I’m not one for sticking labels on things but there’s a new condition I’m observing in my clinic that I’m going to call ‘Covid Affective Disorder’. It’s a cluster of symptoms related to the impact of the pandemic on mental health and wellbeing.
To say covid has disrupted all our lives in an understatement. Sanity depends to a degree on structure, order and routine. Without these certainties to anchor our emotions to, it’s easy to drift into a state of anxiety. Not having to turn up at work or school during lockdowns has created some interesting habits and unhealthy behaviours.
According to an NHS study, people asking for weight loss help are on average 5lbs heavier than those seeking advice in the previous three years. Prof Jonathan Valabhji, NHS national clinical director for diabetes,said: ‘The pandemic has changed every part of our lives and taken a toll on mind and body, with thousands of people paying a heavy price and many gaining weight during lockdown.’
Working from home and home schooling have given us a free pass to tuck in and throw impulse control out of the window. Children have been piling on the pounds too. It’s not just the obesity epidemic which is causing worrying long term health issues.
After years of declining numbers of people seeking my help with stopping smoking, the numbers have surged since lockdown. It seems that the temptation to have sneaky cigarette breaks is greater at home than it is in the workplace.
And either the same heavy drinkers are bingeing on more booze than ever or more people are hitting the bottle. Or both. Flexi-working and WFH during lockdowns have brought ‘wine-o’clock forward a couple of hours in many households.
The growth in online retail sales isn’t just because we haven’t been able to get out to the shops. There has been a surge in online shopping addiction as the bored and the lonely cheer themselves up with impulse buys at the press of a button. It’s difficult to find statistics for this and for online gambling, which could also be a hidden epidemic we may only find out about in hindsight. Too late to save the sufferers from debt and misery.
These bingeing behaviours aren’t necessarily problems if they’re temporary. But, for some, they’ll be hard habits to break. Regaining motivation, discipline and impulse control is the only way to get back a healthy body and bank balance.
The Night Shift
I think we’ve all been guilty of box set bingeing during lockdowns. Too much alcohol, later starts in the morning and lack of routine have made nocturnal creatures out of many of us. Gaming and social media keep the younger generation immersed in alternative realities through the long dark hours of the night. Sleeping until mid afternoon means insufficient exposure to daylight and staying up till the early hours messes with what’s described as the circadian rhythm which regulates our body clock.
This can lead to depression, fatigue and burnout. Insomnia is both a cause and effect of this disrupted cycle. Concentration and memory are also compromised.
Beware of Fellow Inmates
Being cooped up with loved ones doesn’t tend to make the heart grow fonder. If you’ve stopped fancying your nearest and dearest and their quirky little habits are driving you mad, maybe it’s time to get out and about to remind yourself to miss them when they’re not there. If your fuse has become shorter and shorter to the degree that you go off like a firework at the slightest spark of irritation, remember that your loved ones can go off you too.
What Work Life Balance?
Some people absolutely love being liberated from the daily grind of office life. Others miss the buzz of a busy workplace. Flexiworking is here to stay and generally regarded as a good thing. It does, however, blur the lines between work and life and this will take some adjusting to.
I’ve met many people starting new jobs in the past year who have never met their new colleagues in person. How strange is that? And working at the kitchen table is all well and good but it’s a kitchen table, a communal social hub of family life. Not everybody has the space to convert their homes into a place to comfortably work, rest and play.
Time for a Change
There is no doubt that the pandemic has accelerated changes that may have otherwise taken decades. Chuck any of those old, unhealthy CAD habits overboard. It’s time to get back to the bridge and take the helm to a better life..