The call to stay home and flatten the curve has rung across the globe in recent weeks as the earth’s population faces a new pandemic. The term Covid-19 has become synonymous with ‘social distancing’ as more and more government officials (and even celebrities) have encouraged people to isolate themselves at home. But for a lot of folks who suffer from mental health or anxiety disorders, self-isolation sounds a lot easier than it is.
It was only until just over a week ago when citizens in South Africa could still see and interact with their loved ones. Yet now, already having reached the halfway mark of the Covid-19 lockdown, warm handshakes and tender hugs have become a distant memory.
Speaking to Daily Maverick, clinical psychologist Dr Colinda Linde said the terminology alone strikes fear among individuals. “There’s a good reason the term ‘lockdown’ makes us feel so powerless and trapped; it’s a term commonly used in prisons, where the inhabitants are in that position,” says Dr Linde.
She further explains how sitting and waiting to work (and most importantly earn) during this period will raise alarming levels of anxiety and depression.
To flatten this increase, we take a look at ways to manage your mental well-being throughout the Covid-19 lockdown.
Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that social distancing is difficult
Social distancing isn’t easy, and it’s important for your mental well-being to acknowledge this. According to clinical psychologist Joan Cook, recognising that social distancing, quarantine or isolation is hard will help you do this.
Joan, who specialises in traumatic stress, advises that people not judge themselves for feeling anxious, depressed, lonely, or frustrated in this time. She maintains that it’s vital to be kind to yourself now, more so than ever before.
“Know that you are not alone in finding the consequences of social distancing, like losing our jobs or being physically distanced from family and friends very difficult,” says Joan.
She insists that giving yourself credit for doing a good thing can make you feel better. “You’re reducing the possibility of transmitting the virus, and protecting those who are most vulnerable,” she continues.
Staying at home is therefore something to be praised. And in light of this, we suggest you commend yourself for doing your part to flatten the curve. Focus your energy on the good you’re doing, because your actions will inevitably protect others.
ALSO SEE: Take Time To Relax – Naturally
Reduce the stigma around Covid-19
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently listed a few guidelines to help combat the stress the crisis is generating. They recommend we reduce the stigma of Covid-19 by not attaching the disease to any particular ethnicity or nationality. They maintain that those affected by Covid-19 have done nothing wrong, and only deserve support and compassion.
Their guidelines ask that we exchange negative or frightening words with positive, less daunting phrases. For instance, say “people who are being treated for Covid-19” instead of “Covid-19 cases”. Another example is to rather say “people who are recovering from Covid-19” instead of “Covid-19 victims”. In this way, we avoid identifying people by the virus alone.
It is also essential to remember that life will go on after this pandemic is over. This includes jobs, new families, and new opportunities. Take comfort in this fact and allow it to ease your mind.
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— SADAG (@TheSADAG) March 16, 2020
Boost your mood with virtual coffee dates
Most SA citizens already had vast amounts of stress to cope with before the lockdown started. Financial worries or sickly family members are all common issues that the Covid-19 pandemic has only exasperated. And because of this, some people may feel as if they’re simply not escaping their troubles.
Sometimes these feelings become so overwhelming that a certain numbness takes place. And, although we’re all for lazy couch days, spending all your time sitting still isn’t a healthy course of action in the long run. Psychologist Lynn Bufka recommends you make time for virtual social interactions. She understands that during this global crisis, people will forget to do what makes them happy. But virtual communication, she insists, must become the new ‘normal’.
By going on a digital coffee date, you can ask your loved ones to help you brainstorm what brings you joy. Engaging in healthy or relaxing activities are assured mood boosters. “Virtual coffee catch-up sessions with friends can also really improve someone’s mood,” says Lynn.
Curate your news and social media intake
The WHO strongly advises people avoid or minimise watching, reading, or listening to news about Covid-19 that makes them feel anxious or distressed. They suggest you limit your news intake to one or two times throughout the day. Watching reports or constantly checking global statistics on Covid-19 can build anxiety. And getting caught up in an endless stream of bad news will only do you harm.
This is precisely why the WHO cautions citizens to be weary of where they’re getting their news from. There are a lot of rumours and exaggerated news reports that eclipse the facts. Gather information from trusted sources like the WHO’s website or the South African government’s twitter account. Both platforms are updated on a daily basis and if you follow these channels, you’ll be able to distinguish between fact and rumours. Facts will help alleviate your fears, so stay informed via credible resources.
Curate your newsfeed to reflect the good by reading positive stories, too. There are many success stories where people have shared how they’ve already overcome the disease. There are also stories of A-list celebs who’ve supported the cause either through free concerts or grand donations. Turn to these lighthearted stories for a break from the negative news you may be consuming too much of during this time.
How have you been or do you plan to check in with your loved ones & friends during lockdown? What are you doing to look after your loved ones mental health & emotional state during COVID19? Tell us more & inspire others to do the same. #MentalHealthMatters #Day2 #CoronavirusInSA pic.twitter.com/zCxDHwGABg
— SADAG (@TheSADAG) March 28, 2020
Make self-care part of your daily routine
Has it been a few days since you looked after your hygiene? Are you overeating or perhaps under-eating? Have you increased your consumption of substances like alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs? Psychologist Shane Owens believes these are all symptoms that point towards someone stuck in an emotional slump.
If you suddenly have difficulty sleeping, or you’re sleeping too much, then Shane suggests you take a few days to devote some time to these newfound issues. He proposes you try to wake up at the same time each day, as well as setting a bedtime. Shane says even going for a shower or bath can incrementally improve a person’s goal of being functional again.
The WHO encourages all those who are still working amid the Covid-19 pandemic (whether from home or as an essential service) to get sufficient rest and respite between work shifts. Eating nutritious food and doing some simple at-home exercises are excellent coping strategies. These will also improve your immune system, which is especially important at this time.
Avoid using alcohol, tobacco, or drugs as a coping strategy as these will not improve your immune system. The WHO cautions citizens that this form of coping may actually worsen the state of your mental well-being.
Whatever your preference, rely on your self-care routine to help you manage your mental state. You will know more so than anyone else what will help you channel that inner-zen feeling.
ALSO SEE: Your Well-Being: The Secrets Of Calm
Contact emergency hotlines if you’re struggling to cope
A global health emergency is reason enough to spiral into an existential crisis at home, but there’s no need to suffer by yourself. There are several emergency hotlines that are available to combat this struggle. If you find you can’t manage your mental health alone, call one of the numbers listed below:
- The South African Depression and Anxiety Group 24-hour helpline: 0800 456 789
- The South African Depression and Anxiety Group 24-hour suicidal emergency hotline: 0800 567 567
- The national Coronavirus (Covid-19) 24-hour hotline: 0800 029 999
- The national Coronavirus (Covid-19) WhatsApp Number: 0600 12 3456
Don’t feel the need to downplay your emotions during this unfathomable time. Your emotions are important and valid. Know that there are support systems put in place to help care for you, so don’t be afraid to make a call. If you’re planning a daily routine, set one small goal per day. There is no need to accomplish it all in one fell swoop.
Take your time and do what you are comfortable with. Make a virtual coffee date with a friend and channel your energies into positive self-care.
By Features Writer Marike Watson