The government’s recent announcement of a Circuit Breaker did not come as a shock to many, amidst the worsening Covid-19 situation in Singapore, but still, when it came, it severely disrupted the usual routines of many Singaporeans. Facing the prospect of staying at home as much as possible for the next one month, we need to be prepared for a host of different reactions to surface. Now more than ever before, it is vitally important for us to take care of our mental health. Covid-19 does not only impact the infected patients and their loved ones. It inflicts an invisible psychological harm to the wider community as we grapple with this virus together.
Impact on our mental health
Some of us might experience anxiety. Anxiety is a natural emotional response to this unprecedented situation that we are facing today. There is so much uncertainty as we do not know how it is going to evolve and when it is going to end. This is a terrifying experience for us because we feel a profound loss of control as we are constantly exposed to negative news. As news of infections and deaths, some might find that their minds spiral into much negativity.
Some of us might struggle with depressed mood. This Circuit breaker enforces needing to isolate ourselves physically from our support system and this can be threatening for many. Especially in times of distress, not being able to hang out and get comfort from the physical presence of our friends might cause some to feel depressed. Additionally, this Covid-19 situation has caused many to lose their livelihood, their income, some their friends or family. Perhaps even losing that sense of invulnerability that such a disaster/catastrophe could happen to us. Some might be struggling with existential concerns as they come face to face with the reality that life is unpredictable and we should not take things for granted.
Some of us might struggle with a sense of helplessness and fear as our past coping strategies are no longer helpful. Those of you who are used to coping with stress by jetting off to another country, or gathering with a group of friends might feel paralyzed now. With the sudden removal of these reliable stress coping strategies, you might feel a sense of helplessness not knowing how to manage the stress faced.
Some of us might be traumatized or experience secondary traumatization. Be it frontline healthcare workers who take care of the infected patients or regular people like us who watch the news and see the situation unfold and devolve.
What we can do to mitigate this negative impact
Take care of your body
The body and the mind are inextricably linked. To ensure good mental health, we have to take good care of our physical well-being.
Keep up with a relatively fixed routine of eating and sleeping, having meals at approximately the same time and sleeping around the same time, ensuring that you have a healthy 7-8 hours of sleep. As the external environment remains chaotic and unpredictable, help yourself create a sense of stability with your daily routines, which would help contribute to some ease psychologically. We are all creatures of habit and we take comfort in that.
Maintain your energy/exercise levels even as our movements are restrained. If you love going for workout classes, you could explore home work-out options. Many exercise studios have started to offer virtual classes so start to explore those options, perhaps this is a time for you to pick up on a class that you have always wanted to try but never had the time to. If you are someone who loves breathing in fresh air, you could still go out to the parks and enjoy the greenery, immersing in nature and taking rejuvenating walks, while taking care to maintain safe distancing of course.
Take care of your mind and soul
The more chaotic and unpredictable the external environment is, the more we have to turn inward and make efforts to soothe and self-care. This virus may not be going away anytime soon and we cannot possibly remain in a constant state of anxiety and hypervigilance because our body would definitely break down, even if the virus has not infected us.
Start to develop the practice of mindfulness, be it formal mindfulness meditation practices or informal practices. Mindfulness is a state of paying attention to our internal experiences and accepting them in a non-judgemental manner. Being mindful of our daily activities like eating, bathing, walking etc. can help us to feel grounded. Being in touch with our bodies can also draw our awareness to what our body needs so that we can put more effort to meeting our own needs.
Take some time daily to identify things that you are grateful for. Perhaps it’s the way the government has been handling the Covid-19 situation, perhaps it’s how the community is banding together, perhaps it’s having good health, perhaps it’s how you are still able to work towards personally meaningful goals. Studies have shown that feeling a sense of gratitude helps to stave away low moods and instills a positive sense of possibility.
Regulate the amount of information/news regarding Covid-19 that you are exposed to. With technological advances comes easy access to information, unfortunately it also means that negative news and even fake news are in abundance everywhere. If we allow ourselves unfettered access, it could reinforce our anxiety and fear. Being preoccupied with reading every bit of news that comes along would also impede our ability to continue engaging in personally meaningful tasks. Perhaps limiting your news source to 1-2 reliable sources and setting aside fixed times when you catch up on the latest news (eg. at night or in the morning) would best strike the balance to allow you to feel grounded in reality and have some sense of control at the same time.
Take care of your need to connect with others
The desire to connect with others is a basic human need that all of us share. Even though in the current climate we might feel physically more isolated from others, it does not mean that we cannot still maintain that sense of connection.
Continue maintaining your relationships with friends and extended family through the usage of various forms of social media eg. Skype, Zoom, FaceTime etc. You could still ‘hang out’ and engage in similar activities through video chats.
Taking care of your relationships in your household is equally as important as those outside. With the majority of the general public working from home, there might be increased frequency of conflicts and disagreements as established routines and patterns of communication need to be re-negotiated. The increased stress could also lead to shorter fuses. Be more gracious during this period as you acknowledge that your family members are also stressed. Rather than feeling trapped, this could be an opportunity to ‘fall in love’ with them all over again. Spend time together doing activities that you mutually enjoy. Understand that many things might need to be re-negotiated so be open to exploring changes and compromises that allow both parties to feel positively.
You could also feel connected to the wider community by doing your part. Perhaps by donating to a worthy cause? Perhaps by supporting local businesses by ordering food from them? Perhaps if you have nursing training, perhaps volunteering to help out during this Covid-19 situation?
Conclusion: Even though this worldwide pandemic appears to be negative and bleak, it will come to a resolution one day. We can get through this together by taking care of ourselves and others. In addition to the suggestions above, if you feel that you would like to reach out to a mental health professional for further support, you can reach us at 6749 0190. We would be able to support you via phone or online counselling sessions.
Written by: Melissa Yoong, counsellor at O'Joy
Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash