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Anxiety and over-eating cited in lockdown poll, and yes, we're smoking more

Beef stew with umhluzi and pap. File image
Beef stew with umhluzi and pap. File image
Image: Craig Fraser

Anxiety, overeating and under-exercising, insomnia and depression are all seen as problems arising as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown in SA.

Only three in every ten online South Africans (30%) polled by Ipsos indicated that they do not suffer from any of the listed conditions. Males were slightly less open to answering the question than females were.

In keeping with the ban on alcohol sales in SA during level 4 lockdown, almost one in every five (19%) men indicated that they have consumed less alcohol, with females not far behind at 14%.

Despite the ban on cigarette sales, 8% are smoking more than they did before the pandemic, “probably adding weight to the reports about the easy accessibility of illicit cigarettes in the country”, said Ipsos.

Internationally, the top two concerns are insufficient exercise and anxiety.

Ipsos found: “More people across 16 countries say they feel that they are suffering from not exercising enough and anxiety. This is out of 11 possible ailments presented as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.”

The global poll of more than 16,000 online people, conducted from May 7 to 10, found about one third of the respondents in 10 countries say they are under exercising because of Covid-19, with this sentiment highest in Japan (38%), South Korea (37%), Italy (33%), China (31%), Mexico and Russia (30%).

The second most cited health concern on the international list is anxiety, with at least a quarter of people in 11 countries saying they are suffering from this because of the pandemic. Respondents in Brazil (41%), Mexico (35%), Russia and SA (32%) and Canada (29%) are more likely to say this.

Stewart Shankman, chief of psychology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, USA, said the pandemic is fraught with uncertainty  ̶  about how long it will last, who will catch it — and uncertainty is one of the biggest precipitants of anxiety.

“We also know that physical activity has important cardiovascular and health benefits, including supporting our body's natural immune system,” said Prof Shankman. “Thus, the high rate of under exercising will actually hinder our ability to fight any virus it comes in contact with.”

Overeating and insomnia were reported as the next two down the list of ailments that people are suffering from. Respondents in Brazil (39%) were most likely to say they are overeating, followed by SA and Mexico (29%), Canada (28%) and the UK (25%).

Those in Mexico (38%), Brazil (26%), Spain and SA (25%) were most likely to say they’re suffering from insomnia.

Dr William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in Nashville, USA, said if you are home with food, and feeling sad and lonely from being isolated, there is a greater tendency to snack.

“You will reduce your physical fitness and there is a tendency to gain some weight,” said Prof Schaffner.

Women are more likely than men to say they are impacted in all the categories except for alcohol consumption and increased smoking. The percentage of younger women — those aged 34 and under — were also more likely to cite insomnia, anxiety and depression as a result of the outbreak.

Overall though, more people across the 16 countries said they were not affected by any of these conditions because of the pandemic. This sentiment was true for the majority in Germany (53%) and France (52%), followed by Japan (44%), Australia (43%) and the US (41%).

Shankman said these results highlight people’s resilience and something we’ve seen in response to numerous other natural disasters and traumas in the past. Still, Schaffer advises people to move about as much as they can while keeping a social distance.

“Try to get out there and try to restore some of the normal rhythms of your life and make that associated with physical activity to keep moving,” he said.

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