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This is how COVID related stress is affecting your body

23 June 2020
3 minute read

woman at desk stressed

The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown are causing high levels of stress and anxiety. A SA Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) survey of 1 200 people in the first few weeks of lockdown found 65% of them felt stressed. The ongoing strain has effects on the body as well as the mind. We look at the physical effects, and how to tackle them.

FatigueMental and emotional stress taxes the body just like physical stress, leaving you feeling exhausted. Practice self-care, finding ways to nurture yourself physically and emotionally. Gentle exercise like taking a walk every day, plus some stretching or yoga, may help alleviate fatigue, and keep the immune system in good shape. Try relaxing and creative activities like drawing, gardening or baking.

Change in sleeping habits You may be sleeping too much, or up every night battling insomnia. Stress exhausts your body’s energy levels, thus the sluggishness, but it can also trigger your body into being on high alert, making it hard to fall asleep. 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 in times of stress, while men tend to lose their appetite. If you’re overeating, recognise the stressors that send you to the snack drawer. Identify the trigger foods that you go for and keep them out of the house. If you’re undereating, regulate your meals and choose nutritious, easy-to-digest food.

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

HeadachesStress is a common trigger of tensionheadachesandmigrainesand can make a headache worse. Anything that helps you relax, including deep breathing, exercise and meditation, may help your headaches.

Neck painWhen you tense up, your neck muscles tighten and can contribute to neck pain, which may spread to your back and shoulders. Give yourself or get someone to give you a neck massage. A hot bath and applying a heat pad also relaxes the neck muscles. If these measures don’t help, see a physio or your doctor.

Mysterious body aches and pains Because stress and anxiety lower your pain threshold, they can cause soreness in your muscles, and spasms of pain that don’t seem to have a medical cause. Gentle exercise, a healthy diet and a good night’s sleep combat these, but you may need muscle relaxants too.

How to reduce the stress
SADAG offers tips to help you manage in this stressful time

  • Maintain a daily routine – get up, get dressed, make breakfast, go for a walk, and so on.
  • 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. Stick a list up on the fridge so the family can add ideas. For example, read a book, weed the garden, watch a favourite movie, draw something, 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 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 infoConflicting information and fake news can cause additional stress. SADAG suggests you get your COVID-19 information from reliable resources source such as these:

Take careRemember, 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.

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