Coronavirus Pandemic Stress and the National Weight Gain

Have Americans gained weight during the Coronavirus Pandemic? Apparently, the answer is yes. A recent Eating Well poll found that 36% of adults had gained weight. All were being very honest in their responses, I’m sure! On average their gain was 12.5 pounds. A WebMD poll of over 1,000 Americans found that 47% of women and 22% of men said they had gained weight during the Pandemic.

The clothing industry is taking notice as well. The trend should be a good one as more weight means new clothes. Some manufacturers are adding larger sizes to their offerings. Perfitly, an app that helps shoppers see how something fits before purchasing it, says shoppers are re-doing their profiles in much larger numbers compared to last summer. More along the lines they see usually in January, after holiday eating results in weight gains.

This is not surprising news. Stress levels among American are high nationally. Normal, easily accessible stress-relieving coping activities like socializing with family and friends, attending faith-based services, and enjoying sporting and entertainment events have been severely restricted. Surging levels of COVID 19 cases and deaths in many areas make returning soon to these once routine activities seem unlikely.

There is a relationship between mind and body that is producing this national bulking up. Each time we experience stress our bodies produce adrenaline and cortisol, often called the “stress hormone.” They cause the body to dump glucose into our blood streams to give us energy. This is the fight or flight response. It helped our ancestors escape saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, short-faced bears, and other giant, hungry predators looking for a snack. We are thankful this mind-body process was so successful for our ancestors; else we might not be reading this. But in our modern life especially with very high stress levels, it leads to regular spikes in blood sugar levels and then to cravings, overeating, and weight gain.

One theme many mental health professionals including myself encourage in their clients, is to focus on what one can change. And not so much on the things we cannot change. We cannot change the societal and public health effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Nor can we change the human fight or flight response. But we can take actions that will help us break the stress-weight gain cycle. Here are some tips – see if any might work for you:

  • Drink more water. Hydration is important for many health reasons, including managing stress. Stress causes us to confuse thirst for hunger. If you are suddenly hungry between meals, drink some water before reaching for a snack.
  • Make exercise a daily priority (physician-approved exercise, of course). Exercise is a great stress reducer. Be intentional. Plan regular exercise that fits your lifestyle and health status.
  • Give yourself permission to eat comfort foods – but – select healthier comfort foods as often as possible when you feel especially stressed and hungry. Examples of healthier comfort foods include popcorn, nuts, and tasty fresh fruits.
  • Beside exercise, look for other stress-reducing daily activities that fit your lifestyle and health status. These may include gardening, yoga, meditation, reading, spending more time in nature, and many other simple and accessible activities.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Be your own best friend. Notice successes, however small, and encourage progress.

By the way, awareness is the first step and you just took it! Keep up the good work!


About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, is the Chief Clinical Officer for Espyr. Norman has worked in the mental health field for over 30 years and is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health clinician.



Eating Well


U.S. News and World Report



About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

When A Mask Is Just Not Enough

As COVID-19 continues to spread and availability of a safe and effective vaccine is still in question, we need to accept that this “new normal” is here to stay for the foreseeable future.  For those who have had COVID-19 or get it in the future, we still have much to learn about lingering and long term health effects.  Everyone, whether you’ve had the virus or not, is susceptible to the effects of COVID-19 on mental health – both short term and long term.

The Effects of COVID-19 on Mental Health Vary

The CDC reported recently on how fear and anxiety associated with a pandemic can be stressful, and in some cases, overwhelming in adults and children.   Social distancing, reduced social interactions and even working from home can make people feel isolated and lonely, increasing stress and anxiety.  Pandemic stress can cause:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job.
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
  • Worsening of chronic health problems.
  • Worsening of mental health conditions.
  • Increased use of tobacco, and/or alcohol and other substances.

What’s more, there may be longer term, more serious mental health effects from COVID-19 as well.  A recent study with COVID patients from Wuhan, China as reported in Psychological Medicine explored the question of whether surviving a life-threatening illness such as COVID-19 put people at a greater risk for acute stress reactions and longer term for PTSD. Early research from the Wuhan study indicates it may and is consistent with earlier findings about the SARS pandemic.

Everyone Reacts Differently to Stress

The CDC report points out that everyone responds to this stress in different ways.  How you respond to stress during the COVID-19 pandemic can depend on your background, your social support from family or friends, your financial situation, your health and emotional background, the community you live in, and many other factors. People who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include:

  • People who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 (for example, older people, and people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions.
  • Children and teens.
  • People caring for family members or loved ones.
  • Frontline workers such as health care providers and first responders,
  • Essential workers who work in the food industry.
  • People who have existing mental health conditions.
  • People who use substances or have a substance use disorder.
  • People who have lost their jobs, had their work hours reduced, or had other major changes to their employment.
  • People who have disabilities or developmental delay.
  • People who are socially isolated from others, including people who live alone, and people in rural or frontier areas.
  • Racial and ethnic minority groups.  See our blog post on Discrimination and Health
  • Those who do not have access to information in their primary language.
  • People experiencing homelessness.
  • People who live in congregate (group) settings.

Healthy ways to cope with stress

Here’s the CDC’s advice on how to cope with pandemic induced stress.

  • Know what to do if you are sick and are concerned about COVID-19. Contact a health professional before you start any self-treatment for COVID-19.
  • Know where and how to get treatment and other support services and resources, including counseling or therapy (in person or through telehealth services).  To this point we would add, contact your company’s EAP or Human Resources department.
  • Take care of your emotional health. Taking care of your emotional health will help you think clearly and react to the urgent needs to protect yourself and your family.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body.
    • Take deep breaths, stretch or  meditate
    • Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals
    • Exercise regularly
    • Get plenty of sleep
    • Avoid excessive alcohol and drug use
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations. While social distancing measures are in place, consider connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail.

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating  under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and engaging at-risk employees and addressing their mental health issues before they develop into more expensive, long-term healthcare situations. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Telehealth – A New Normal We’re Glad To Have

Americans are making many lifestyle adjustments during the COVID-19 emergency: working from home, restricted travel, wearing masks when in public and the increased use of telehealth or virtual care services to name a few.  At least one of these adjustments – telehealth – may prove to be a new normal for the better, both in terms of convenience and quality of care.

Telehealth is not new and surveys show that use was increasing even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.  But the pandemic has led to a rapid escalation in use of virtual care.  That escalation may be driven by the concern for  prevention; patients are avoiding public places, especially doctor’s offices for fear of contagion.  On the other hand, doctors also want to limit the risks of COVID-19 contagion and are encouraging patients with pandemic symptoms to stay home.

However, crisis often leads to innovation, and in the case of telehealth providers and patients alike will find it to be a convenient and effective alternative.  It is the benefits of telehealth, rather than preventing pandemic contagion, that will drive future growth of telehealth.

The benefits of telehealth

A recent US National Library of Medicine article provided a noteworthy report on the benefits and issues with telehealth.  There are a number of obvious benefits of telehealth:

  • It’s an effective way to provide care at home, especially for people who can’t easily get to their provider’s office.
  • Patients can get care from a specialist who may not be close by or easily accessible.
  • Patients can get care after office hours and can more easily communicate with providers.
  • Communication and coordination between healthcare providers is enhanced.
  • Patients managing chronic health conditions such as diabetes can get more support, more conveniently.
  • There is a potential for lower healthcare costs, as virtual visits can be less expansive than in -person visits.

 Telehealth for mental health care

Telehealth is not just for physical healthcare; it also can be applied quite well to the care of mental health.  A recent article in by Ray Costantini made a strong case for why telehealth services are needed for mental healthcare.

To begin with, there is still a stigma associated with mental health.  Although society is becoming more understanding and accepting when it comes to mental health, even those ready to get help encounter discouraging roadblocks: a lack of timely appointments because of a shortage of doctors and/or clinicians, the high cost of care, the lack of insurance coverage for mental health services and the challenging emotional burden of acting on the symptoms of depression.

Tele-mental or virtual health services are a convenient alternative. Easily accessible and much less expensive than in-person visits, telephonic or online care enables patients to access the resources they need to get help and address their challenges.  Tele-mental or virtual services also allow people to get help for their mental health concerns from the privacy of their own home. That often makes taking action easier and has been shown to help them be more open and honest about what they’re experiencing, compared to a face-to-face with a provider.

The Role Of Tele-mental Health Services

Similar to the expansion of telehealth services for physical care, telephone or computer based offerings for mental healthcare are also expanding.  Benefits of virtual mental healthcare include:

  • Increasing Access to Care – Virtual care can be available 24X7, 365 days of the year. Patients don’t need to wait days or even weeks for a scheduled appointment any more. And they don’t have to miss work, since then get care any time they want.
  • Offering More Time and Attention – Because providers’ schedules are frequently overbooked, patients only get their attention for only a few minutes, and can feel rushed to digest all the information they’re presented or be too intimidated to ask questions because they’re worried about inconveniencing the doctor. Online platforms enable patients to proceed at their own pace, giving them a chance to review information without being embarrassed about taking the physician’s time to ensure they fully understand.
  • Saving Time and Money – Not only is virtual care more affordable, people don’t have to lose pay by having to take time off for in-person visits or travel a long way. It’s also better for employers, since unmanaged mental health takes a brutal toll through both absenteeism and presenteeism.
  • Insurance Coverage – More payers are now reimbursing providers for virtual care. For example, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said late last year that it is expanding opportunities to cover mental health treatments under Medicaid and encouraging states to improve community-based mental health services.
  • Reducing Stigma and Emotional barriers – Patients can seek care in the privacy of their own home without informing employers or family members. The comfortable environment often empowers them to share more information that can lead to a better diagnosis and faster time to treatment. It also enables them to become more engaged in their own care, seeking providers and solutions that best meet their individual needs.

Since the onset of the pandemic, at Espyr we’ve seen a dramatic increase in utilization of  tele-mental health services.  We’ve recently launched TalkNow®, where clients can reach a licensed mental health professional immediately without waiting or the need for an appointment. TalkNow has proven to be especially helpful for clients suffering from stress and anxiety issues related to COVID-19, but it can provide valuable support for a wide range of mental well-being issues.

While TalkNow provides immediate and convenient support, often resolving client’s concerns in one phone call, we also provide tele-mental health services for more complex mental health issues that require multiple sessions with a qualified mental health clinician.

The future for telehealth

We expect to see continued expansion in telehealth services.  Furthermore, as depression, anxiety and other mental health issues impact an increasingly large segment of the population, we expect a growing role for tele-mental health services as an effective and convenient form of treatment and support.

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping people – employees, students, members –  achieve and maintain good health so they can perform at their best for over 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s industry leading coaching, counseling and mental health advocacy  programs  to maintain employee health and well-being.  For more information contact Jeffrey Joo at 888-570-3479 or

Espyr® Launches iResolveSM To Support Mental Health During COVID-19 Pandemic

ATLANTA, April 2, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — In response to the rapid escalation in COVID-19 related mental health issues, Espyr, an industry leader in mental health solutions, will begin offering its highly effective iResolve tele-mental health solution to help employers provide immediate support for employee mental health issues. iResolve was previously only offered to Espyr clients as part of a comprehensive Espyr EAP program.

People in all walks of life – from first responders, healthcare workers and other essential businesses to those enduring quarantine induced social isolation – are suffering a mental health drain as a result of COVID-19.  Fear of catching the virus, spreading it to friends and family, anxiety over the prospect of job losses or furloughs and concerns over evaporating retirement accounts are all contributing to unhealthy levels of stress, depression and even suicidal thoughts.

The explosion in the incidence of mental health issues unleashed by COVID-19 has overwhelmed some mental health providers, while many others lack the capability of providing the immediate counseling that iResolve offers.

iResolve is different than traditional counseling

Unlike traditional counseling, which requires members to wait for an appointment and travel to a counselor’s office multiple times, iResolve provides users with immediate telephonic access to clinicians who can help address their issues now, in one call. No appointment, no waiting.

Users of iResolve are more likely to say they would recommend the service to a friend or colleague than traditional in-office counseling sessions.  iResolve’s Net Promoter Score of 61 far exceeds the healthcare benchmark of 48, reflecting user satisfaction in iResolve.

“The longer the pandemic lasts, the more pronounced the effect will be on mental health, and for employers, the greater the impact on productivity, morale and absenteeism.  This is not just a viral pandemic, it’s a mental health pandemic as well,” stated Espyr CEO, Rick Taweel.  “With iResolve employers now have a proven, immediate and low cost way to support their employee’s mental health needs.”

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping employees achieve and maintain good health – so they can perform their best – for 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s industry leading Behavioral Health Coaching and Assistance Programs to maintain employee health and well being.  For more information contact Jeffrey Joo at 888-570-3479 or