Coronavirus Chronicles: Stress and Boredom

“Months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror” is a phrase that described the experience of troops in World War I, though nobody seems to have ever pinned down exactly who said it first. In the COVID-19 shuttering-in, a lot of people share those feelings. Soldiers in the trenches never realized how lucky they were in one respect. If they had had extra food available, they would have emerged from their combat experience weighing twice as much as they did on enlistment day. Stress and boredom are two of the top reasons for gratuitous eating.

Arianna Huffington alerts her readers that the mental health aftereffects of the crisis could “exceed the consequences of the 2019-CoV epidemic itself.” She didn’t make this up — it was in The Lancet. Mental health hotlines are jammed. Huffington writes,

Sarah Lowe, a psychologist and assistant professor at Yale School of Public Health… who studies the effects of disasters, said she worries that some people will be disproportionately affected, particularly medical workers, the sick, those with pre-existing mental illness and anyone facing economic challenges.

Dawn Brown of Helpline reminded Mother Jones that the mentally ill “don’t do well with uncertainty and ambiguity.” The isolation — or the enforced company of even the most beloved family and friends — both can be very upsetting. America is currently full of bereaved people who are grieving alone, without hand-holding or hugs.

Every aspect of the plague is terrifying… The uncertainty over how long this will go on… The fact that the threat is invisible, and may be conveyed by any person or object, or even the air itself. Your ability to judge character is useless, because literally no one can be trusted.

If people already had bad habits (and who doesn’t?) the new rules can bring out the worst in them. Americans are drinking lots of alcohol. Things are more than usually hellish for nicotine addicts, who probably can’t smoke indoors, and who endanger themselves and all their associates by going out to buy and smoke tobacco. Cannabis, while not great for the lungs in its inhaled state, can also be eaten, and has the advantage of preventing boredom. Huffington writes,

Not surprisingly, people are exercising less. They’re also eating more and reaching for comfort foods… Scientists from Columbia University have warned that school closures could exacerbate already epidemic rates of childhood obesity, which in turn can have lifelong effects.

In every realm of society, people have their own unique stressors. Career scientists and grad students are devastated. Matthew Kelly writes:

Clinical trials and preventative healthcare programs worth millions of dollars in research funding have collapsed due to a lack of participation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Programs, such as those targeting childhood obesity or blood pressure in regional areas, are among those that have ground to a halt over the past month.

Or it may be that your wedding, two years in the planning, with friends and relatives scheduled to fly in from all over the world, has been cancelled. The owner of the establishment where the visitors were going to stay loses a huge chunk of income, and that is stressful. The brides’s mother’s best friend, who was going to decorate the cake that would be her masterpiece, is stressed. Anyone who habitually reacts to stress or boredom by eating, and has access to food, is eating their feelings with both hands.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Pandemic Is Accelerating Our Mental Health Crisis,”, 04/10/20
Source: “The Mental Health Effects of Coronavirus Are a ‘Slow-Motion Disaster’,”, 04/02/20
Source: “Pandemic wreaks havoc with clinical trials and healthcare programs,”, 04/11/20
Image by Nik Anderson/(CC BY 2.0)

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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