your muscles will grow smaller and less powerful and your heart won’t be able to beat as fast or move as much blood. Solution? Get moving, even if you’re stuck at home. Lift some weights, do some push-ups, even get outside and take a walk. It will not only improve your physical health, but will probably do wonders for your mental state, as well.

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