Is Covid-19 related stress affecting your body?

Shot of a young woman suffering from stress while using a computer at her work desk
Shot of a young woman suffering from stress while using a computer at her work desk

There is no doubt that the underlying stress related to Covid-19 coronavirus is causing many South Africans high levels of anxiety. A SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) survey of 1 200 people found that 65% of people felt stressed in the first few weeks of lockdown. The impact on the body, as well as the mind, is profound and so it is important to identify these and know how to tackle them.

Let’s take a look.

Fatigue

Mental and emotional stress impacts the body just as much, if not more than, physical stress, resulting in you feeling drained and exhausted. It is important to prioritise self-care, and to nurture yourself physically and emotionally.

Simple exercise such as taking a walk every day, plus some stretching or yoga, can help alleviate fatigue and, more importantly, keep the immune system in check. Find a gap at least once a day to relax and, if you can, take part in creative activities that take your mind of the everyday stresses.

Read: Covid-19: Expect a rise in depression as the pandemic affects mental health

Change in sleeping habits

You may be sleeping too much or, on the contrary, are up every night unable to sleep. Stress exhausts your body’s energy levels but it can also trigger your body into being on highly conscious. Try progressive muscle relaxation, a deep relaxation technique that involves tensing and releasing the muscles.

Find more good sleep tips and habits here. If sleep problems persist, consult your doctor.

Change in eating habits

Research has found that women tend to comfort eat during times of stress, while men tend to lose their appetite. If you’re overeating, recognise what triggers your need for a snack, and make sure you don’t keep the snacks you tend to lean towards in the house. If you’re undereating, regulate your meals and choose nutritious, easy-to-digest food.

Digestive concerns

Your gastrointestinal system is sensitive to emotions and stress, which can cause indigestion and heartburn, diarrhoea, or constipation. Aside from relaxation techniques, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet and watch your alcohol and sugar intake.

Headaches

Stress is a common trigger of tension headaches and migraines and can make a headache worse. It is therefore important to exercise relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, physical exercise, and meditation, which may help your headaches.

Neck pain

When you tense up, your upper body muscles tighten, contributing to neck pain, back and shoulder pain. A quick neck massage, hot bath or a heat pad can go a long way to help relaxing the neck muscles. If these measures don’t help, see a physiotherapist or your doctor.

Unable to help yourself? Don’t be shy to ask for help

If you are struggling to cope, don’t be afraid to speak up and get help. Talk to a therapist, or try these resources:

• Sadag on 0800 212223, 0800 708090 or 0800 456789

• Suicide Helpline 0800 567567

How to reduce stress

Sadag offers tips to help you manage in this stressful time such as:


  • Maintain a daily routine – get up, get dressed, make breakfast, or go for a walk.
  • Ask yourself what you can control – your attitude, your home, caring for your body and mind - and focus  on these things.
  • Practice relaxation techniques to ease stress levels.
  • Plan things to do so that you have something to look forward to. For example, put a list up on the fridge so the family can add ideas such as read a book, weed the garden, watch a favourite movie, draw, try a new exercise, play a board game, or clean out the cupboards.
  • Reduce the time you spend watching or listening to Covid-19 media coverage. Only update at specific times of the day, for instance at 8 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon. Mute key words which might be triggering your emotions on Twitter, unfollow or mute accounts, mute WhatsApp groups and hide Facebook posts and feeds if you find them too overwhelming.
  • Stay connected with the people you love via technology.


Get good info

Conflicting information and fake news can cause additional stress. Sadag suggests you get your Covid-19 information from reliable resources source such as these:


  • The South African Covid-19 news portal
  • National Department of Health WhatsApp line: 060 012 3456.


Remember, the lockdown is temporary, and life as you knew it will slowly return. For now, take good care of yourself, physically and mentally, and get help and support when you need it.

Keet is Head of Risk Services at 1Life and writes in his personal capacity


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