Taking Care of Our Mental Health During This Pandemic
By Nurul Khairiah Mohamed Yusof
Feeling anxious, fearful, and worried during Covid-19 pandemic? You might think that this won’t end but there is hope at the end of the tunnel.
With the Movement Control Order (MCO) due to the worsening Covid-19 situation affecting all Malaysians, the sudden and drastic changes to our daily constants can bring about many negative feelings such as confusion, frustration, dismay, resentment, anxiety, helplessness, and many others.
Aside from the inconveniences and interruptions to our lives due to the MCO, the need for social distancing can take a toll on us.
A recent study published in The Lancet even found that quarantine is linked with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, confusion and anger with some research suggesting these effects are long-lasting.
As the effects of living in the time of a pandemic affects all of us in varying degrees, the best way to take control of our mental health is to be aware. Be aware that mental health can be affected. Be aware of the signs. And, be aware of what steps we can take to take charge of the situation before we spiral down into emotional gloom.
Among the signs to be aware to look out for:
Strong, over-powering feelings of fear and anxiety (e.g. over your health, family safety, income)
Changes in sleep or eating patterns
Worsening of chronic health problems
Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or abusing other substances
And now that you know the signs, what can you do to take care of your mental health? Let’s explore some of the simple yet effective measures we can all take.
#1. Take time to explore your feelings
Don’t judge or be embarrassed by your feelings.
Ask yourself questions like: How do I feel about this current situation? How is it affecting my actions and behaviors?
Realize that it’s okay to feel dread, sadness, failure, confusion, loneliness, or guilt.
Write out how you feel and what you think is making you feel that way. Look at that list with a clear mind and evaluate whether are these things outside your control? If within your control, list out some steps you can take to help the situation. Do consider talking out your thoughts and plans with someone you trust acting as a sounding board, who can reassure you that you are on the right track or give you alternative suggestions.
#2. Hold to your old routines (as much as possible)
The coronavirus may have transformed how we live our daily lives, but that doesn’t mean everything has to change.
Stay close to your normal routine by keeping some structure from your pre-quarantine days. If working from home is new to you, for example, start your day the same way you would if you were heading into the office. Get dressed and get coffee (if it helps) to keep you focused on work.
During a period of constant change, having some sort of familiarity in your daily activities can make life feel more manageable. Studies have also found that our bodies tend to perform better when eating, sleeping and exercise patterns are set to a consistent schedule.
#3. Concentrate only on things you can control
With so much doubt in the air, it’s essential to accept that there’s not much you have control of. The most important thing you should be focusing on right now is assuring the safety of yourself and those around you.
Wash your hands often (use sanitizer with alcohol if you don’t have access to soap and water)
Cover your mouth when you cough and your nose (with a tissue) when you sneeze
Avoid touching your face whenever possible
Avoid any non-essential travel
Leave face masks for medical professionals, caretakers, and individuals at higher risk of infection
Keep your immune system strong by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, and getting an adequate amount of sleep
#4. Embrace the ambiguities and focus on the positive things
Stop obsessing over things like, What will happen next? Will the grocery shelves be restocked soon? How long will we be trapped in our homes? When will this all end?
Instead, focus on the positive and uplifting moments. For example, despite Italy being one of the worst affected countries by Covid-19, Italians were singing songs from their windows to boost morale. For in the darkest of nights, the stars shine the brightest.
Perhaps start thinking over things to be grateful for such as your safety, a roof over your head, or your friends? Or, think about what can you do to treat yourself better such as order in a meal or do something you find satisfying? Or, take it step further and think about what you can do for others, whether dropping friends a message, making cloth face masks, or donating to an organization that is helping those in need?
#5. Stay connected
Don’t detach yourself completely. According to studies, solitude can be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Keep in touch with friends, family, neighbours, and even your coworkers. Do it through phone calls, video calls, texting, email or any other form of digital communication. Ask how they’re doing and let them know how you’re doing. Offer support, love and encouragement.
As humans, we are wired to rely on social connections. Staying connected helps us manage stress and guards us against unhealthy coping mechanisms, like drinking and eating too much.
#6. Count your blessings
Gratefulness is a powerful tool. Be grateful for your health, body and friends and family.
Appreciate the people who are the frontline in this battle: From doctors and nurses to delivery workers and the folks bagging your groceries, these are the heroes who are knowingly placing themselves at risk to serve the society.
#7. Stay updated with solid resources
Stay informed about what’s happening through reliable sources, such as the Ministry of Health (MOH) and World Health Organization (WHO). But be sure to limit your media intake.
Obsessing over the endless coronavirus coverage will, at some point, drive you (and anyone you live with) crazy.
#8. Seek mental health advice
To adjust for social distancing, you can also get professional help. Consider services like TheHelpTalk which allow you to communicate with mental health professionals through the digital platform.
Take advantage of online resources and hotlines, too. The Befrienders is a non-profit organisation providing emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without any charge.
Malaysia Mental Health Association also provides support via their phone line (03-2780 6803) on any mental health issues with qualified mental health professionals providing psychological support services. Financial subsidies are also readily available to ensure that necessary therapy and support are given to anyone who needs it.
The bottom line is we should take care not only of our physical health, but our mental health which is important in the long run. Do what you need to do to stay healthy and let’s all do our part to adhere to government regulations and maintain social distancing to help flatten the curve for a brighter, promising future. Malaysia, boleh!
How are you coping with anxiety and stress during the MCO? Share with us in the comments section below.