• With more than half of working adults experiencing anxiety relating to their jobs and home-working patterns, Alisha Moopen, Deputy Managing Director at Aster DM Healthcare, identifies five specific dangers of staying at home.
  • The “DEMON” at home comprises: D - Device Addiction, E - Eye strain, M - Mental health problems, O – Obesity, N - Neck and Back pain.
  • Those in lockdown or isolation who work or study from home need to address these demons before problems escalate into lifelong challenges.

As the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic gains strength in many parts of the world, it is evident that the old normal has slipped, and a new sense of normalcy is setting in. This has been evident with the arrival of the work-from-home, study-from-home and socialize-from-home model, 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. These dangers are the DEMONDevice addiction, Eye strain, Mental health, Obesity, and Neck and back pain – and if left unchecked, can quickly escalate into lifelong challenges.

1. Device addiction

While the use of electronic devices has enabled work, study and communication with family and friends, the move into the digital world from the physical world, has come with a price. We are ever more dependent on our screens.

From Zoom (which surpassed 300 million daily meeting participants in 2021) 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 on a small number of apps provided by these tech companies to enable the basic functioning of our lives.

“Nomophobia”, or the fear of being without a mobile device, became more entrenched in the global vocabulary during 2020. In such scenarios, a routine conscious digital detox that involves disconnecting from smart devices for short periods can be the answer.

the effect of COVID-19 on workers' lives
The effects of COVID-19 on workers' lives.
Image: Ipsos-World Economic Forum

2. Eye strain

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 near-sightedness. In fact, the rate 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. 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 reducing screen time when possible.

3. Mental health deterioration

The third issue – and one that has been widely discussed – has been the deterioration of mental health for many people. The past year has seen challenges for all ages and groups. Students have been unable to interact physically with their peers and teachers and they have suffered growing anxiety about their futures. Many people have not been able to see parents or loved ones. For working adults, more than half globally have experienced anxiety relating to job security and stress due to changes in their working patterns. Entrepreneurs have also had to make significant changes to try and keep their businesses afloat.

Last year undoubtedly saw turmoil as worries and fear for the future have crept into our everyday reality. The World Health Organization 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 become a part of the daily routine to protect mental and physical health. Simple and effective measures include maintaining a daily rhythm, limiting exposure to negative news media, focusing on positive thoughts, setting priorities and staying busy, while also staying connected with family members.

4. Obesity

Obesity had been highlighted as a global problem even before the heightened risks of COVID-19 were apparent. Various factors have contributed to a rise in obesity, including inexpensive calorie-dense food, screen dependance and the changing structure of communities that reduces or replaces physical activity, and inexpensive nonphysical entertainment. 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.

But, while staying home might have been safe in the short-term, it runs the risk of aggravating diseases like diabetes and hypertension in the long-term, which in turn increase our vulnerability to COVID-19. In fact, just a few years ago, more than $400 billion of excess direct health care expenditure was due to obesity in the United States.

To ward off obesity, simple steps like getting 8 hours of sleep every day, regular exercise (even if it is at home), a well-balanced and healthy diet, avoiding tobacco and alcohol, and setting some time to relax and recharge can make the difference.

5. Neck and back pain

The final challenge is the neck and back pain from the long hours spent in the home office. 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 make-shift workstations which may not always be appropriate for long-term regular work. A few solutions include standing and working as a part of the work set-up through adjustable stands and tables, investing in a chair that provides good lumbar support and taking frequent breaks to stretch arms, neck and back. A small break, perhaps once an hour, does the trick.

Given we are in for the long-haul, people need to recognize the DEMON lurking in their homes – and stay away from it.