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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)