< Psychology

What are the physical effects of confinement and social distancing?

Text updated on 2020-05-20

Confinement and social isolation can lead to behaviours such as snacking, drinking alcohol, or smoking, which can relieve stress in the short term, but are harmful in the medium and long term. To stay healthy, it is essential to follow a healthy diet, to exercise regularly (even briefly), and to avoid excessive alcohol and drug use.

Containment and social distancing measures are crucial to combat the spread of COVID-19. However, if we do not take care of ourselves, these measures could also have "side effects" and negative health consequences in the medium and long term.

Even in times of the COVID-19 epidemic, the majority of deaths worldwide (2 out of 3) are due to chronic, non-contagious diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes. These chronic diseases also make people more vulnerable when they are infected with a coronavirus. These diseases are partly caused by genetic or environmental factors, but mainly by four key health-related behaviours: unbalanced diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, and the lack of exercise.

In societies in crisis, individuals who have lost their jobs, an important source of income, or who have seen their jobs change, are particularly vulnerable to stress and drug abuse.

Several studies have shown that stress and social isolation can have negative effects on these health-related behaviours: eating more unhealthy "comfort foods" (such as sweets or salty snacks), drinking more alcohol, smoking more cigarettes, having stronger cravings, and using illegal drugs. People with eating disorders or addictions are particularly vulnerable but everyone can feel the effects of stress.

In addition, containment and remoteness measures have resulted in the closure of gyms and sports activities disrupting our habits and making regular exercise more difficult.

If we wish to avoid negative consequences on our health in the long term, we must do our best to reduce these health risks and help those in need around us.

What to do?

facebook twitter linkedin


Chronic diseases are the leading causes of disability and death.

WHO website.

Sport reduces the risk of chronic diseases.

Lee, I. M., Shiroma, E. J., Lobelo, F., Puska, P., Blair, S. N., Katzmarzyk, P. T., & Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group. (2012). Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy. The lancet, 380(9838), 219-229.

A presentation of the potential effects of the pandemic and social distancing on patients with eating disorders.

Touyz, S., Lacey, H., & Hay, P. (2020). Eating disorders in the time of COVID-19. Journal of Eating Disorders, 8, 19-19.

Summary of the effects of alcohol consumption and abuse.

Clay, J. M., & Parker, M. O. (2020). Alcohol use and misuse during the COVID-19 pandemic: a potential public health crisis? The Lancet Public health, 5(5), e259.

A study conducted on mice shows that satisfying social interactions prevent drug abuse.

Loureiro, M., Achargui, R., Flakowski, J., Van Zessen, R., Stefanelli, T., Pascoli, V., & Lüscher, C. (2019). Social transmission of food safety depends on synaptic plasticity in the prefrontal cortex. Science, 364(6444), 991-995.

Further reading

What are the psychological effects of COVID-19?

Can the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus affect our brain?

How can teleworking be improved?

How do we find meaning in the new normal?

How do our cognitive biases influence us during COVID-19 ?