How long will the spectre of COVID hang over our children?
The past months have been known for extremely difficult circumstances for all ages and groups Image Credit: Seyyed Llata

As the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic begins gaining strength in many parts around the world, it has become evident that the old normal has slipped, allowing a new sense of normality to engulf us all.

This has been evident with the arrival of the work-from-home, study-from-home and socialise-from-home world, whenever possible.

But while we retreat into the safety of our houses, we must stay vigilant as the battle has not been won yet. Rather, there are an array of dangers lurking within our own four walls, brought about by this pandemic, which can negatively impact our health quickly.

These dangers are what I call ‘DEMON’ — Device addiction, Eye strain, Mental health, Obesity, and Neck and back pain — and if left unchecked, can quickly escalate into major issues which can become lifelong challenges.

Shun the device addiction

The first issue is, undoubtedly, device addiction. While this has become a necessary evil as work, studying and staying in touch with family and friends has traversed into the digital world from the physical world, the sheer number of hours that we spend on our devices (often more than just one) on a daily basis can become quite alarming as it creates a vicious circle wherein we feel dependent on them (and the apps that they contain) more and more.

From Zoom (which surpassed 300 million daily meeting participants this year) and Microsoft (which saw its productivity suite users generate more than 30 billion collaboration minutes in a single day) to Netflix (which added nearly 26 million subscribers in the first half of this year) and Google Classroom (which saw the number of users double compared to last year as quarantines spread), we have become dependent for the functioning of our lives on a small number of apps which, in turn, fuel our device addiction further.

In fact, nomophobia or the fear of being without a mobile device, has become more entrenched in the global vocabulary with the arrival of 2020. In such scenarios, a routine digital detox routine which involves disconnecting from smart devices for short periods can be extremely helpful and impactful.

A direct consequence of device addiction and increased screen time is eye strain which can result in eyesight problems. For students, the advent of online learning — which supplemented existing screen time for gaming and entertainment — has been paired with the significant increase in the probability of developing myopia or nearsightedness.

In fact, the rates of myopia has been rising globally with its prevalence among children in 6 to 19 years bracket estimated at around 40% in Europe and North America and even higher in Asia.

Computer vision syndrome

Among adults, the ‘computer vision syndrome’ or digital eye strain is becoming more prevalent with symptoms like dry eyes, persistent headaches, blurred vision or reduced visibility. To keep this at bay, one should factor in regular eye-health check-ups while also embedding a break every 20 minutes to look at an object 20 feet away, and endeavouring to reduce screen time when doable.

The third issue which, perhaps, has been one of the most widely heralded issues has been mental health and its deteriorating state globally. The past months have been known for extremely difficult circumstances for all ages and groups.

From the students unable to interact physically with their students and teachers and getting anxious about their future, and the adults who haven’t been able to see their parents to the employees who are stressed about job security and the entrepreneurs who have had to make significant changes to try and keep their business afloat, these emergencies have created a massive amount of turmoil in our heads as worries and fear of the unknown has crept into our everyday thinking and conversations.

Due to these reasons and many, many more, the World Health Organisation expects that the need for mental health and psychosocial support will substantially increase in the coming months and years. Hence, it is paramount that self-care strategies may be implemented in one’s daily routine as they can go a long way in protecting mental and physical health.

Simple and effective measures include maintaining a daily routine, limiting exposure to negative news media, focusing on positive thoughts, setting priorities and staying busy, whilst also staying connected with family members.

Obesity had been highlighted as a pandemic even before COVID-19 was known due to various factors including inexpensive calorie dense food, technologies and structure of communities that reduce or replace physical activity, and inexpensive nonphysical entertainment.

Quarantine guidelines becoming normal

With quarantine and stay-at-home guidelines becoming normal, the opportunity to step out of the house for exercising and simple activities like walking dwindled down as safety become a priority.

But, while we are being safe in the short-term, we run the risk of aggravating diseases like diabetes and hypertension in the long-term — which can increase our vulnerability to COVID-19. In fact, just a few years ago, more than $400 billion of excess direct health care expenditures due to obesity was recorded in the United States.

To ward this off, one should try to include eight hours of sleep every day, exercise regularly (even if it is in the comfort on one’s home), have a well-balanced and healthy diet, avoid tobacco and alcohol, and set some time to relax and discharge (I find meditation works quite well for me here).

The final challenge is the neck and back pain that may pop up from the long hours spent on one’s chair while working on our devices. Limited movement can stiffen neck and back muscles, causing severe pain and discomfort. If left unchecked, this can result in permanent pain which may transform into numerous visits to doctors and chiropractors for healing.

Moreover, this can also be aggravated by makeshift workstations which may not always be appropriate for long-term regular work. A few solutions to consider could be to include standing and working as a part of your work set-up through adjustable stands and tables, investing in a chair that provides good lumbar support and taking frequent breaks to stretch your arms, neck and back. A small break, perhaps once an hour, should do the trick!

It appears that COVID-19 is here to stay for a while. With vigilance we can avoid many of the negativities associated with it.

Alisha Moopen is the Deputy Managing Director of Aster DM Healthcare