How coronavirus pandemic aggravates stress among Nigerians

April 9, 2020

With the world gripped by uncertainty over the spread of the Coronavirus, OLUWASEUN RAHEEM writes on the rising serious health implications and impact on the society.

Nigeria and indeed virtually all the countries of the world are battling to save humanity from the throes of the scourge called Coronavirus pandemic. It is exerting undue pressure on the citizenry, as thousands of people are dying, with many persons across the world hovering between life and death. Medical personnel and facilities are being overstretched beyond their limits.

Coronavirus pandemic is fast becoming one major disease that has put the entire humanity on its toes in more than a century. The attendant domino effects are evident in incalculable stress, trauma, psychological crisis and mental torture, and experts in Nigeria are seriously worried by the stress occasioned by the scourge otherwise called COVID-19 ravaging at least 183 countries and territories affected.

They opined that the scourge is a great risk factor for stress. One of such concerned professional is a Neurophysiotherapist at the College of Medicine, Department of Physiotherapy, University College Hospital, U.C.H, Ibadan, Professor Tal-hatu Kolapo Hamzat.  Though stress has some merits, researches contend that frustration fear, anger and anxiety can trigger frightening stressful conditions and aggravate high blood pressure, chest pain and problem sleeping.

Risk factors

According to, chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms and affect your overall wellbeing. Symptoms of chronic stress include: irritability; anxiety; depression; headaches and insomnia.  2015 report by Bloomberg after a study ranked Nigeria as the most stressful country in the world.

Some of the factors listed to account for the grim situation include lack of power supply, horrible road networks, traffic jams, collapsed public transportation, overworked and underpaid low-income earners, job losses, high cost of living and insecurity of lives and property.

Coupled with this is the challenges posed by ignorance and illiteracy which breeds diseases and other forms of afflictions on the health of the citizenry. All this contribute to the low life expectancy in Nigeria when compared to other countries that can hardly boast of the enormity of human and natural resources of Nigeria.

About three years ago, a medical consultant and Chairman of the Society of Family Physicians of Nigeria, Ekiti Zone, Dr. Olabode Shabi gave a graphic description about the rate of damage stress was doing to the mental health of the country alone. According to her, about seven million Nigerians were then suffering from mental health problems associated with stress and depression.

Fallouts of COVID-19 on citizens’ health

With the rampaging COVID-19 pandemic, the list of the risk factors has been elongated. The increasing number of proactive measures being put in place by governments, individuals and corporate organisations have created different forms and volumes of pressure on the citizens, especially the most vulnerable in the society.

The Neurophysiotherapist, Professor Tal-hatu Kolapo Hamzat shed light on the trend. According to him, the realities of knowing or seeing images of people who contacted the coronavirus disease and those who have died is capable of aggravating existing disease conditions or health anomalies and capable of leading to a poor physical and mental well-being.

“It is possible that stress associated with the pandemic rather than the virus itself would affect the health of more people than those with the infection. The suspense, fear, anxiety, confusion, lack of information or misinformation accompanying the pandemic constitutes stressor.

“The associated issues such as a fear of total lockdown, loss of income, cancellation of previously scheduled social engagements such as wedding ceremony, fear of the unknown, not being sure if one had come in contact with a COVID-positive person can cause a significant stress, thereby causing anxiety disorder and possibly cause depression.”

Professor Hamzat further stressed that people have comprised their leisure activities and that relaxation has become a challenge in the face of the pandemic due to anxiety and fear of being deceased. “The cumulative effect is that the mental and physical well-being of the people is affected,” he stated.

The expert, who explained that stress is a condition of emotional or physical tension that occurs in response to actual or anticipated events or situation in life, said that stress is a very common cause of ill-health that is experienced by human beings. He noted that a common mental consequence of stress is anxiety and depression.

On the advantages and disadvantages of stress, Professor Hamzat declared that stress at some time in life is good and necessary, as it can stimulate an individual towards managing the life puzzles and to adapt to some life situations and circumstances. However, he noted that excess stress constitutes a short or long term health problem.

‘With sustained stressor, the body loses its ability to adapt to stress and resist the physiological effects of stress. Resistance is so low that stress-related illnesses and dysfunction begin to emerge. Signs of stress may be worsened by new stressor,” Professor Hamzat added.

According to the him, the factors that can pre-dispose an individual to stress are numerous but can be classified into physiological variables and physical variables.

“The physical variables are physical exertion from overworking or overloading system, postural stress, and long hours of physical training as in military or sports training and so on. The fear of or actual loss of job, reduced income, security challenges of abduction, ritual killing and armed robbery are surely contributing to stressful behaviours in the society,” Professor Hamzat added.

Nevertheless, he also disclosed that excessive stress can affect the immune system negatively, thereby increasing such an individual’s susceptibility to coming down with infection.

According to Hamzat, some people  could behave abnormally when under bad stress, which could lead to negative actions like excessive consumption of al”cohol, excessive smoking, engaging in drugs abuse or narcotics, unprotected sexual activities and over eating.

All these, he said can affect peoples’ wellbeing negatively.

Professor Hamzat, while speaking on effective ways people can practice to ease bad stress, said that less time should be spent watching news items and that people should cultivate the habit of consistent excercise like walking.

“In this trying time, it is recommended that people engage in as much indoor relaxation activities as possible. Aside following the directives of the health authorities about the COVID-19 pandemic, people should spend less time on watching the news.”

A Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Jibril Abdumalik noted that stress occurs when individuals are subjected to forces that place them under pressure.

He stated: “Stress by itself is not necessarily a bad thing. What determines the outcome of stressful situation is our is our inner strength of material(resilience or vulnerability); duration of the stressful situation; the amount of the applied stress; as well as the milieu in which stress is being applied-environment; which could be work or family; as well as the available social support system.”

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According to him, some degree of stress quickens the impetus to strive to do more or overcome challenging situations. However, he said that overwhelming stress which persists for very long durations or become pervasive may eventually cause mental and physical challenges.

The mental health expert noted that stress may be physical, which can arise from work over load, having a chronic and severe physical illness. “With the COVID-19 pandemic now, the pervasive fear and anxiety places a huge toll on people’s wellbeing. People are afraid that they or their loved ones may be infected and that they may die.

“All of these and the widespread media coverage and reports of deaths especially from the affected countries are alarming. There is an increase in anxiety and depression among the population and those who had existing vulnerability for developing mental health problems may break down.

On the negative effects of stress, Dr Abdumalik explained that the inbuilt protective mechanisms of the body responds by releasing stress chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol, which he said gets the body tensed and ready to fight for escape.

The expert analysed the symptoms of stress to include physical, emotional and behavioural. He said that physical symptoms can be stomach upset, difficulties with sleep, frequent headache, excessive tiredness, loss of interest in sex and change in appetite.

“Emotional effects include anxiety, irritation, anger outbursts, heightened frustrations, feeling weighed down and overwhelmed, emeotional exhaustion or burn out, reduced motivation and lack of zest, while behaviourial problems may include turning to alcohol and drugs to reduce tension and help relaxation, temper tantrums, unwarranted violence, becoming reclusive and avoiding social interactions, and so on.” Dr Abdumalik added that prolonged stress can lead to more serious mental and physical disorders, which he said could be suicidal.

How to manage COVID-19 as a stressor

According to some experts, the “best approach to take when dealing with your actions in a particular challenging situation is watch out for your response to the situation. You can avoid reacting negatively like being fearful or depressed.

The Chairman, Nigerian Medical Association, Dr Akin Sodipo, who has called on all Nigerians to take precautionary measures to prevent COVID-19 disease, noted that anxiety or being fearful would not prevent people from contracting the disease, rather that people should avoid self-medication and adhere strictly to the prescribed routine practices outlined by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control; NCDC. “Anyone who feels ill should contact the appropriate health lines or visit the hospital for checkup,” he added.

Dr Sodipo, while explaining that a person who has contracted COVID-19 disease may be unasymptomatic (meaning that they may not exhibit the symptoms), said that people should stay at home even as they practice consistent personal hygiene like regular hand washing, sanitizing their hands with alcohol based sanitizer, practice social distancing, and avoid  shaking of hands.


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