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Managing Mental Health and Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This article is contributed by Yap Chee Khong, Clinical Psychologist, Sunway Medical Centre, and does not represent the views or opinions of Health Matters Malaysia.


Since the outbreak of COVID-19, our society is facing uncertainties day in, day out. The public worry about being infected, transmitting the disease unknowingly, others’ wellbeing, the impact of the pandemic on economy and resources, as well as their personal life. The worries could be aggravated by the daily rise of identified cases, death rates, extension of the Movement Control Order (MCO), as well as fleeting rumours. These are understandable reactions to the crisis.

Stress arises when people perceive they have little resources to manage the challenges, contributing to unhelpful thoughts, feelings and behaviours. While being affected by the pandemic and other stressors, it is normal to notice some signs and symptoms of stress from time to time. Those living with anxiety may even show escalation of their symptoms. This is a chance to learn more about oneself: how do your mind and body signal that you are stressed?

Identifying and Managing Stress

Each person experiences stress in unique ways and may include the following combination os signs: physical (e.g., headache), emotional (e.g., nervousness), cognitive (e.g., rumination about the worst case scenario), and behavioural (e.g., restlessness). High awareness of your own stress symptoms and the underlying needs enables you to manage your physical and mental health timely and effectively.

Due to the activation of the body’s fight or flight response during stress, people tend to focus on perceived threats. However, excessive attention on the stressors especially the external events that people have limited control may not be helpful.

Aggravated by rumours, those who feel overwhelmed could experience helplessness and powerlessness. As a result, the sense of control which is the belief people have regarding their ability to cope with obstacles, could be shaken.

In response to the challenges, it is essential to strengthen your sense of control by shifting your focus to areas within your personal control.

Once you catch yourself being distressed, the next step is to identify the sources of discomfort. Some people find listing down their issues and solution plans helpful. This technique works for problems that can be addressed immediately or in short-term.

For issues that are not within your control, ensure that you are already doing your best. Regarding infection prevention, the advice includes maintaining personal hygiene, practising social distancing, and monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19. If you are sure that you have been following the guidelines, let’s stay calm and be in control.

Coping with Life’s Stressors Caused by the Pandemic

Our coping mechanisms are also within our control. Coping mechanisms are the methods people often utilise to manage stress. Choosing the appropriate ways to address your stress and meet your needs is essential, and that happens when you know which strategies are helpful and which are counterproductive.

Psychological techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, positive imagery, muscle relaxation, rational thinking and gratitude diary could be effective, nonetheless tapping on your personal resources is essential too. If the persons living with you are supportive, they are your precious resources.

Besides, you may seek emotional support from friends and extended family through phone calls and online platforms. If you have your own religious or spiritual faith, you may find peace and comfort from your belief system in a safe manner.

Keeping yourself occupied with your favourite activities may help too. People with existing psychological issues such as depression and anxiety are encouraged to continue follow-up with mental health professionals, besides using the strategies mentioned above. During the pandemic, free tele-counselling services offered by government and non-government organisations are also available.

Improve Work Life Balance While Working from Home

Staying home seems easy, nonetheless it could be challenging. Some may feel overwhelmed by competing responsibilities due to lack of boundary between work and family time, while some complain about boredom.

It is recommended to maintain a daily routine so that a sense of control and purpose in life is preserved. The ratio of time for work, family responsibilities, and self-care can be determined according to personal needs.

Once it is set, do your best to follow so that a balance between work and life could be maintained. For those who yearn for meaningful and fun activities, exploring new hobbies or revisiting old hobbies that are healthy and could be enjoyed indoors may be helpful.

Family Communication is Key

During the Movement Control Order, time spent with family increases. Some people may find it enjoyable. Viewing photos and videos of family events together may increase positive feelings and strengthen connection among family members.

Sharing of favourite memories is a way to treasure and reflect the relationship, it is also a way to deepen your loved ones’ understanding about you. Conflict may emerge sometimes, one may find it extremely difficult to hold their reactions under the influence of intense feelings. Therefore, it is important to be aware of any emerging emotions before they escalate and lead to unfavourable consequences.

Emotions could indicate there are unmet needs. If possible, find a private space to calm down before the emotions take control, and clarify what are your needs. When you are calm, you might be able to communicate better with your loved ones to address your needs.

When people try to understand each other’s needs without being judgmental, their relationship grows and an unhelpful interaction could be prevented.

Summary

The Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of two characters that represent danger and opportunity respectively. From a psychological point of view, the current issue poses a risk for mental health problems, whilst it also creates an opportunity to deepen understanding about self and strengthen coping abilities. How would you like to cope with the crisis? If you are willing to take the opportunity, you might be surprised by your growth.


Editor’s Note: If you need a counselling session, you may book an appointment with Mr. Yap Chee Khong, Clinical Psychologist from Sunway Medical Centre here: https://www.sunwaymedical.com/doctor/mr-yap-chee-khong

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