Distancing, less physical activity during pandemic cause stress, anxiety to soar

Research indicates Americans are less physically active, and more prone to stress and anxiety because of the pandemic. Photo by Wokandapix/Pixabay
Research indicates Americans are less physically active, and more prone to stress and anxiety because of the pandemic. Photo by Wokandapix/Pixabay

Aug. 13 (UPI) -- Anxiety and depression have been widespread during COVID-19 lockdowns this spring, due in part to social distancing and a decline physical activity, two surveys published Thursday showed.

In the first survey, published by PLOS ONE, 42% of identical and same-sex fraternal twins reported declining physical activity levels in March during the early stages of the new coronavirus outbreak in the United States.


The lack of physical activity, along with genetic and shared environmental factors, might have contributed to increased stress levels among the twins, but raised anxiety among the participants could not be directly attributed to their reduced physical activity, the researchers said.

In the second survey, released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41% of participants reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another 31% indicated they had symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, and 26% experiencing symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder, the CDC researchers said.

In addition, 11% of respondents said they "seriously considered suicide" in the 30 days prior to completing the survey.


Both reports linked the rise in mental health issues with increased social isolation due to COVID-19 and the social distancing measures put in place to control spread of the disease.

"Overall, our findings suggest that physical distancing mitigation strategies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic may have an impact on individuals' daily activities and mental health," the authors of the PLOS ONE paper wrote.

For that study, researchers at Washington State University conducted an online survey of nearly 4,000 identical and same-sex fraternal adult twins from the Washington State Twin Registry between March 26 and April 5.

Washington was the first state in the country to have a confirmed case of COVID-19 and was among the first to implement social distancing measures, according to the CDC.

More twin pairs reported a decrease in their physical activity levels -- 42% -- than those reporting no change -- 31% -- or increased levels -- 27% -- the researchers said.

Those who indicated declines in physical activity also had higher levels of stress and anxiety. However, some of the "physical activity-stress relationship" may have been linked with genetic and shared environmental factors among the twins, the researchers said.

The CDC findings are based on an online survey conducted between June 24 and 30 that included responses from nearly 5,500 U.S. adults.The percentage of those who reported considering suicide was higher among young adults -- 26% -- and those who identified as "essential workers" -- 22% -- the agency said.


Just over 13% of respondents said they "started or increased substance use to cope with pandemic-related stress or emotions," the CDC said.

Increased reports of "adverse mental and behavioral health conditions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic highlight the broad impact" the coronavirus has had on people with mental health conditions, agency researchers wrote.

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