COVID-19—dealing with winter anxiety

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Health Assured team

13 November 2020

Given that we’re racing into winter, with lockdowns and restrictions coming into effect all over the world, it’s safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic is still here and still affecting our lives deeply.

Although COVID-19 is a very serious disease for the most part, when people contract the virus, it affects their respiratory system—sometimes enough to require hospitalisation—but once they’ve recovered, they’re okay.

But recently, the phrase ‘long COVID’ has gained more and more traction. Though it’s not a recognised medical term—yet—the effects of the coronavirus seem to affect some people for much longer than others. Sufferers have reported fatigue, breathlessness, muscle aches, joint pain, brain fog and mental health issues continuing for weeks, even months, after infection.

Now, winter is a difficult enough time for many. The long nights and short days can cause their own problems, such as seasonal affective disorder. It’s important, then, to try to stay positive, stay focused, and use the following tips to avoid the anxieties and stresses of winter in a pandemic.

Get as much time outdoors as you can

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a condition affecting as many as one in three people in the UK and Ireland1. It’s a major depressive disorder—far more than the ‘winter blues.’

SAD has many of the same outward signs as depression:

· Persistent low mood

· Loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities

· Feeling irritable

· Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness

· Low self-esteem

· Feeling stressed or anxious

· A reduced sex drive

· Becoming less sociable

With a few SAD-specific signs:

· Feeling less active than normal.

· Lethargy and sleepiness throughout the day.

· Difficulty concentrating.

· An increased appetite—particularly for carbs.

A lot of people are working remotely, this winter. And when you’re working from home, you can sometimes spend less time outdoors than usual, meaning less sunlight, meaning less vitamin D—meaning more likelihood of SAD.

Combating this by dedicating some time to simply stepping outside for a brief time every day to feel the sun on your face (if it’s not a grey day!) can do wonders. And if you’re still working on-site, whatever your job, remember to try to catch as much sun as you can.

Of course, take all the necessary precautions—mask up, maintain space, wash your hands.

Exercise

Exercise is always a great way to reduce the risks of stress and anxiety—and as it boosts your immune system too, it means fighting off COVID will be that little bit easier. Of course, you probably aren’t allowed in the gym right now. Not to worry—you don’t need an expensive gym membership, or a huge array of equipment at home, to get moving more.

Bodyweight exercises are a fantastic way to get active, wherever you are. You can even do some of these at your desk (possibly not some of the more boisterous actions!)

Take care to avoid COVID

Hands, face, space. Good advice. But there’s more to it than just these three words—by following these tips, you’ll reduce the impact of the pandemic—and the potential for long COVID—for everybody:

Social distance—remain at least two meters apart from anyone outside of your household. For example, if you enter a supermarket, when you engage in exercise outside or if travelling for work purposes.

Wash your hands often—with antibacterial soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public space or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

Cover your mouth and nose—with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Make sure that you put used tissues in the bin immediately, avoid touching your face afterwards and wash your hands as soon as possible. And of course, wear a face mask over your mouth and nose as often as you’re able.

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