As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic sweeps across the world, it is causing widespread concern, stress, and fear, all of which are natural and normal reactions to the changing and uncertain situation that everyone finds themselves in. Its impact on governments and public health systems has caused a declaration of public health emergency of national and international concern. Millions of lives have been significantly altered, and a global, multi-level, and demanding stress-coping-adjustment process is ongoing.
How can I identify anxiety disorders and panic attacks?
- Checking and rechecking of the pandemic facts.
- Insomnia with a feeling that something terrible might happen.
- Revisiting the past again and again.
- Guilt feeling for almost everything.
- Hunger pangs including binge eating.
- Jitteriness and distraction of focus.
How can I stay mentally healthy?
With school closures and cancelled events, many are missing out on some of the most significant moments of their young lives — as well as everyday moments like chatting with friends and participating in class. Thus, most students end up feeling anxious, isolated, and disappointed during such a crisis.
Chris Underhill, an expert on global mental health, has proposed using a “framework for the day”.
He advises to implement the same practices as on any other day (before the crisis) – wake up, shower, shave, eat your breakfast, etc. He urges each individual to devise a routine or framework based on their habits. Underhill recommends activities such as cooking, doing household chores, or listening to music as stress busters that can divert your mind from sensitive topics or work pressure. He stresses the importance of limiting the consumption of news during this period, as this can exacerbate the feelings of anxiety. The following strategies can help practice self-care and look after your mental health during these testing times :
1. Recognize that your anxiety is completely normal.
2. Create distractions.
3. Find new ways to connect with your friends.
4. Focus on yourself.
5. Do not bottle up your emotions.
6. Be kind to yourself and others.
My friends and family members are anxious – how can I help?
Global issues like this can feel incredibly overwhelming because there is so much uncertainty around it.The following points might help deal with people who are distressed or anxious at this time.
- Using words such as ‘day’, ‘week’ and ‘year’; when speaking to someone experiencing anxiety, gives them a sense of time, and reassures them that this period will not last forever.
- Talking about close relationships. Words such as family, mum, and parents are incredibly helpful to use around this time. This is because speaking about close relationships increases a sense of
stability for people experiencing stress or anxiety.
- Making apparent to the individual that they are not alone in feeling the way that they do. Normalizing the anxiety and sharing personal experiences can feel very validating to the person in crisis, as this shows them that this feeling is normal, and they are not the only one experiencing them.
How do I avoid burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu. Because of its many consequences, it’s important to deal with burnout right away. With weeks and months of the coronavirus pandemic ahead, it is important to have down time, continue to access nature and sunlight wherever possible, exercise, eat well and stay hydrated. Anxiety UK suggests practising the “Apple” technique to deal with anxious behaviours and thought patterns.
● Acknowledge: Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty as it comes to mind.
● Pause: Don’t react as you normally do. Don’t react at all. Pause and breathe.
● Pull back: Tell yourself this is just the worry talking, and this apparent need for certainty is not helpful and not necessary. It is only a thought or feeling. Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are not statements or facts.
● Let go: Let go of the thought or feeling. It will pass. You don’t have to respond to them. You
might imagine them floating away in a bubble or cloud.
● Explore: Explore the present moment, because right now, in this moment, all is well. Notice your breathing and the sensations of your breathing. Notice the ground beneath you. Look around and notice what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what you can smell. Right now. Then shift your focus of attention to something else – on what you need to do, on what you were doing before you noticed the worry, or do something else – mindfully with your full attention.
Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go: They merely determine where you start.
– Nido Qubein
There is life after the outbreak!
Pandemics are eventually transient. As the research community all around the world unravels the many mysteries around the virus, drugs will be made and countries will mount their emergency responses.
There is hope that life, work and economy will ultimately take their own course. However, what will really immortalise this microscopic virus in human history is its ability to bring together the entire world as a unified family with a common suffering and a common goal of eradication, irrespective of geo-political differences.
Prioritising public health and aggressive restrictive measures early on are always the key measures for containment of a pandemic. Social media is perhaps going to be implicated as the most vulnerable vector for the spread of COVID-19 in our minds. Misinfodemics (spread of an epidemic through misinformation) has been rampant since the first case of COVID-19 and this distinctly makes it different from its earlier congeners like SARS or MERS, which came when telephones were still the dominant
mode of communication.
As the whole world hopes to get a hold on this ongoing threat, we will surely remember this disease as one that made us revisit Russian writer Leo Tolstoy’s words: “We are divided by borders, but united by the world.”