Looking After Your Physical and Mental Health During a Pandemic

This year has certainly been a challenging one due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for our older population. Social isolation has not only affected our mental wellbeing, but also our physical health, with disruption to our regular health checks and healthy lifestyle routines.

It is difficult to predict how long the pandemic will be in our lives, or when a vaccine will be available so here are some tips to staying healthy as we adjust to a new normal.

HEALTH CHECKS

Due to COVID-19 many people have put their health needs on hold. This has been for a number of reasons including fear of leaving the house and catching COVID-19,  especially for our older and more vulnerable population. There is also the misconception that their health issues are not important or urgent enough and they can just wait for the pandemic to ‘’pass’’ to see their doctor. However the pandemic is not going to ‘’pass’’ anytime soon so medical practices have put measures in place to keep their premises COVID safe. This includes reception staff screening patients before they enter medical practices, the availability of hand sanitizer, the use of face masks, social distancing in waiting room, and offering telephone appointments if preferred. Data has shown a significant reduction in patients participating in cancer screening tests such as breast , bowel and cervical screening during the pandemic. This will lead to delays in diagnosis and late presentation of cancer which reduces survival rates.  We also know that adequate control of certain medical conditions is at risk during the pandemic such as diabetes and heart disease.  Those with chronic health conditions are the population most at risk of complications of COVID-19, therefore it is more important than every to ensure your health is closely monitored. The government has extended the availability of medicare rebatable telehealth appointments until March 2021, however many consultation types do require a face to face appointment which is safe to do so with infection control processes in place.  Please do not delay seeking medical care.

EXERCISE

The heart foundation recommends 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity physical activity five or move days per week. This includes some muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week. Not only does exercise help with our physical health and in the prevention of diseases such as heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis, but it also helps release the ‘happy’ chemicals in our brain such as dopamine and sertraline to reduce anxiety, stress and depression. Due to gym closures, social distancing rules, and isolation restrictions it has been hard for many to achieve their usual exercise quota. Luckily there are other options such as smart phone apps, online exercise programs or going for a walk in your neighbourhood. Be creative and remember any activity is better than none.

NUTRITION

Let’s face it. It can be challenging to keep healthy eating on track during a pandemic. Due to boredom, lack of motivation, loneliness, increased stress and comfort eating,  it can be easy to slip into unhealthy eating habits. This combined with reduced physical activity has lead to many patients reporting a increase in ‘’isolation kilo’s’’.

A CSIRO study of almost 4000 people showed that during COVID-19 lockdown 40% of people felt they had gain weight during the pandemic and 36% reported their diet had worsened . 61%  of those who said they had gained weight was due to an increase in junk food consumption and 63% due to increase in snacking.  This can have negative consequences on those with underlying chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. Certainly in our practice we have noticed cholesterol levels on the rise and diabetes control slipping.  

You don’t have to go on some elaborate diet to get back on track. Try going back to basics and to re-establish routine.  Meal planning to reduce trips to the shops , ordering shopping online, cooking larger quantities of food to freeze are useful strategies during a pandemic.  Follow Australian Dietary Guidelines to ensure you have a good balance of fresh fruit, vegetables and legumes, wholegrain cereals, meat, dairy, water and limited amounts of foods containing saturated fat, added salt and sugars and caffeine and alcohol.

SAFE LEVELS OF ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION

During these challenging times alcohol consumption has also increased which can contribute to the downfall in our mental and physical wellbeing. The loss of routine and increase in stress can easily lead to drinking more than we usually would.  It may be that extra glass of wine to help calm those nerves or you may start drinking earlier than usual as you don’t have anywhere you need to be due to COVID restrictions.  Drinking excessive amounts of  alcohol can affect your mood, increase your risk of cancer, lead to weight gain and have a negative impact on many chronic diseases. Recommended safe levels of drinking are two standard drinks a day with two nights off a week.  If things have slipped a little and you would like to cut back have a chat to your doctor.

BOOST YOUR MOOD

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on our mental health. With reduced social connectiveness, travel restrictions, financial concerns, uncertainty about the future, and adjusting to the new normal there has been a dramatic increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety. To maintain our mental wellbeing we require socialisation and connection, routine, healthy eating and exercise, and a good night’s sleep. Many of these factors have been disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic so no wonder a lot of us are feeling blue! To remain connected to family and friends we have relied greatly on technology such as FaceTime, Skype and Zoom. You can even be creative and use such platforms for family dinners, morning tea with friends, book clubs, and trivia nights. Although it is not the same as physical contact it is a good way to stay connected especially for the older population who feel especially isolated during pandemic times.

If you a struggling, please seek support. This may be reaching out to family or friends, calling or using an online support service, or discussing with your doctor.

Isolation has created new and unique challenges especially for older Australians.  COVID-19 is here to stay for now so it is important to look after your mental and physical well-being, maintain a healthy routine and don’t avoid seeking medical care.

RESOURCES

https://health.gov.au – Choose Health: Be Active – a physical activity guide for older Australians  https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines – Australian Dietary Guidelines  https://coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au/managing-my-daily-life.html

Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service 1800512348

Lifeline 131114

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659467

About the author

Dr Georgia Page Dr Georgia Page , MBBS< FRACGP, Bsc (biomedical)
Dr Georgia Page MB.BS BSc FRACGP DCH

Dr Page graduated from Sydney University and has been working on the Central Coast since 2002.

She has many interests, particularly enjoying Women's health,paediatrics, preventative health and men's health.

She is dedicated to recruitment and training of future GPs. She is a medical educator for GP Synergy, regularly lecturing and supervising the GPs of tomorrow and is also an examiner for the RACGP (Royal Australian College of General Practitioners).

She is a surgical assistant for the orthopaedic team and provides on call services for victims of sexual assault at Gosford Hospital.

As well as all this, she is a mum of three children and loves to run... and run... and dance.

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