4 Ways the Pandemic Has Taken a Toll on Our Bodies

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It’s making us grind our teeth.

I started grinding my teeth in my sleep as a teen—my family could hear me doing it from outside my bedroom, and I woke every morning with incessant jaw pain and headaches. My dentist eventually fitted me with a (very sexy) mouthguard, but I admittedly have not kept up with wearing it. Throughout the pandemic, my teeth grinding has returned with more regularity, and I often don’t realize I’m clenching my jaw until I read one of those tweets reminding you to unclench, lower your shoulders and drink some water.

A March 2021 survey from the American Dental Association found that 70 percent of dentists saw an increase in patients dealing with teeth grinding and jaw clenching during the pandemic. For relief, the Canadian Dental Association recommends applying a cold or warm compress to your jaw, massaging and stretching your jaw and relaxing your mouth (lips barely touching, teeth apart, tongue resting on the roof of your mouth). If none of that works, you might be in the running for a (very sexy) mouthguard, like me.

(Related: 35 Secrets Your Dentist Won’t Tell You)

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Fertility Issues

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It’s causing reproductive issues.

When I put out my investigative tweet about women and their stress responses, I was struck by how many saw weight gain in their lower abdomen during the pandemic—and then were diagnosed with fibroids. Uterine fibroids can be relatively unnoticeable or can grow to the point where they cause heavy menstrual bleeding, abdominal pain and fertility issues. While stress is a known contributor to increased uterine fibroid pain, studies have also shown a correlation between chronic psychological stress and fibroid onset, particularly for Black women.

Stress has done a number on people’s periods too. Science shows that cortisol (the hormone our bodies create under stress) can affect the hypothalamus, the part of your brain that controls your menstrual cycle. Cortisol flooding the hypothalamus can lead to lighter or late periods—or no periods at all, called amenorrhea. Dr. Olivia Rose, a naturopathic doctor in Toronto, adds that chronic psychological stress and elevated cortisol can disrupt the communication pathway between the brain and the adrenal glands, where stress hormones are produced. “That leads to fluctuations in progesterone and estrogen levels, which could possibly affect the growth of uterine fibroids,” she says. “Research has also shown that an increase in [the stress hormone] norepinephrine can lead to the development of ovarian cysts and missed periods.”

If you’re absolutely sure you aren’t pregnant, a thyroid function, ovary function or prolactin test can pinpoint the exact cause and plan of treatment to get your cycle back on track. General stress management can help realign your hormones, Rose says. “I encourage my patients to eat a balanced diet, which may include cutting back on caffeine and alcohol intakes, especially when stressed. Exercise and meditation are also helpful.” Once your stress levels have lowered, stress-related amenorrhea can resolve itself, letting your periods return.

(Related: How Everyday Products Can Affect Your Fertility)

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Greying Hair

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It’s the reason for greying hair.

Part of folks’ pandemic stress has been around their limited access to skilled hairstylists, leaving some of us to DIY it while others let their hair rock as is. Many could relate when CTV National News anchor Lisa LaFlamme chose to let her grey roots grow in. Greys appear when your hair follicles stop producing pigment, and one of the most common predictors of your greying pattern is actually genetics. While a 2020 study did show that acute stress in mice leads to accelerated greying of the fur, for humans, the verdict is still out.

One thing stress can do is cause a condition called telogen effluvium, which causes hair to shed at around three times the normal rate. This explains why just as many women told me about their hair loss as they did about their greys. The good news with stress-related telogen effluvium is that it does not cause permanent balding, so your hair should stop shedding after about six months. And the good news with greying is that you can always choose to embrace it or dye it—whatever brings you the least stress.

Next, this is what you need to know about good stress versus bad stress.

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