Doctor shares how to manage five common health symptoms during lockdown

August 18, 2021

Continued lockdowns across Australia has forced half our population to adapt and adjust to a new normal. These unusual circumstances, can take its toll on our physical and mental health. With Sydneysiders and Melburnians already in ‘lockdown fatigue’, our Dr Andrew Thompson has identified the common health symptoms Aussies may be experiencing in lockdown and how to manage them effectively.

Image Source: James Carmody, ABC News, Wed 14 July 2021

Dr Andrew believes the lockdowns have thrust Aussies into an abnormal environment. Many of us are juggling high-pressure jobs with parenting and homeschooling and, as restrictions continue to tighten, are unable to call on the helping hands of family, friends, or professionals. Some of us are in lockdown in apartments, which often lack space and natural light. Many single households grapple with loneliness.

These factors are not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. We are seeing a manifestation of physical and mental health symptoms that might not appear under normal circumstances. It’s important not to be alarmed by this. Many symptoms are common, temporary and can often be addressed through lifestyle adjustments.

Dr Andrew highlights that even between lockdown periods and amid tougher restrictions, mental health symptoms are commonly experienced by a vast number of Aussies. “We are likely to experience the effects of this pandemic for the foreseeable future, so it is really important to address any symptoms head-on, to prevent more sinister issues from emerging, which are often more difficult to resolve.”

Below, is Dr Andrew’s advice for managing common symptoms during lockdown.

  1. Headaches: Lockdown can be a high stress environment, whether you’re working from home or have lost your job – and this stress could cause headaches. When at home, you are also more likely to increase your screen use and, without an ergonomic remote working set-up, neck and shoulder pain can progress to headaches. The good news is that headaches can often be managed by making simple lifestyle changes. Taking a break from the screen and getting outside for fresh air, exercise and sunlight. It is important to look after yourself and ensure you are getting enough sleep and staying hydrated.
  2. Chronic tiredness or insomnia: If you have started experiencing fatigue or insomnia, it could be lifestyle related. Mental strain, often brought on by stress, can also cause chronic tiredness or insomnia. Mental strain can lead to exhaustion: as your heart rate increases, you become more alert while trying to adapt to a new normal, eventually reducing energy over the course of the day. These symptoms can be managed by maintaining regular sleep and wake times, aiming for eight hours of sleep each night, limiting screen time or reading a book before bed, or trying medications, such as melatonin, to help normalise sleep patterns.

    You can also try our new test ‘Why Am I Tired?’ which aims to get to the root cause of sleep and fatigue problems. It involves a blood test to check iron levels, electrolytes, fasting glucose, vitamin B12 and kidney function, followed by a telehealth consultation with a doctor to discuss and address any deficiencies.
  3. Anxiety or depression: This may be the first time you are experiencing anxiety or depression like symptoms, including panic attacks, it can be related to a change in your environment, routine or circumstances. This is also known as an adjustment disorder, whereby a person who does not have a mental health disorder suddenly develops symptoms associated with one. The good news is that it is likely temporary and manageable with help. In some cases, you may require short-term medication – and talking therapies can be an effective management tool. Talking to a doctor can provide the reassurance and relief that you may need, particularly when it comes to anxiety. Getting things off your chest can be helpful. It is also important to take breaks when you are feeling overwhelmed. Taking slow, deep breaths can also help calm and relax you.
  4. Weight gain: Lockdown weight gain is a common and, in most cases, shouldn’t be a cause for concern, nor should you feel guilty about it. In fact, a third of Aussies have gained weight during the pandemic.[1] Snacking and turning to food has been a comfort measure, whilst at the same time we are also naturally less active. If you have gained more than 5kg over a short period, some lifestyle changes would be recommended:

    • stay active, encourage yourself to exercise, even if it’s a walk around the block
    • be stricter with your diet
    • create new wealthy routines, e.g. limit your snacking or if you used to prepped weekly meals, try to bring this back
  5. Thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation: If you are contemplating self-harm or experiencing suicidal thoughts, it is important to know that there is always a medical professional at the end of the phone who can help. Speaking to a GP is a good first step. A doctor will:

    • work with you to create a support network such as family or friends, that you can call upon when you are not coping
    • considering starting medical therapies and, in particularly concerning cases
    • help you organise welfare checks
    • possibly refer you to a specialised medical professional, such as a psychologist, who can provide specialist advice and tools you may need
  6. Good news is that despite lockdowns, you can still access a doctor through telehealth services, such as InstantScripts, which offer affordable, flat-rate consults and available out of hours. Fortunately, there are also services and support lines that are available 24/7, such as Lifeline Australia (13 11 14), that are always ready to provide help.

[1] Ipsos, 2021

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