Living Through the Pandemic Stress Free: Here’s How

Feeling alone on a rainy winter day during lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, January 31, 2021, St. Ives, England (Photo by Hedgehod Digital) Creative Commons license via Flickr

GENEVA, Switzerland, April 17, 2021 ( News) – COVID-19 has caused changes to people’s wellbeing around the world ever since the World Health Organization declared the viral outbreak a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. As the virus surged and receded and surged again in country after country throughout 2020, prompting lockdowns, school and business closures, people around the world have reported changes in their physical activity levels, mental health, wellbeing, and eating habits.

Globally, as of April 16, 2021, there have been 138,688,383 confirmed cases of COVID-19 disease, and a total of 2,978,935 deaths, reported to the World Heath Organization, WHO, since the start of the pandemic. As of April 15, a total of 751,452,536 vaccine doses have been administered.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has thrived amid the inequalities in our societies and the gaps in our health systems,” says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “It is vital for all governments to invest in strengthening their health services and to remove the barriers that prevent so many people from using them, so more people have the chance to live healthy lives.”

Now, a new international study, titled “A cross-cultural exploratory study of health behaviors and wellbeing during COVID-19,” published in the journal “Frontiers in Psychology” has found that a decrease in physical activity during the pandemic was linked to poorer perceived physical and mental health, weight gain and decreased sleep.

The study was conducted by an international team of researchers from the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, and the University of Wolverhampton as well as others from the University of Northampton in the United Kingdom.

Their study was carried out in cooperation with universities in the Philippines, Australia, Spain, South Korea and Italy.

More than 1,140 individuals from those countries, which display a wide range of different virus containment measures, participated in an online survey that explored changes in physical activity, eating, sleep, physical and mental health, and wellbeing during the first lockdown phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was great variability in the study participants’ physical activity. Some individuals reported a high increase in physical activity while others reported a great decrease.

When researchers compared activities across countries, they found “significant” differences in physical, mental and emotional health. UK participants reported lowest levels of physical health and highest increase in weight while Latin American participants reported being most affected by emotional problems.

Finnish participants reported the greatest amount of physical activity and the highest health values. “Increased physical activity was associated with better physical health as rated over the past week along with increased wellbeing and sleep,” said Sport and Exercise Psychology Lecturer Montse Ruiz from the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä.

“In contrast, reduced physical activity was related to lowest mental health, represented by more personal and emotional problems, and a significant increase in eating and weight,” Ruiz explained.

Participants in Latin American countries perceived themselves to have poorer mental health, compared to South Koreans who indicated being “significantly less affected by personal or emotional problems.”

Filipino participants reported higher sleep and eating scores compared to the other countries in the study.

“Our findings indicate that irrespective of country of residence or age, participants reporting reduced physical activity typically experienced poorer physical and mental health along with diminished wellbeing,” Ruiz said. “Reduced exercise was also associated with perceptions of weight gain and decreased sleep. We encourage individuals to find ways of incorporating physical activity into their day where possible.”

To read the original study, “A cross-cultural exploratory study of health behaviors and wellbeing during COVID-19,” click here. <>

It is to be expected that physical health would be at risk during the pandemic, but mental health issues, however distressing, have been largely ignored by the media.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federal agency, agrees that due to the pandemic people’s mental health is more vulnerable now than it was in 2019.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on our lives,” the CDC acknowleges on its website. “Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming, and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Public health actions, such as social distancing, are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but they can make us feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety. Learning to cope with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and those around you become more resilient.”

The CDC explains that stress can cause:

* – Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration

* – Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests

* – Difficulty concentrating and making decisions

* – Difficulty sleeping or nightmares

* – Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes

* – Worsening of chronic health problems

* – Worsening of mental health conditions

* – Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances

“It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the CDC says, offering some simple, helpful strategies to beat stress.

The CDC’s Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress

Take care of your mind. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media, as hearing about the pandemic constantly can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple times a day and disconnecting from phone, tv, and computer screens for a while.

Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals. Exercise regularly. Get plenty of sleep. Avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco, and substance use. Continue with routine preventive measures, such as vaccinations and/or cancer screenings, as recommended by your healthcare provider. Get vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine when available.

Take care of your social life. Make time to unwind. Try to do some activities you enjoy. Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations. While social distancing measures are in place, try connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail.

World Health Assembly to Focus on Mental Health in the Pandemic

The importance of integrating mental health into preparedness and response plans for public health emergencies was emphasized by WHO Member States at the WHO Executive Board meeting held in January. Delegates expressed their strong support for the adoption of a Decision on this topic, proposed by Thailand, and co-sponsored by more than 40 Member States, at the 74th session of the World Health Assembly, due to meet in May 2021.

European healthcare workers reach out across national borders to help one another in the health crisis. Here, 60 Albanian nurses who will support Italian doctors and nurses in the fight against the coronavirus arrive in Fiumicino, Italy. It is the second health team from Albania to arrive in Italy. April 20, 2020 (Photo courtesy Government of Italy, Dipartimento Protezione Civile) Creative Commons license via Flickr

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stark reminder of the importance of integrating mental health into preparedness and response plans for public health emergencies,” said Dévora Kestel, director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use at the World Health Organization, after the discussions. “The inclusion of this issue at the next session of the World Health Assembly is an important next step towards being better prepared to provide people with the support they need for their mental health during future public health emergencies.”

Member States appealed to the WHO Director-General to provide technical support for monitoring changes in and disruptions to mental health services, and to promote and expande access to inclusive, integrated, evidence-based primary and community mental health services and psychosocial support.

The WHO Executive Board wants the agency’s capacity to work on mental health issues to be strengthened at the global, regional and country levels; and asks that mental health be systematically integrated into all aspects of the work of the WHO Secretariat on universal health coverage.

AT the Board meeting, WHO Member States expressed concern about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on adolescents; women, who are particularly vulnerable to domestic abuse and sexual assault; people living in humanitarian settings, and people with substance abuse issues.

They reported on the stigma, discrimination and human rights infringements that people infected with COVID-19, particularly frontline workers, have faced during the pandemic. They highlighted approaches that they felt are key to addressing the rising demand for mental health support in their countries, including: affordable and accessible community-based approaches; provision of support through telehealth and digital means; and training for health-care workers and other frontline personnel in psychosocial support.

The Executive Board encouraged Member States to develop and strengthen, as part of a whole-of-society approach, the timely and quality provision of the full range of mental health services and psychosocial support as an integral part of the health system. They were asked to allocate adequate funding for mental health, to mainstream knowledge of mental health among other health professionals, and to study the impact of COVID-19 on mental, neurological and substance use conditions and their consequences, sharing lessons learned with both the Secretariat and Member States.

In May, the World Health Assembly will consider the proposal on preparedness for and response to the mental health consequences of humanitarian emergencies, and also the updated implementation options and indicators for the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030.

By Sunny Lewis for Maximpact

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