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63.9% of people in Japan with 'some sort of anxiety' amid virus crisis: survey

A worker is seen in the empty office of a major electronics manufacturer that has introduced teleworking, in Tokyo's Minato Ward, on Nov. 4, 2020. (Mainichi/Shinnosuke Kyan)

TOKYO -- 63.9% of people in Japan felt "some sort of anxiety" between April and May when the country was under a coronavirus state of emergency, according to a survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare released on Dec. 25.

    The online survey, conducted in September and covering some 11,000 people aged 15 and above, also found that people tended to get less exercise in their daily lives while spending more hours gaming following the outbreak.

    The proportion of people who felt anxiety amid the spread of the coronavirus in Japan reached 55.1% in February and March; 63.9% in April and May; 55.9% in June and July; and 45% in August. Asked what they were concerned about, respondents cited factors such as "fears for myself and my family getting the virus," "changes in lifestyles due to refraining from certain activities," and "my or my family's jobs and income."

    When asked about changes in their day-to-day lives, 39.1% of respondents said they got less exercise, far more than the 7.1% who said they were getting more exercise. Some 18.6% of respondents said they spent more hours gaming, while 2.7% reported less time gaming. The health ministry speculates that these drastic habit changes stem from people spending more time at home. Regarding meal sizes and sleep hours, around 80% of respondents said both remained unchanged.

    Central Government Building No. 5, which houses the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, is seen in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

    Regarding ways to deal with worry and stress, the largest group, at 73.5% of respondents, cited "virus prevention behavior such as washing hands and wearing masks." When asked about the favorable effects of the lifestyle changes, 29.2% answered they "had more time to spend with family members," while 50.7% said "nothing particular."

    Meanwhile, in a Mainichi Shimbun survey covering 126 major companies in Japan about the psychological effects of work-style changes triggered by the pandemic, such as teleworking, 11%, or 13 of the 114 companies that responded said "more employees complain of mental disorders."

    A 39-year-old office worker living in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, reported her panic disorder had been aggravated by growing anxiety that accompanied the coronavirus crisis.

    She was diagnosed with panic disorder in 2012 after noticing that her heart was pounding in constraining situations, such as on trains or getting a haircut at a beauty salon. She received treatment including medication, and by 2019 her symptoms had almost disappeared.

    However, after the coronavirus outbreak set in this year, her symptoms reemerged and even worsened. Besides fearing infection, she often felt depressed due to stress from being unable to eat out with friends during the prolonged stay-at-home recommendations.

    She started commuting to work more after the state of emergency was lifted in May, but her workplace atmosphere became strained because of colleagues gossiping about peers not wearing masks, among other behavioral shifts. She had to get up earlier than before to avoid the morning rush hour, resulting in less sleep. "I could barely make it to the office," she recalls. And so she remains under treatment, and taking more prescription medications.

    Doctor Tomomi Himeno, an expert in psychosomatic medicine, points out that not only fears of infection but also disrupted lifestyles -- including freer dietary habits for teleworkers -- can cause physical and mental disorders.

    "If you try to do everything perfectly, you wouldn't be able to withstand the environmental changes brought on by the novel coronavirus. The further you look ahead, the more you get worried, so it's essential to take it easy, thinking only about managing to get by each day," she advises.

    (Japanese original by Takuya Murata, Yuki Ogawa, Natsuko Ishida and Hidenori Yazawa, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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