Beyond threatening the physical health of those afflicted with the virus, the present coronavirus pandemic has also taken a toll on our mental well-being. It can be difficult to imagine how being cooped up and isolated from those whom we care can impact our psyche. And yet one-and-a-half month into the island-wide circuit breaker measures, we are slowly becoming restless and the cabin fever is starting to become real.
How then can we stay mentally healthy throughout the trying times?
We managed to speak with two psychologists from PsychHabitat, Dr Aveline Ajalan and Dr Tanisha Vanen, who shared with us some tips to manoeuvre around the information overload as well as ways to care for our mental health.
In the face of uncertainty, we can easily succumb to fear. What are some ways we can do or act to be mindful about our paranoia?
Dr Tanisha: I think, especially in today’s situation with the Covid-19 crisis, there is a lot going on and everyone has a variety of reactions or concerns. You may be angry at the whole routine change. You may be fearful of the unknown or what’s coming up. You may be uncertain about your jobs, or even feeling sad because of social isolation.
But rather than acting on these thoughts, we should try observing or noticing them a little bit. You don’t always feel like you have to do something about them. Being aware of your thoughts, being able to notice and observe them is one step in the right direction. On top of that, you need to understand that there are lot of things that you can and cannot control. It will always be tiring and stressful if you keep trying to figure out how to control what you cannot control.
Dr Aveline: In addition to what Dr Tanisha mentioned, there is also a lot of grief people are going through now. Grief does not necessarily equate to losing a family member, instead it is about losing a physical connection with people or losing a physical space to gather and work together. This is a time when we have to be more intentional. It helps to write things down. It can be as simple as: “What are you thinking at this point of time?” Writing your thoughts or emotions down and setting them aside are concrete acts that you can actually observe.
Considering that our workspace has shifted from the office to our homes, how can we draw a clear line or a distinction between our work and personal lives?
Dr. T: It is easier said than done, right? One of the best ways is to make sure that you have a physical workspace. But that can really hard to do because you are at home and you may be sharing the space with family members who are also working from home. So, everybody is trying to find their own little space and create their own little corner. If it works for you in your apartment, having a separate physical space is great.
If not, I think some of the other things you can do include following a regular routine as far as you can. That means getting up at a regular time, taking a shower, having your breakfast, and making sure that your routine stays about the same.
If you’re working from home, you’ll want to figure out what exactly is your role? What is the time commitment you have to spend on your work? What are those boundaries and how is that something that you can enforce? You can have your regular lunchtime with your family, but you still have certain work hours to adhere to.
Once you are done with work, always find time to wind down. Walk away from that physical space, put away your technology, and find some time to do things that you typically do after work.
How should we manage our expectations and reduce anxiety in the process of trying to accomplish so much more from home?
Dr T: Everyone is trying to learn something new now. I think we have to be very kind to ourselves. This is already a very stressful time, right? Don’t feel pressured by other people to do something new or pick up a new skill. Sometimes that may not work with the resources we have at the moment. So, I would say, know your own limits, know your own boundaries and thresholds, and do what works for you. It is not always necessary that you always have to pick up something new. You can continue to enjoy the things that you usually enjoy.
What are some things we can do to manage any incoming panic attacks or anxiety?
Dr T: The amount of information we are receiving today is just so huge and it adds on to the pressure and stress that you might be feeling. We should learn to manage our time on these digital avenues. Consider getting your news information from one or two official outlets.
Dr A: In addition to limiting your access to news or any other information, what you can do is having some general self-care. I think sometimes when people hear about self-care, they would wonder what self-care is and how to practice it. Simply, self-care is the stuff that we do on a daily basis that makes us feel good. For me, it is making a cup of coffee and enjoying it with cookies. I love doing that. It depends on the individual, but you should do it as many times as you can throughout the day.
Dr T: Another important piece is to remain connected with the people you are close to. Get in touch with the people you care about. With the physical limitations we have right now, it can be hard to engage with them. We should take an active role in making sure that we are maintaining these connections. Whether it is through a virtual chat, Facetime, or even something like a Netflix party where everyone is watching the same show. This helps you feel like someone is there with you in the time of social isolation.
Dr A: Children will also feel lonely and isolated from their friends too. We have to also help them stay in contact with their friends through virtual or online playdates.
What can we do to teach the youth about the coronavirus pandemic?
Dr A: Parents should be there to answer any questions the kids may have about the pandemic. They can present them with information in a way that they are able to understand for their age. Kids are naturally very inquisitive, so they would have questions. I urge parents to use those moments to teach them. It does not have to be a serious conversation at all. It is important for parents to sit and listen to the concerns kids may have because these are anxieties that they are experiencing.
What about our emotions? What can we do to deal with emotional fallouts?
Dr T: We all have ways of coping and venting out our stresses in life. We can consider going back to those avenues. But maybe because of the intensity of what is going on right now, these strategies may not be as effective anymore. So, you have to look at other outlets too. Again, this is something that you cannot develop overnight.
This is something that you need to actively think about, do, and make it a habit over time. Maybe it is discovering a new strategy that might work better for you. For me, I go out on bike rides. It is my exercise, but it is also my time to step away from technology, make sure that I have some peace of my mind, and come back.
It can be hard to answer because we all have different coping tools and we all have strategies or ways to deal with the stresses with our life. Some of these may not be feasible right now, so it is either we continue those that are feasible or find new ones that help us adapt to the current situation.
In challenging and stressful times like today, what are some places or avenue where people can go and seek professional help?
National Care Hotline: 6202-6868
SOS (24 Hours): 1800-221-4444
ComCare Call: 1800-222-000