Mental health in times of a pandemic: What can each individual do to lessen the burden?

Social distancing, lockdowns, quarantines and self-isolation seem to have put the world on pause; schools are shut, stores are closed and loved ones separated. It makes one wonder when things will get back to normal. The upheaval to our usual lives brings uncertainty of the future, allowing paranoia, anxiety and stress to easily overwhelm us. It is thus vital that we safeguard our mental health while weathering the storm.

Pamper yourself: Self-love is essential, and there is no harm in giving yourself some tender loving care; have a warm bath, have breakfast in bed, do what makes you happy – and do it all guilt-free. Taking care of and making yourself happy is one way of curbing those obnoxious feelings of despair, while also providing rejuvenation.
Exercise: Research has shown time and time again of the countless benefits exercise has on our mental health; The many chemical changes that occur in our bodies after exercising can improve our moods. It also provides us with a sense of control and gives an outlet for heavy emotions.

Be productive: Nothing occupies our minds more than completing tasks or meeting deadlines. Engaging our minds can be an avenue to liberate ourselves of some of our emotions. From playing board games to scrapbooking, there are many activities to be performed at home – be adventurous and creative!

Meditate. The practice of mental relaxation helps put your thoughts and emotions in focus. Learning to recognise and anticipate your feelings helps in controlling your emotions. It is important to know that there are situations that are out of your hands, so focusing on things that you can control will provide clarity and alleviate stress.
Limit social media and news about the pandemic: As much as we would like to be updated on current events, we should set limits on our intake of information. Constant reminders of the situation at hand easily stir up anxiety.

Keep in touch: We may be practising social distancing, but that does not mean we have to be emotionally distant. At such time, having the love and support of family and friends is vital. We all handle things differently, some better than others. If coping with everything gets too intense to handle by yourself, talking it out with someone else would be greatly beneficial. It doesn’t have to be a professional, but anyone that can provide the emotional support needed; a friend, partner, parent or sibling.

As much as we put a great deal of effort into protecting ourselves from the pandemic, so should we do the same for our mental health. We could come out of this physically unscathed, but a psychological scar may be more difficult to heal.

References
Kousoulis, Antonis. “How Not to Let the Cononavirus Crisis Turn You into a Paranoid Wreck.” Daily Mail Online, Associated Newspapers, 22 Mar. 2020, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-8138201/How-not-let-cononavirus-crisis-turn-paranoid-wreck.html
Team, Blurt. “Depression: How To Cope When There’s An Upheaval In Our Lives.” The Blurt Foundation, 22 Nov. 2018, https://www.blurtitout.org/2018/11/22/depression-cope-upheaval-lives/
“Physical Exercise & Anxiety.” Anxiety UK, https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/get-help/anxiety-information/physical-exercise-anxiety/

About the author
Lani Jane Chong is a 4th year medical student at Shanghai Medical School of Fudan University. Originally from Ghana, she journeyed to China where she studied mandarin and Chinese culture. She is currently pursuing my Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree in Shanghai, China. She is greatly interested in cardiovascular medicine and hopes to enter the field of surgery after medical school.

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