Health

Of Women, Anxiety and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Are you worried about a pressing issue in your life or maybe the current pandemic ravaging the world? Is your relationship heading into the ditch? Has there been a downsizing at your workplace and this is affecting your finances and home? Maybe you are nervous about the future.

In life, women experience anxiety in one way or the other, maybe at different levels. It is not completely understood what causes anxiety in women, but it is believed that certain traumatic experiences trigger anxiety and genetics may also play a role as well as underlying health issues. Adults and children are both affected. Anxiety oftentimes has an “on and off” syndrome which lasts from a few minutes to days. It could be short or long term. Sometimes, it is just one of the ways the body prepares itself to face an intense situation or a response to stress. It is difficult to distinguish between anxiety caused by medical problems and that caused by bad days. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety from the onset of puberty due to biological and psycho-social differences, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research and this can be attributed to the genetic make-up of women.

The COVID-19 pandemic has become stressful, causing fear and anxiety among women. The public health cautions and rules such as regular hand washing and physical distancing have made women change their lifestyles and become more withdrawn, and as such isolation is becoming the new normal which in turn is increasing stress and anxiety. In as much as these “new normal” rules are necessary to combat the pandemic, we do not have to totally stay away from family and friends socially. This is why we have to know the difference between social and physical distancing. Let us all endeavor to keep in touch with friends, family, colleagues, children and the aged through phone calls, social media, video apps etc.

There are several reasons that cause an increase in stress and anxiety levels; job losses, civic unrest, domestic violence and rape, anxiety from previous abuse or events (PTSD in Africa), increased domestic chores for women, unplanned pregnancies, fear of an unborn child being exposed at birth, slash in income, fear of contracting the virus, children becoming restless and unruly, long-distance relationship issues, infidelity, any form of phobia, changes in sleep and eating patterns, uncertainty about the future, to mention but a few, can all have a significant effect on anxiety levels.

According to Women Wellness, these are the common symptoms and effects of anxiety:

  • Brain fog – difficulty concentrating or remembering, lack of motivation to do anything
  • Nervousness, headaches, sadness, nightmares
  • Physical and social isolation, emotional withdrawal
  • Insomnia, increased heart rate, tension in muscles
  • Irregular monthly cycle, digestive problems and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Sense of doom, panic attacks, fatigue, loss of libido, high blood pressure
  • Easily irritated

However, before diagnosing anxiety, medically induced conditions like heart disease and thyroid problems have to be ruled out (see this Springer Article).

It is easier to treat anxiety or any mental health condition in the initial stages than when symptoms get worse. No medication cures anxiety totally it can only relieve symptoms and get better over time with counselling or when the cause is dealt with.

The causes of anxiety differ from woman to woman but in order to reduce its impact:

  • Get early help when overwhelmed
  • Stay physically active (exercise) and get regular sleep
  • Maintain a routine for meals and eat a healthy diet
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and some energy drinks
  • Stay connected with neighbors
  • Explore wellness programs, meditation, yoga etc.

In order to avoid anxiety during this pandemic, there should be no obsessiveness in the manner of staying informed. Only worthy sources of information should be stuck to and do not share unverified information. Have a time frame for media and limit checking for updates. These guidelines will help reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and its induced anxiety

  • Be kind to yourself and sleep well
  • Focus on what you can control like hand-washing and not touching your face
  • Avoid crowds and enclosed gatherings of more than 25 people
  • Develop a stress management plan
  • Stay home but make sure to connect with others via phone calls or video chats
  • Hang out with the girls in an open space to chit-chat
  • Do not self-medicate on any antibiotic or previously prescribed drugs (left over medication), call your country’s emergency numbers when necessary
  • Take short breaks to stretch and walk when busy at work or working from home
  • Above all wear a face mask, keep physical distance from another and follow your country’s laid down protocols

Life is a mixture of the good and the bad so anxiety will always be a part but it should not completely overcome our existence.

Useful Links

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/index.shtml

https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/how-to-cope-with-anxiety

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3135672/

https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/women/facts

https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/mental-health-conditions/anxiety-disorders

About the author

Anita E Asamoah MPH

ANITA E. ASAMOAH - NCE, B.Sc. MPH
Anita is a Ghanaian who holds a postgraduate degree in Public Health (MPH) from the University of Ghana where she majored in Epidemiology and Disease Control. She also has a Diploma in Biology and Chemistry Federal College of Education, Kano State and a first Degree in Biology and Education from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, both in Nigeria. She is a member of British Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, SEDRIC and AMR Fighters Coalition. Her interests are in Health Research, Gender Issues on Equality for Women, Public Health Education and Awareness. She loves reading journals, watching documentaries and playing badminton. She works as a Research Assistant, Public Health Educator and also volunteers with the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) in Ghana.

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