For most of us, the coronavirus outbreak has led to a lot of uncertainties and stress about the future. Anxiety is a normal and valid reaction to the unpredictability. Social-distancing, staying indoors and being constantly bombarded with information can unravel our fear and worries. However, while the world is healing, the good news is, we all are in this together! And, being able to cope with our stress and anxiety will make us, the people we care about, and our community stronger.
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations
As the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s far-reaching implications continue to unfold globally and in our community: elderly people, people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for COVID-19, children and adults with pre-existing mental health conditions, such as, any forms of anxiety disorders, depression, OCD are vulnerable groups who may respond more strongly to the stress during this crisis.
While it’s normal for people to experience a wide range of thoughts, feelings and reactions, there are few red flags, signs and symptoms one needs to be cognizant with:
- Feeling stressed or overwhelmed
- Excessive anxiety, worry or fear
- Racing or ruminating thoughts
- Feeling sad, frequent bouts of loneliness, loss of interest in usually enjoyable activities
- Frustration, irritability, or anger
- Restlessness or agitation
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate, breathing difficulties, diarrhoea, uncomfortable sensations, fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating or sleeping
- Apprehension about going to public spaces
These experiences are all understandable in the face of the significant challenge.
Strategies to cope with stress, anxiety or distress
Acknowledge your feelings
Whatever you are feeling right now, know that it’s okay to feel that way. Allow yourself time and patience to notice and express what you’re feeling rather than trying to deny it or bottling them up. The same can be done through various ways- maintain a journal (write about your overwhelming thoughts and feelings), talk to your close ones or channel your emotions into something creative (for example, colouring mandalas, drawing, reading poetry or listening to music). Being mindful can help us stay calm and grounded in the midst of an emotional storm. Try and witness your thoughts and feelings come and go in their own time without getting overwhelmed by it.
Talk openly about your mental health
Many people feel talking about their feelings and anxiety requires no additional attention during this time- on the contrary, talking to someone should always be encouraged. No matter where you are, look out for people around you to talk about your thoughts and feelings, reach out to various support helplines which are available during this time, as well as mental health care services. Sharing your thoughts and feelings more openly will allow you to gain clarity and reduce your stress around this time.
Put things in perspective
Any situation that is uncertain, leaves us with many ‘what if?’ questions in our minds. When we are unable to get the correct answers to these questions, our anxious minds will fill in the blanks with worse case scenarios, which in turn, leaves us feeling overwhelmed, helpless and vulnerable. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help your thinking shift to a more helpful mindset:
- What are the things within my control?
- Am I overestimating the likelihood of the worst-case scenario?
- What strategies have helped me cope with challenging situations in the past that will serve me well during this time?
- What is a small helpful or positive action that I can take now?
- What am I telling myself that is making me feel this way?
Maintain your day to day activity and routine
We all are used to a particular lifestyle, schedule and routine. Life is a standstill now; almost overnight our way of living has changed. During this time of change, it’s natural for our minds to think of all the usual activities we may not be able to do at the moment. However, we can make a conscious shift to focus on the activities we can still do, or those that we have more opportunity to do if we’re at home more often. Even when you’re in self-quarantine or working from home, there are many ways to develop new routines and stay physically and mentally healthy. This can help you maintain a sense of normalcy. To start off, try and stick to your usual regular routines- maintaining the same times for waking up and bedtime; maintaining the same times for breakfast-lunch-dinner and utilising the extra times for something more rewarding.
- Read a book or listen to audio-books
- Listen to music
- Keep learning something new
- Try out a new hobby or skill (for example, learn a new language, cook a new recipe, try your hands in gardening and so on).
Do not feel guilty for not being productive for a few days, it’s completely okay to feel and experience that way.
Take care of yourself physically and mentally
While the world fights against the pandemic, it’s important for all of us to maintain our calm and take care of ourselves both physically and mentally. Here are some tips for practising self-care in the face of the unique disruptions caused by the coronavirus.
- Remind yourself that it is a temporary period of isolation.
- Be kind to yourself. Go easy on yourself if you’re stressed or anxious than usual. You’re not alone in your struggles.
- Get out in nature, if possible. Sunshine and fresh air will do you good. Even a walk around your neighbourhood can make you feel better. Just be sure to avoid crowds, keep your distance from people you encounter, and obey restrictions in your area.
- Find ways to exercise. Staying active will help you release anxiety, relieve stress, and manage your mood. While you are stuck at home, look online for exercise videos you can follow. There are many things you can do even without equipment, such as yoga and exercises that use your own bodyweight.
- Avoid self-medicating. Be careful that you’re not using alcohol or other substances to deal with stress and anxiety.
- Take up a relaxation practice. When stressors throw your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness practice can bring you back into a state of equilibrium.
Stay socially distant and emotionally closer
As humans, we are social animals. We are hardwired for connection. Isolation and loneliness can exacerbate stress and anxiety. That is why it’s important to stay connected as best we can and reach out for support, even when there’s a cut on in-person socialising.
- Make it a priority to stay in touch with friends and family, schedule a regular phone, chat or skype dates to stay connected virtually
- Social media can be a powerful tool- not only for connecting with friends, family and acquaintances- but also in a greater sense to our communities, country and the world. It’s just a gentle reminder to ourselves in the times of hardship, that we are not alone in this.
- Also, do not let coronavirus dominate every conversation that you have. It’s important to take breaks from stressful thoughts about the pandemic to simply enjoy each other’s company- to laugh, share stories and focus on other things going on in our lives.
Manage your digital time
It is understandable that you want to stay informed and prepared but the constant news about the pandemic can feel relentless and overwhelming. Schedule a specific time to check in with the news instead. Seek trusted information from reliable sources at specific times to take practical steps to protect yourself and loved ones.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing any such symptoms, it’s important to reach out to a mental health professional to initiate timely counselling sessions. No matter who you are or what you do, when we all are in the middle of a pandemic, let’s pledge to stay with each other, let’s take care of each other and hope for the world to heal soon! Feel free to reach out to our psychologists on MFine!
Note: If you have any health concerns for yourself or your family, you can now speak to top doctors online on our platform. You can also take the free COVID-19 self-assessment to know your risk of contracting coronavirus infection. In case you’re experiencing symptoms like sore throat, cough, fever, or breathing difficulty, get your symptoms assessed by top doctors on your phone on the MFine app.