Managing mental health concerns in the time of the pandemic
In year two of the global pandemic, worries and anxiety have intensified as we try to stay afloat upon wave after wave of unprecedented changes. Isolation from the usual support groups, such as co-workers and friends, makes the task of surviving overwhelming for many.
Take one young manager, for instance. He was genuine in his concern for others. He was very generous in teaching and mentoring others to succeed like him. He was positive and always helped others to look for the silver lining. His kindness and selflessness endeared him to many of his peers.
Street-smart and proactive, he was able to fend for himself much better than the others since he was in an industry that was barely allowed to open since March of last year. In short, nobody knew he was hurting.
No one thought that he was drowning in his depression and sadness. Maybe, keeping him away from the work he had excelled in for 10 years and away from the community he made his second home snuffed out the passion in him.
A few days ago, his lifeless body was discovered, shocking many people he had encouraged not to give up hope. With the shedding of tears came confessions of guilt: Why didn’t I sense something was wrong? Why didn’t I answer his call? Why didn’t I check how he was doing?
Pandemic pressures pile up — daily routines change, job security becomes uncertain, anxiety about getting sick, frustration over when this situation will end, isolation from friends, restricted travel and recreation, and shattered dreams. It certainly doesn’t help if the anxiety worsens due to false information and rumors.
In the US, adults who report symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression have almost tripled, if we compare pre-pandemic numbers to current data. Hence, mental health issues are a primary concern of many governments worldwide during these times.
Stop. Breathe. Live a month at a time. If that is difficult, then live a week at a time. If that is still difficult, then live a day at a time. Or an hour at a time. Just live in the present. Here and now.
You cannot assume that a mental health problem, like a common cold, will just go away by itself. Seek help. Contact a close friend or loved one to open up about your feelings.
The US-based Mayo Clinic suggests reducing stress triggers.
They said a personal regular routine is important for mental health. Stick to a regular routine for exercise, going to bed, reading, working or studying, and doing hobbies you enjoy. A schedule offers predictability that’s equated to being in control. Limit exposure to social media if it will only increase your fears and anxieties.
Stay busy to distract yourself from the cycle of negative thoughts. Doing something you love to manage anxiety is a healthy coping strategy.
Make a gratitude list. Focus on things to be thankful for. Be hopeful, accept changes and keep problems in perspective. Use your moral compass or spiritual life for support. Draw strength from your faith to comfort you during difficult times.
Prioritize. Don’t overwhelm yourself by creating unreasonable goals. Take baby steps in the right direction, and take joy in victories, no matter how small.
Stress is a part of our daily lives. All the curve balls COVID-19 has thrown our way intensify that stress because the familiar has been removed.
What are the signs that we, or our peers, are possibly not coping well?
Different people cope with stress in different ways, but look out for intensified feelings of sadness, helplessness, anger, irritability, hopelessness, anxiety or fear. Inability to concentrate on daily tasks, changes in appetite, body aches and pains, difficulty sleeping or too much sleeping — anything very different from the norm — may be a sign, especially if the signs linger on for several days.
You cannot assume that a mental health problem, like a common cold, will just go away by itself. Seek help. Contact a close friend or loved one to open up about your feelings. Talk to a priest or a minister. Call a mental health professional or talk to online volunteers.
Call the National Mental Health Crisis Hotline 1553 (landline toll-free in Luzon) or 09663514518 (Globe/TM) or 0908-6392672 (Smart/Sun/TNT).
The NCMH Crisis Hotline is also on Facebook. They provide free assistance 24/7. As they said in a post, “It is normal to feel fearful and anxious during this time. Talking about your feelings will lessen your distress.”