March 2020 - Promises Healthcare
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Anxiety and the Covid-19 Pandemic – Ways to Help Your Child Cope

Anxiety and the Covid-19 Pandemic – Ways to Help Your Child Cope

Author : S C Anbarasu, Senior Clinical Psychologist

All children have fears. Most simply complain about their worries and move on. However, there are some whose fears get more intense over time instead of naturally fading away.

The World Health Organization (WHO) officially classified the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, as a pandemic on March 11, 2020.   Children’s responses to such stressful events are unique and varied. Children who are privy to information from a variety of sources can be disappointed, confused, angry, or sad. Some children may be irritable or clingy, while some may regress, and demand more attention, or have difficulty with eating, sleep or self-care.

Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, it is a given that everyday life will change, and will continue to change for most people. Children may have difficulties adjusting to their routines (e.g., schools and child care closures, home confinement and social distancing), which may interfere with their sense of structure, predictability, and security.

To help your child cope with his/her anxiety around the current COVID-19 situation, the following recommendations can be considered:

  1. Validating your child’s feelings is important. 

For example, if someone in the family is unwell,  acknowledging and validating your child’s concerns, in addition to reassuring them that the affected family member has the best available medical care to manage the illness, is helpful. When you talk to your child or teen, it’s also important to use words and examples that are developmentally appropriate for their maturity.

  1. It is important to help your child maintain a sense of structure if they are needed to be away from school.  

Take a break from social media and the news. Use this time to play with your kids and build an even better parent-child relationship. When it’s safe for them to return to school, be patient while helping them return to their routine so that they can gradually readjust to their normal, everyday activities.

  1. Be a source of stability for your children. 

Children are more likely to be intolerant of uncertainties. This means that children tend to view uncertainties as harmful or overwhelming. As such, they may react with fear and avoid preparing for the unknown. It would be helpful if parents focus on the current facts about the situation instead of predicting.  Predicting and guessing can become a problem at times, as this may cause anxiety to escalate. If you don’t have an answer to your child’s questions, don’t feel like you’re obliged to play the all-knowing parent. Say you don’t know but you’ll try to find out. While teens and young adults are old enough to understand the risks that COVID-19 bring, be careful when talking to others when in the presence of preschool kids as they may potentially scare themselves with misguided misinterpretations.

  1. Children learn better from modeling behaviour. 

Demonstrating how to cough or sneeze into a tissue and discarding it properly,   trying to keep your hands from touching your face, and washing your hands regularly can foster good basic hygiene. When you see your kids practicing good hygiene praise them for it.

  1. In stressful times, when children feel helpless, there’s a tendency to blame others.

If they are seen to blame a certain group of people, for example those who have recently travelled, listen to them and address such concerns in your conversation. Importantly, do ensure that you do not reinforce negative stereotypes in your own conversations or behaviours.

  1. Foster a home environment that allows your children to express their feelings. 

In some families, when one child in the family has a severe mental illness, the other children can sometimes feel left out. Parents need to bear in mind that this can be a hard time for all children in the family; hence, it’s important to let all siblings have the latitude to express their feelings and feel like they can retreat to safe spaces in your home environment.

  1. Children are capable of picking up on their parents’ emotional energy.

In dealing with the situation, it’s also important that you acknowledge and manage your own anxieties so as not to amplify your child’s fears. This is even more important for parents of children who are generally anxious or have significant worries about something.

This current situation of COVID-19 is challenging and new to most of us. As there is no template to rely on to approach this crisis, we’re in the dark about how long this situation will last or when we will be able to return to life as we knew it. Nevertheless, parents and others can help children navigate these uncertain moments by equipping them with the right resources and instilling resilience in them.

Dual Diagnosis: Anxiety and Substance Use Disorder

Dual Diagnosis: Anxiety and Substance Use Disorder

Anxiety, stress, and fear are common emotions people experience through the course of everyday life.  Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, go beyond our daily worries and fears. Stress and pressure is subjective to each person – anxiety disorders can induce heavy stress and pressure, and these feelings can become more intense over time. Issues that crop up for anxiety disorder sufferers range from anodyne to hair-raising. For example, some people are terrified of meeting new people and having to interact with strangers, while others suffer panic attacks when memories of past traumas surface. The most common types of anxiety disorders are diagnosed as:

  • Panic Disorder (PD)
  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
  • Agoraphobia (Perception of certain environments as unsafe, with no easy escape)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Not only are there psychological symptoms, people dealing with anxiety disorders may also experience a litany of physical symptoms such as insomnia; inability to concentrate or relax; heart palpitations; gastroenterological issues; and sexual frustration, among others. When all these problems start impinging on one’s behaviour, mood and thoughts, life can start to feel like a slog through quicksand. A once “normal life” now appears out of reach, and getting there again can feel like a Sisyphean task.

What makes people suffering from an anxiety disorder seek out substances?

It’s important to understand a little more about addiction before dealing with this question. Addiction is indubitably a very uncomfortable disorder, and that’s characterising it mildly. For a “preference” to devolve into full blown addiction, a person must keep making the same conscious decisions every day, day after day, that facilitate  indulgence in his or her vice – in spite of a mounting cornucopia of problems. Maintaining an addiction certainly is tiresome. People suffering from addiction make these choices because their addiction serves them a purpose. Concomitant discomfort is tolerated in light of perceived benefits garnered from substance abuse.

A parsimonious way to think about addiction is to assume that it is a simple cost-benefit analysis. For someone struggling with an anxiety disorder, the allure of a “quick-fix” in the form of a suitable drug or drink is hard to ignore. What may begin as a misguided attempt to ameliorate paralysing fear can eventually develop into a fully-fledged addiction. With this in mind, it is now a lot clearer why substance use disorder (SUD) is a co-occurring psychiatric disorder that is one of the most prevalent among people with an anxiety disorder. The most recent and largest comorbidity study to date (with over 43,000 participants), the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), found that 17.7% of respondents with an addiction problem also had an anxiety disorder.

Ironically, the problem with the “solution” of substance abuse is that the ”solution” hurts more than helps. It can often exacerbate the anxiety disorder – which becomes ensnared in the convoluted mess that is addiction. Thus comes the slippery slope of anxiety, substance use, and elevated tolerance.

Chronic dependence is the likely consequence of this chain of events. For example, a person who suffers from social phobia might employ stimulants or anxiolytics to engender artificial confidence during a social situation. This can feel liberating, exhilarating, even, for someone who has spent a lifetime on the sidelines. The folly in this endeavour lies in the eventual normalising of this ‘chemically induced courage’ – if you turn it into a precondition to interacting with other human beings, you will only succeed in erecting progressively more imposing barriers in a completely self-defeating, tautological situation.

Are there psychotherapies out there that treat anxiety and addiction together?

Diagnosing a mental disorder in a person who also suffers from an addiction is challenging.

It may be hard to determine which came first, the addiction or the anxiety/depression. A clinical history, which is triangulated with loved ones, teachers and others may assist to know which came first. In any case, both the addiction and the disorders have to be treated at the same time. Otherwise, if untreated, the anxiety and depression may lead to the resumption of drug or alcohol use.  Cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT), meditation and mindfulness therapies, experiential therapies and medication can assist to address both compulsive behaviour and anxiety and depressive disorders.

A trained and experienced mental health professional can help you navigate your addiction recovery journey to ensure that you get the best possible outcome within the guidelines of your values and needs. While this article is about substance addiction, you will find that our team of psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists have the expertise and experience to work with a variety of addictions, and mental health issues such as anxiety disorders.

Supporting your child’s learning needs

Supporting your child’s learning needs

Author:  Tan Su-Lynn

If you’re a parent who believes in taking a proactive approach to your child’s education, then you’ve probably realised by now that comparing your young one to the school’s resident whiz kid(s) is ill-advised. There is truth then, in this kernel of wisdom: “Every child is a unique gift from God”.

Understanding how your child takes in information, assimilates it, learns, is perhaps the first step to making their education a better experience for them. When parents start getting a grasp of what their child’s preferred way of learning is, they can start taking steps to work with that style of learning, instead of foisting the next flavour of the month upon their child. Individual learning styles don’t necessarily dovetail with the school’s pedagogy – but that’s OK. This just means that you’re blessed with more opportunities to help your child grow up with the values and convictions you hold dear.

Conventional wisdom tells us that people generally fall into one of three categories – visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning. But before you pigeonhole your child into one of those convenient boxes, it is worth noting that while a child may have a dominant learning style, a combination of all the styles is required to learn about the wonderful, wider world that they’re growing up in. Once you have figured out their style, you can then begin to take steps to ensure that they have ample opportunities in the classroom and at home to take advantage of that particular style.

However, there are some children who constantly struggle when they are subject to the traditional classroom setting. Despite your efforts to supervise and coach them, they might continue to face persistent difficulties with reading and writing skills, as well as attention and behavioural regulation in terms of their academic performance.

A child with learning difficulties is affected in different ways, with the impact ranging from mild to moderate or even severe, with symptoms surfacing when the time comes for them to learn literacy and numeracy skills in the classroom. Children with learning difficulties are at risk of developing low self-esteem, which in particular is a consequence of the condition going undiagnosed and/or untreated. Imagine a dewy-eyed child who, with all the innocence of  youth, proudly strives and strains to do well at school – yet never reaping a jot of acknowledgement. Imagine (or remember) what it feels like to have the purity of childlike endeavour constantly rebuffed by the shame of underperformance. To have effort always met with negativity is tough for even the most motivated child, which may lead to the development of a poor self-concept that ends up causing further social-emotional issues in future.

All children, learning difficulties or not, need love and support for them to cultivate a strong sense of self-worth, build confidence and develop resilience. In seeking ways to help your child who has a learning difficulty, bear in mind that your role as a parent is not to “cure” the difficulty, but to arm your child with the social and emotional tools they will need to work through challenges and develop strategies for compensating with their difficulties. In the long run, your child will emerge stronger and more resilient.

Even though everyone’s been a kid before, I know that the new and bewildering responsibilities of parenthood can sometimes make us forget what we, as children, wanted to have for ourselves. I’ve outlined some tips which can be invaluable to our efforts to support a child with a learning difficulty.

  1. Knowledge is power – learn everything you possibly can about your child’s learning difficulties and needs.

Doing your own research and keeping abreast of the new developments in evidence-based learning and behavioural interventions not only helps your child, it helps to foster a sense of solidarity with your child. The more you know about your child’s needs, the better you are equipped to help your child. Start with your child’s teachers and consult with professionals (e.g. educational psychologists, school psychologists, or child clinical psychologists) who are best positioned to work together with you and your child in this journey. Collaborating with your child’s school teachers and fostering a good relationship with them helps in the overall understanding of your child’s needs – this facilitates consistency between home and school, which is particularly essential for children with challenging behaviour.

  1. Be an advocate for your child by raising awareness.

While society has made great strides towards the goal of inclusivity, awareness of special education needs and learning disabilities is still limited (but growing). Embrace your role as a proactive parent, taking responsibility not only for your child’s welfare but also contributing to the child who does not have a dedicated guardian in their life. Yes, your journey will be fraught with challenges and frustrations, but always remember to remain calm and to persevere. We often don’t realise just how much children internalise behaviour and views that they perceive in their parents. As a parent, you are entrusted with the very delicate task of moulding a young mind. Your healthy optimism, perseverance, and sense of humour doesn’t just benefit you – it positively influences your child to be a self-advocate, which is a very important goal for a parent in these circumstances.

Some parents choose to hide their children’s learning difficulties in secrecy, for fear of stigma or unjust treatment by others. They might honestly feel that they’re serving the best interests of their child. On the contrary – it is this very lack of understanding and awareness from family and friends that causes the misattribution of a child’s developmental needs to ‘laziness’ or ‘poor parenting’ or ‘mischief’. By shining a light on the condition, you help others develop empathy and come to be more supportive of your child. Within the family, siblings might feel that there is more attention and preferential treatment towards the brother/sister with learning difficulties, despite being aware of their condition. Hence, it is also important for parents to reassure all their children equally that they are loved, to provide support to their work, and to include them all in routines for the child with learning difficulties.

  1. Focus on your child’s strengths, not just weaknesses.

No one is defined by disability or need. And no one is perfect either. As you embrace your child’s flaws, celebrate their strengths in the same breath. As with all other human beings, a child with learning difficulties too will come into their own personality, interests, strengths and weaknesses. Focus on the gifts and talents which your child is blessed with, and help them to nurture their areas of strengths such as in activities they excel in.

  1. Praise effort rather than outcome.

Children with learning difficulties may not always excel academically, and if they do, they likely have put in a lot more effort than their peers to have achieved a similar good grade. Acknowledge the effort made, which deserves recognition – no matter if the child has gotten the answer right or wrong. Your child is demonstrating courage when they try out new approaches to assignments and study strategies, and if you want them to learn from mistakes and be receptive to feedback, credit and praise must be given where due. It will take time for new practices and interventions to work and for new skills to be acquired, so bear in mind to focus on the long term goals, and to break larger tasks down into smaller, more manageable milestones which can be spaced out over time.

Everyone’s definition of success is different, but the aspirations you have for your child probably extend well beyond the fulfilment of good grades. Working with parents, it has been my experience that most, if not all, express the desire for their child to lead an independent life, in which they are capable of providing for themselves, and above all else, to be happy. This being the case, then success in life definitely isn’t based on just academic success, but rather on things like having a sense of self-worth, the willingness to ask for and accept help, the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity and the emotional depth to form healthy relationships – values and qualities that are not quantifiable like the metric of exam grades.

  1. Keep your child motivated.

As school is most likely a source of frustration for your child who puts in much more effort than in proportion to the reward of good performance, it is important to find something in school that brings your child enjoyment, that they are motivated to pursue without much prompting. Sometimes, to taste the fruit of serendipity, one must eschew his comfort zone. This may involve having your child participate in a CCA of their choice, attend camps or other school-related activities, and encouraging your child to have good relationships with peers and teachers. It can be difficult to motivate your child to learn, and to invest time in subjects which already make them feel inferior and bad at. You will probably meet less resistance if you start from your child’s level of ability, carefully choosing lesson topics that already are of interest to them. Give them some measure of autonomy to choose how they study or complete homework – building in breaks and breaking down challenging tasks into smaller chunks gives them ownership in the crafting of their own timetable, helping to keep them motivated to follow through with their plan.

Finding a role model who has flourished in spite of their learning difficulties can show your child that success is attainable, and that it is their own choice not to allow their current difficulties to define them. Celebrity, athlete, friend, neighbour or pastor, the only requirement to those role model shoes is that your child feels comfortable talking to them.

  1. Encourage healthy lifestyle habits.

Stress may manifest differently in children than in adults. While some signs may be more overt, such as trouble sleeping, agitation, acting out, or meltdowns, others may retreat inwards – shutting down, spacing out, withdrawing and isolating. Even as adults ourselves, we may lack the prescience to recognise that our internal systems are under stress, let alone children who have not yet matured into such skills. Hence, it is your responsibility to be vigilant of signs of stress in your precious one.

Your child’s eating, sleeping and exercise habits are also vital to their overall learning ability.  With a healthy routine which incorporates a balanced diet, quality sleep and sufficient physical activity, children will be better able to focus and concentrate.

Other than the physical, paying attention to your child’s emotional needs is also important. When they are faced with the frustrating challenges presented by their learning difficulties, allow them to express their feelings in a safe space. Validate them by acknowledging that the cause of their gripe is an issue, but be careful not to coddle them into poor self-restraint. Be ready to listen when they are ready to talk, and be a grounding, reassuring presence which helps their mind integrate with their body, and re-orient into a sense of calm.

Above all, remember to take care of yourself! The uniquely sacrificial dint of parenthood sometimes diverts needed attention from our own needs. If you are to project an empathetic sense of warmth, you will first need to cultivate self-compassion, and allow yourself the space to tend to your own needs. The quality of support you are able to provide to your child is dramatically affected by your own levels of stress and exhaustion. Parenting is a full time job, but don’t let yourself burn out emotionally.

In order to do this, you need to be mindful of your own limitations. You are the best gauge of when to rouse the oarsmen to right your ship. If you have a supportive spouse, or friend, or family member, take heart. Lastly, there is great benefit in the solidarity of support groups, which serve as useful support and also reminders that you are not alone in your unfolding journey!

 

 

 

Child Suicide is Preventable: How to handle suicidal ideation in children

Child Suicide is Preventable: How to handle suicidal ideation in children

Author : Joachim Lee, Senior Pscyhotherapist

The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) reports that the number of suicides in Singapore rose 10 per cent in 2018, with suicides among boys aged 10 to 19 at a record high. Suicide mortality among youths and males is a “significant societal concern”, SOS said, highlighting that for every 10 suicides in 2018, at least 7 involved males. Among boys aged between 10 and 19 years old, there were 19 suicides last year – the highest since records began in 1991 and almost triple the seven cases recorded in 2017.

Suicide does affect children and adolescents, and avoiding the topic does nobody any favours – burying your head in the sand won’t help them learn how to get help if they find themselves needing it. One common misconception about the discussion of suicide is that talking about it plants the idea in people’s heads, causing children and adolescents to think about it. The simple truth is that parents won’t ever know if their child harbours suicidal thinking if they are too afraid to broach the topic. Suicidal behavior in children is complicated. It can be impulsive and associated with feelings of confusion, sadness, or anger. The so-called “red flags” people are cautioned to look for can be subtle in young children. While a young adult might say something along the lines of, “You’ll be better off when I’m gone,” in contrast, a child might say some something similar to, “No one cares if I’m here.”

Warning Signs

While the warning signs in children can be subtle, learning to identify potential red flags plays a crucial role in intervention.

Changes in baseline behaviour:

Take note of behavioural changes that aren’t short-lived.  While suicidal behaviour is often associated with symptoms of depression, you might also notice the following changes in your child:

  • Changes in sleeping habits (too much, too little, insomnia)
  • Changes in eating habits (overeating or eating too little)
  • Withdrawing from family and friends (social isolation)
  • Psychosomatic symptoms: headaches, stomach-aches, other aches and pains that can’t be explained

Changes at school:

It’s perfectly normal for children to experience ups and downs during the learning process, but a pattern of negative change can be a red flag that a child needs help. Make a note of the following:

  • Drop in academic performance
  • Decreased interaction with teachers and kids at school
  • Lack of interest in school
  • Refusal to attend school
  • Loss of interest in normal daily activities (playing, sports, co-curricular activities)

Preoccupation with death:

It’s natural for children to think about death at times, particularly when they are coping with loss or hear about tragic events in the news. Preoccupation with death, researching ways to die, and/or talking about their own death can be red flags. Watch for the following warning signs that involve thoughts about death:

  • Frequent questions about or looking up ways to die
  • Statements about dying or what will happen if the child dies (Examples: “You won’t miss me when I die, I wish I was dead, I won’t bother you anymore when I’m gone.”)

Feelings of hopelessness:

Children who have suicidal thoughts might communicate feelings of hopelessness for the future. They might also make statements about helplessness. These kinds of statements indicate that the child feels as if there is nothing to be done to improve their outcome, and no one can help.

Child-sized wills:

Some children give away their favourite possessions or tell parents, siblings, or friends who should get their favourite possessions. While talk of dividing up possessions might seem like fantasy play to parents, it can signal thoughts of suicide when combined with other changes in behaviour.

Writing or drawing about death or suicide:

Young children often struggle to verbalize intense emotions, but they are likely to take to the diary or drawing block to explore these emotions. Poems, stories, or artwork depicting suicide or, frequent writings and drawings about death should be evaluated.

Significant changes in mood:

Kids experience changes in mood as they grow and work through stressors, but significant changes in mood signal a problem. If your child suddenly shifts from calm and relatively happy to aggressive, completely withdrawn, or very anxious, it’s important to get help.

In addition to the warning signs that a child might experience suicidal ideation, there are also certain factors that can elevate the risk.

  • Previous suicide attempt (regardless of how serious)
  • Experiencing a loss (this can include grief and the loss of a relationship due to divorce or family discord or break-up)
  • Chronic bullying
  • Family history of suicide or suicide attempts
  • Violence or witnessing violence
  • Impulsivity
  • Acute rejection
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feeling like a burden

 

Communication Tips with your Child 

Any signs of suicidal ideation or behaviour should be taken seriously.

Parents should ask specific, direct questions about suicidal thoughts – “Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?”

Parents should also talk openly about depression by asking questions like, “Are you feeling depressed or very sad lately?” These questions show your child that you understand and that you care. Conveying empathy in a time of emotional crisis is crucial. You may be concerned about saying the “right” thing. But the truth is that just having an open and honest discussion with your child can provide them with much-needed support.

Keep the Talk Age-Appropriate

  • Make sure that your child understands what you are saying and is not confused or bored by the discussion.
  • Use words that your child can understand. Words such as “depression” or “emotional reaction” are probably too complex for a younger child but may be appropriate for an older child or adolescent.
  • Try comparing your child’s depression to something that your child is already familiar with like a physical illness such as the flu or an ear infection.

Keep the Conversation Positive

  • Depression is a serious illness that causes emotional and physical pain, but try to keep the conversation focused on the positive.
  • By maintaining a positive and hopeful outlook in your discussions, you will avoid unnecessarily alarming your child.

Prioritize the Positive

Another important way to prevent suicidal behaviour is to prioritize interacting with your child in positive ways. Sometimes we get into a sort of vicious cycle with a child. The child does something concerning; the parent gets critical; the kid does something more concerning; the parents get more upset. All interactions turn contentious. Interacting in positive ways means doing fun things together, hanging out and chatting about things that aren’t controversial, that aren’t difficult.

Be Honest

  • Don’t make promises you cannot keep.
  • Don’t go into detail about topics that you are not certain of.
  • Do tell your child what you do know.
  • Make a list of questions to discuss with your child’s mental health professional.

Be Compassionate

  • Your child needs to know that you recognize and respect their feelings.
  • Even if you do not quite understand their thoughts, don’t dismiss their feelings.
  • Avoid comments like “What do you have to be depressed about?” or “Don’t be ridiculous.”
  • Dismissive comments can cause a child to hide their feelings or become defensive.

It may seem obvious to you that you love your children, and that they know you love them. But when they’re having a hard time, children need to hear over and over again from you how much you love them, and how much you care about them. It’s not good enough to just say, “You know I love you.” You need to convey that in small and big ways. These days, we all have so many things we’re juggling that our children can end up unsure of where they fit in, and whether you really have time for them. Let them know how important they are to you.

Be a Good Listener

  • Allow your child to talk openly and express their opinions and thoughts.
  • Avoid interrupting, judging or punishing them for their feelings.
  • Listening demonstrates that they have someone they can confide in help to sort out their feelings.

If there are any safety concerns, do not provide judgment or discipline; simply remove your child from immediate danger, do not leave them alone, and get them immediate help.

Never dismiss suicidal thoughts in a child and any suicidal thought or behaviour should be brought to the attention of your mental health provider immediately. If needed, bring the child to an emergency room or call an ambulance.

If for some reason the above options are not available, make a referral to the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) by writing to pat@sos.org.sg, or calling its 24-hour hotline at 1800-221 4444.

The author hopes that the suicide prevention/awareness workshops he conducts at schools and corporations are doing some good.

 

Bibliography

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/suicides-number-2018-teenagers-boys-highest-11761480

https://www.health.ny.gov/prevention/injury_prevention/children/fact_sheets/10-19_years/suicide_prevention_10-19_years.htm

https://www.psycom.net/children-and-suicide

https://www.verywellmind.com/suicidal-thoughts-and-depression-in-children-1066661

https://childmind.org/article/youre-worried-suicide/

https://www.sos.org.sg/get-help/helping-someone-in-crisis

 

Protecting your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Protecting your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Joachim Lee, Senior Psychotherapist

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, there is evidently a growing sense of distress amongst the public – from panic-buying at supermarkets to wearing several layers of masks for fear of being infected. While ensuring our physical well-being is of great importance, we cannot deny that our mental health is also equally important – especially during the stress of a pandemic. The ever-changing situation can cast a shadow of uncertainty over us, creating feelings of vulnerability and helplessness. 

However, allowing coronavirus related fear to overcome us certainly isn’t the way to go. Let’s take a look at how we can help ourselves by avoiding the pitfalls of anxiety and depression.

CNN recently published an article on how to keep coronavirus fears from placing an undue burden on our mental well-being. In the same vein, we would like to emphasise the utmost importance of self-care during these trying times. 

In the context of this pandemic, what does self-care entail? By keeping our minds from straying into muddled uncertainty, we can avoid the toxicity of excessive worry – with the world already so volatile, it’s in our best interest to try to stay cool-headed to better make decisions. There’s no point expending precious processing power on unwarranted concerns. With the influx of information and ease of access to social media, it can be mentally exhausting if we choose to hang on every update. If you feel the urge to check your phones for up-to-date news constantly, learn to walk away. Know when to put away your phones if necessary.

Depending on the individual, the idea of self-care may vary, but ultimately, it is still a means of managing our stress and anxiety levels. 

During this period, some of you may well experience higher levels of mental stress. Worry over your own health and your loved ones’ may consume your mind, in turn leading to knock on effects such as – changes in sleep and eating habits; worsening of chronic illnesses; and increased substance usage. Needless to say, we would do well to guard against the deterioration of our mental health, to better cope with our negative emotions appropriately.

Connecting with our own feelings is a great place to start. It’s important to stay in touch with our feelings, taking care to identify our worries and concerns. Try naming your emotions. It sounds simple enough, but you’ll soon learn that there are nuances that set apart sensations, emotions and feelings. 

Is there anything specific about the situation that is heightening your stress level? Emotional awareness is often neglected, with some studies showing that only 1-in-3 people have the ability to correctly identify them. If you have reached a state of panic or hysteria regarding the virus, you might want to start considering how realistic your concerns are. There is a high chance that we often over-magnify our fears and underestimate our capacity to handle the situation. 

As mentioned, there is a need for us to remain cool-headed and not plagued by excessive worry in these trying times. Here are some tips that may help you to get through this difficult time, if you ever find yourself feeling overwhelmed with anxiety or fear.

Firstly, it is of great importance to consider if your worry is solvable. Is the problem within your control? In the case of the COVID-19, you may be constantly worrying about contracting the virus. However, if you are certain that you have done your part, such as washing your hands occasionally and not touching your face unnecessarily, does worrying excessively help in any way?

In some cases, excessive anxiety may cause one to hyperventilate – and this is where proper breathing techniques will come to your rescue. The 7/11 breathing technique is an exercise where one breathes in for a count of 7 seconds and exhales for a subsequent count of 11 seconds. This exercise is very simple, yet proven to be extremely effective in helping one regain his or her composure. Try this for approximately 5 minutes (or whatever duration that is best for you), and you’ll eventually feel calmer and be able to think more clearly.

Remember, while you may not have power over what happens to you, you are able to control how you react to it hence your state of mind. 

Avoidance and escapism from acknowledging the root of our uneasiness is not a healthy method of coping. Coming to terms with and recognising our concerns can in fact help us to better seek social support. Stay connected and start talking to the people you trust. Talk to them about your feelings and worries. Get them to share theirs too, and by the end of it, you’ll realise that you are not alone. Understanding others’ perspectives on the situation and recognising that they are most probably experiencing the same concerns will surely help to calm your nerves and help you feel less lonely and vulnerable.

It is also important that we spend more time with our families and friends. Taking a break from our busy lifestyles and hectic work schedules will benefit your mental health. Make sure to take time off to unwind, and to do activities that you enjoy. This could mean exercising, socialising, or some form of recreation in your spare time. 

Although socialising may be slightly more of a challenge due to the increased need for social distancing, it is still largely possible, especially with technological advancements. Now and then, you can opt to organise your own get-together through ‘Zoom’ or ‘Skype’, and perhaps have lunch with your friends over video-calls. Do you have something you’ve always wanted to learn, but could never find time for? Well, this might just be the right time for it too. In addition, some places of interest have started providing virtual tours. With this, one can explore and discover new areas whilst staying in the comforts of his/her home. With countless things to do on the internet, one can easily find various means to unwind and to de-stress. 

Doing things you love will help to ease the burden on your shoulders and distract you from your fears and concerns. Life goes on even with the COVID-19 situation, and constant worrying is in nobody’s interests.

One crucial thing to note is that you should never feel guilty or ashamed of your fears, and neither should you blame yourself for worrying. It is completely normal to worry, especially with uncertainty at every turn. After all, evolutionary biology dictates that it’s perfectly natural to feel threatened and afraid during a pandemic.

Do not hesitate to seek help and support when the going gets tough. If you ever find yourself barely treading water, there’s absolutely no shame in reaching for a helping hand. Stay safe! 

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Bibliography

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/14/health/coronavirus-fears-mental-health-wellness-trnd/index.html  (Retrieved 18/3/20)

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fabout%2Fcoping.html (Retrieved 18/3/20)

https://www.apa.org/practice/programs/dmhi/research-information/pandemics?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=apa-pandemics&utm_content=pandemics-resources (Retrieved 18/3/20)