It has been a year since change came upon us. News about severe cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, China first trickled in early January, and by mid-month the novel (new) virus had been identified and given a name. It was a matter of days before the first case of Covid-19 was reported here. I remember saying to patients at that time that there shouldn’t be much to worry about – the situation appeared contained within China, and here in Singapore the authorities were on top of it. I told people around me, “We’ll be alright here”. Now I am seeing the build-up of stress and the pressures on women in 2021.
Fast forward to January 2021 and we are in the midst of a full-blown global pandemic. At the time of writing, there are almost 100 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and more than 2 million deaths around the world. The sharp rise in the number of patients I’ve seen with mental health issues bears testament to these troubled and unprecedented times.
Women will continue to face significant stress and the build up of pressures going into 2021. We have all experienced major upheavals in our lives and have had to adapt to a new norm. A new norm with continued worries about our health, worries about family here and abroad, worries about jobs and finances, worries about the future. Social distancing sometimes gives way to social isolation and loneliness. Women working from home face challenges from the blurring of boundaries between work and family. I’ve had countless patients reporting longer and irregular hours at work, having difficulty unwinding and continuing to feel work stress even after work-hours. It is well documented that the burden of unpaid work – childcare, home-schooling, family chores – has fallen disproportionately on women than men, with the pandemic widening this gap. The inability to travel to see family is having a huge impact on many. It’s been over a year since I saw family in the US. All of us have experienced loss in some form or other, be it the loss of freedom of movement, or even bereavement.
How do these pressures manifest themselves?
It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief and worry during the Covid-19 pandemic. Stress can cause the following:
- Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, frustration, obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviour
- Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests
- Poor communication and strained relationships
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
- Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, skin rash
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances
Be mindful of your feelings and take positive steps to address stress early. Looking after your body through proper nutrition, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, avoiding excessive alcohol, tobacco and substance use, and keeping up with routine health checks and vaccinations are all important for mental well-being. Make time to unwind, meditate; connect with others online, phone, mail or social media. A digital detox is worth considering if technology – the ever-present digital connection, a constant need to check emails, text messages, social media, news – is adding to your stress or poor sleep. Detox does not mean abstinence; it’s about setting boundaries to limit the use of devices so that it is not harming your emotional and physical well-being.
What symptoms should you note to then seek GP help?
- Your own GP who knows and understands you is the best port of call if you need help with mental health. GPs provide a variety of services to people in need, and may refer patients on to specialised services.
- If you are struggling to cope, there are many ways to get help. See your GP if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row, or if you feel overwhelmed.
- If the things you are doing to try to help yourself are not helping, please talk to your GP.
- If you have persistent and pervasive feelings of low mood, feelings of hopelessness, not getting any enjoyment out of life, insomnia and/or fatigue, have loss of weight and/or appetite, are not able to concentrate on everyday things, or have suicidal thoughts or thoughts about harming yourself, you may be suffering from depression. Your GP is the best person to advise and help point you in the right direction.
- Whether you are stressed or anxious, worried or afraid, grieving or depressed, angry or confused, or not sure what to make of it all, your GP is ready to listen in a non-judgmental way. Help is always available.