Physical activity brings improved mental health – and stigma

In an effort to limit the spread of the COVID-19, people around the world have been advised to stay indoors and isolate themselves. While there is evidence that this social distancing is working, it can also negatively impact people’s mental health.

The disruption in our daily lives and the fear of contracting the deadly virus is leading to depression and anxiety, according to the American Psychological Association. While not everyone copes in the same ways during times like these, the CDC advises taking breaks from news stories about the pandemic.

Staci Lee Schnell, a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of the Counseling and Wellness Center of South Florida, has experienced an increase in patients as the quarantine drags on. She advises people to remember the importance of taking care of themselves at times like these by maintaining a healthy regimen.

Schnell said that having a routine in place can help mitigate daily frustrations. She also recommends getting outdoors to enjoy the fresh air and get some exercise, especially for those living in places like sunny South Florida. “Our physical health plays a strong role in our mental health and many people aren’t eating the way they used to and aren’t being as physically active as they used to,” she said.

Mariandrea Vergel, a 23-year-old former South Florida media Network reporter and unemployed journalist who is currently job hunting, has felt the strain of quarantine as she self-isolates with her mom and sister. Apart from feeling suffocated by the current situation, she feels like there is a stigma that has emerged about leaving the house.

“I see a lot of people criticizing others for going out on a run or biking, when in reality those are necessary activities that people have turned to in order not to go crazy while holed up in their houses,” she said.

Leron Taoz, a 21-year-old full-time student, acknowledges that being indoors has increased her depression and anxiety to an all-time high. She admits that it is hard to stay positive during this time but has tried to cope with it by keeping in touch with her friends and family as well as physical activity.

“Daily exercise and running have helped with my anxiety. Getting your endorphins running is an incredible thing,” she said.

Taoz believes that even though going outside helps relieve frustration, people are still afraid to leave their houses. “The major problem I think most of us are suffering from is feeling like we’re in lockdown and not being able to walk outside and just take a breath of fresh air without fear of contracting the virus,” she said.

Even states with stay-at-home orders encourage outdoor physical activity as it is essential for a healthy mind and body. The goal is to keep apart and do exercises such as running, hiking and biking as opposed to group activities like basketball.

Mariana Vargas is a senior at FIU majoring in journalism. She was born in Bogota, Colombia but grew up in Miami. Her passion for writing led her to journalism. She strives to write stories that bring awareness to special causes and inspire others. She hopes to one day travel the world, writing stories of the different people she encounters.