Consequences of the health crisis and the pandemic on mental and emotional health

The people suffer migraine often must juggle the rigors of a family, a job, and migraine attacks (on top of other responsibilities that life at us).  Did you know that the kind of environment a person suffering from migraine lives and works in can affect the frequency of migraine attacks? There are many triggers for migraine attacks which vary from person to person. This means that what may trigger a migraine attack in some may not trigger the attack in another person.

We can also observe the same phenomenon with symptoms of migraine. People experience different symptoms and the environment you’re in can directly influence these triggers and symptoms.

Common workplace triggers:

  • Stress: although people typically have different triggers, one trigger that seems to be universal is stress, and this is something that cannot be avoided in any type of workplace.
  • Light from computer monitors and television screens: excessive blue light emitted from our devices is not only directly implicated in migraine attacks but can also affect our sleep quality. As a result, we end up struggling with nights of poor sleep which then increases the risk for a migraine attack.
  • Bright environmental lights: in many offices, fluorescent lights are used to keep the environment bright and optimal for productivity. Unfortunately, this is not the most ideal setup for many of us with migraine and even has the opposite effect of decreasing productivity.
  • Loud sounds: in dynamic working environments where loud chatter is necessary or if the nature of your job requires close contact with noisy machines, prolonged exposure to loud sounds may be a cause for concern—especially if you are particularly sensitive to sounds.
  • Pungent smells: this is atypical in office environments, but more applicable for those who are working in places like laboratories, hospitals, manufacturing, or engineering industries where strong chemical smells inevitably come together as a package with the job.
  • Poor sitting posture: for many of us who are still telecommuting, you may be seated all day long in a chair that is not ergonomic enough. Over a period, this results in a poor sitting posture and you may even develop sore neck muscles.
  • Physical exhaustion: the nature of some jobs requires one to be always on their feet and some jobs are more physically demanding than others. Long working hours without sufficient rest can lead to physical exhaustion and even burnout, a sight which is becoming, unfortunately, very common in our fast-paced world.

The environment may also play a direct role in worsening the symptoms of a migraine attack. One symptom that seems to be experienced by many during an attack is the increased sensitivity to light and sound.

With heightened sensitivity to bright lights and loud sounds, everything feels 10 times more painful than usual. Fluorescent overhead lights can feel like a torch is burning your eye socket, and the sounds of keyboard typing can feel like there’s a rock concert going on in the eardrums.

Working with reduced productivity because of migraine could have a heavier impact than absenteeism (missing work). Over the years of navigating these challenges, migraine patients have found various ways to manage the triggers and symptoms of migraine while at work. This could mean removing or adjusting the physical parameters that are on your list of triggers.

With that said, we should of course seek to build a work environment that is as migraine-friendly as possible for better productivity. However, this may be more difficult if you’re working in more dynamic environments that are not desk-bound or have regular office hours.

However, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has caused people from all over the world to find themselves developing their work from home. Although the teleworking modality works as a security measure to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, it can cause ergonomic injuries in workers, due to repetitive movements and forced postures, the most common damages are:

  • Injuries and pain in the shoulders and neck
  • Pains focused on the fingers and wrists of the hands
  • Back and lumbar pain

Additionally, other types of musculoskeletal injuries may occur caused by poor posture or a poor distribution of the workspace at home. For example, if your posture during telework, which sometimes exceeds 8 working hours, you may have pain in the sciatic nerve, which is a discomfort that runs down the back to one or both legs, due to poor posture and sedentary lifestyle during your working days.

On the other hand, just last month, it was the World Mental Health Day on 10 October—an occasion for everyone, no matter where you come from or what you do, to raise awareness about something that is as important as our physical health: mental health.

According to the World Health Organization, almost one billion people are struggling with a mental disorder. Even though it can affect anyone anywhere in the world, there remains a significant gap between the demand for and the supply of mental health services. It is estimated that “countries spend less than 2% of their national health budgets on mental health”

Mental health issues are especially prevalent among communities with co-existing conditions such as migraine, autoimmune diseases, and other chronic illnesses. Clinical studies revealed that depression is almost twice more common in people with migraine than in those unaffected by migraine.

Besides, mental health conditions like depression and anxiety are the most common types of secondary health conditions.  Depression and generalized anxiety disorder are the most prevalent mental health conditions across all the ranges of headache days—corresponding to similar patterns in the general migraine community.

In addition, patients with chronic migraine, it is even more challenging to understand the nature of their conditions—does social anxiety result in more migraine days, or do long periods of migraine pain aggravate one’s social anxiety?

And when we talk about social anxiety, we talk again about the mental bill that this pandemic continues to pass us by.

A general increase in the levels of anxiety, stress, anguish, confusion or fear, specialists point out a rebound in mental disorders such as hypochondria and depression. If grief is not well managed from an emotional point of view, it can lead to mental disorder.

The consequences of the health crisis on mental and emotional health are indisputable. According to a recent investigation by the Laboratory of Work Psychology and Safety Studies of the Complutense University of Madrid, in Spain, 79.5% of health professionals suffer from anxiety, 53% have symptoms of post-traumatic stress and 51.1%, depression.

Although in the general population the figures are not so high, it is known that there has been an increase in anxiety and stress of between 15 and 20% compared to the same period last year. But these figures are only the tip of the iceberg, since most people only turn to a mental health professional when these conditions prevent them from moving forward with their life.

When anxiety, stress or states of confusion, among others, are aggravated, they can lead to a mental disorder that requires pharmacological treatment and psychological therapy. On the other hand, people who suffer from a serious mental illness (such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, recurrent major depression, among others) have experienced discomfort, associated with the Covid-19 pandemic and periods of confinement, higher than perceived by the general population. Specifically, according to the Complutense University they are four times more likely to experience this crisis with high levels of stress, and two to three times more risk of experiencing severe anxiety and depressive symptoms. Among them, people with schizophrenia are undoubtedly the most vulnerable.

Some countries, such as Germany, are already working to reinforce mental health strategies with a plan adapted to the needs created by the pandemic, in contrast to Spain, where only the Ministry of Health has postponed a review and update of the mental health strategy in public health.

To say goodbye, I just want to remind you that awareness is the first step towards a more inclusive society, and we can all do our part to be kinder to each other. Mental health conditions are real, and everyone should be able to seek help when it is needed. And we can all pray that all people get better, and this pandemic situation passes soon! 💖

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