Health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic

While it might seem like social isolation should give you plenty of time to take care of your health, as long as you’re not experiencing Coronavirus symptoms, the reality is that the pandemic presents a range of extra health risks, even without a COVID-19 infection.

While negative pandemic news is itself a stressor and a health risk (as discussed below), addressing these extra risks and how to manage them can be a positive thing, allowing you to take care of yourself and your health during these difficult times.

  • Social isolation and stress
  • Health risks during the pandemic
  • Ongoing and long-term health impacts
  • How to manage these health risks

Social isolation and stress

The link between stress and physical and mental health is widely known and recognised. And whether you feel it or not, a global crisis like this Coronavirus pandemic is likely to cause at least moderate stress for even the most laid back of us. The NHS lists the physical and mental symptoms of increased stress, some of which many of us may already be experiencing.

So what aspects of the pandemic are causing this stress? The Lancet, World Psychiatry, and Psychological Bulletin journals outline what are most likely to be the potential main sources of stress for us right now:

  • Fear of infection – the constant threat of infection or infecting our loved ones may not be something we consciously address, but it is something we are all carrying with us as long as this pandemic continues.
  • Frustration and boredom, and lack of connectedness – losing our regular routines and social and physical contact with others can ultimately lead to boredom, frustration, and a sense of isolation, all of which can stress us out.
  • Inadequate information – not being clear information and guidance during a global crisis has shown to cause increased stress in the past. There has been criticism that government communication on the pandemic has been insufficient.
  • Inadequate supplies – when shopping represents a risk and extra hassle, not having enough stock in your cupboards can prompt additional stress.
  • Lack of control over the situation – while many of us are used to a degree of freedom and control over ourselves and our lives, the pandemic stripping us of a level of personal freedom cannot be experienced without some stress.
  • Being unable to work or perform duties effectively – while some continue to work as normal, and some can continue to work from home, many of us experience barriers to working as efficiently as before the pandemic, if not being unable to work at all, which can cause stress and frustration.

And the stress from the sources above are likely to increase the longer the situation continues.

Health risks during the pandemic

Linked to stress, for many of us the realities of the Coronavirus pandemic spark specific anxieties which can negatively impact our mental health. Polls conducted by the American Psychiatric Association highlight anxieties experienced by us while living under lockdown:

  • 48% are worried about getting or spreading the infection
  • 40% are worried about becoming seriously ill or dying from a COVID-19 infection
  • 62% are worried about the health of their loved ones
  • 36% say the pandemic has affected their mental health directly
  • 59% say the pandemic has negatively impacted their day to day life

These polls also shed light on how these anxieties are impacting our health:

  • 19% admit to sleeping worse during the pandemic
  • 8% admit to drinking or using drugs more than usual during the pandemic
  • 12% say they’ve been fighting more with partners or loved ones
  • 24% say they are having trouble with their concentration

It’s no surprise the increased stress and anxiety has negative health impacts. The International Journal of Mental Health Nursing explains the mental health impacts of the pandemic. Stress and anxiety not only represent health problems in and of themselves, but they can even lead to physical health problems; a dynamic known as a psychosomatic response. Moreover, for those of us who were managing other mental health conditions before the pandemic, these conditions are likely to be exacerbated under the current circumstances, particularly PTSD and depression.

On top of the risk of psychosomatic physical health problems, the restrictions to physical activity caused by the lockdown present additional risks to our physical health. Without access to gyms and sports facilities, and with social isolation preventing group physical activities, it’s become very difficult for us to get the exercise we need to stay healthy. The journal ‘Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases’ discusses the role of physical exercise in preventing physical health consequences during the pandemic. Notably, they highlight the areas of physical health where benefits could be lost without proper exercise during lockdown, including; cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength, coordination/agility, respiratory health, circulatory health, nervous system health, skeletal system health, endocrine system health, digestive health, immune system health, and renal system health.

Ongoing and long-term health impacts

While the end of the pandemic and lockdown will help relieve much of the immediate health risks to our physical and mental health, there are also long-term implications to consider. While getting back into shape and shedding weight gained from boredom-binging could take a while, they might be more obvious and straightforward than some of the longer term mental health impacts listed below:

Persistent anxieties – although fears about infection and other lockdown-related worries and stressors should improve following the end of the pandemic, other anxieties highlighted by the Lancet and American Psychiatric Association could continue, including:

  • Financial worries caused by reduced furloughed pay or unemployment for some
  • Stigma experienced from having become infected or guilt from spreading the infection
  • Wider fears about the impact the pandemic has had on society or the economy
  • Fear about going outside (agoraphobia) or fear of using public transport

Increased tensions and anger – the frustration of being isolated doesn’t just disappear post-lockdown, and wider conversations around the management of the pandemic can lead to conflict:

Even if you yourself don’t feel anger or tensions, you may still encounter those who do in the months following the end of this pandemic lockdown.

Lasting low mood and negative feelings – unsurprising in a time of serious illness and death, grief, loss, depression, and PTSD can linger:

How to manage these health risks

Although it may seem hopeless with the level of health risk social isolation brings, there is research and advice showing there are effective ways to mitigate the risks and stay healthy.

The Lancet also provides advice on how to overcome the stressors stemming from the pandemic, including:

  • Getting important information – while it’s important not to overload yourself with negative news (covered below), getting the info you do need to know how to manage the pandemic can help reduce the stress you experience.
  • Maintaining adequate supplies – while it’s important not to hoard, it’s also good to make sure you’re not running out of what you really need. Buying enough to keep you in stock between shopping trips is enough, without needing to buy in excess.
  • Reducing boredom – keeping yourself entertained and in contact with friends and family will help alleviate boredom stress. Planning activities and regular calls or voice chats will make avoiding boredom much easier.
  • Focus on why you’re isolating yourself – part of what makes social isolation stressful is feeling out of control. Rather than feeling like you’re being isolated, it can be less stressful if you consider it a choice you’re making to help protect others.

The World Health Organisation give further advice on supporting your mental health during the pandemic, including:

  • Stay connected – not just useful for relieving boredom, staying in touch with friends and family can be beneficial for mental health too.
  • Pay attention to your needs and feelings – do things that are healthy, enjoyable, and relaxing. Focus on eating well, exercising, and a good sleep routine.
  • Focus on the positive – because it’s a difficult time for everyone, it’s important to remember what you do have to be thankful for and try to feel appreciation for it.
  • Limit your consumption of negative media – while getting the info you need is important, if you find that the news on the pandemic is too negative and is making you anxious, it’s perfectly acceptable to avoid it.

If you feel like you need help with mental help, studies have shown that, the faster you get help during a crisis like this pandemic, the better off you will be. See the NHS website for info on how to access mental health services in the UK.

Finally, to overcome both the physical and mental health risks of the COVID-19 quarantine, having a good exercise routine is key.

This is a piece written by one of our excellent copywriters with specialisation in healthcare related subjects. Get in touch at adadot.com if you need copywriting support! 

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