Coping with the ‘big stress’

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    PEOPLE’S distress is understandable given the impact of the pandemic on everyone’s lives, according to the United Nations’ policy brief on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and mental health launched by Secretary General António Guterres.

    The policy brief recently reported that during the COVID-19 emergency, people are afraid of infection, dying and losing family members.

    At the same time, they have lost or are at risk of losing their livelihoods, have been socially isolated and separated from loved ones, and in some countries, have experienced stay-at-home orders implemented in drastic ways.

    Women and children have also experienced increased domestic violence and abuse, while widespread misinformation about the virus and prevention measures and deep uncertainty about the future are additional major sources of distress, the policy brief stated.

    Repeated media images of severely ill people, dead bodies and coffins add to the fear, the policy brief noted, adding the knowledge that people may not have the opportunity to say goodbye to dying loved ones and may not be able to hold funerals for them further contributes to distress.

    Not surprisingly, higher-than-usual levels of symptoms of depression and anxiety have been recorded in various countries. To deal with the stressors, the policy brief said people may resort to different negative ways of coping, including use of alcohol, drugs, tobacco or spending more time on potentially addictive behaviors such as online gaming.

    Minimizing the consequences

    The Benilde Well-Being Center, an integral part of the Lasallian Mission and Student Life that attends to the psychosocial and emotional well-being of students, offers some coping strategies to manage anxiety brought about by this stress.

    It recommends focusing on doing good things and encouraging others to do the same. People should also eat healthy and balanced meals, drink more water, exercise regularly and get a better sleep, as well as avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

    People should practice deep, mindful breathing and stay in the present moment during episodes of intense anxiety or other overwhelming emotions. They could connect and communicate with loved ones and check in on others.

    It is also advised that one takes a break from watching, reading or listening to news and stories about the pandemic, and keep in mind that strong feelings will fade.

    Parents have to talk with their children about the global crisis, limit their media exposure, and reassure them of support and safety.

    Psychometrician Jeanne Elaine Cruz, meanwhile, shares more ways to help people protect their mental health during a pandemic.

    Cruz said regulate the amount and nature of news about the global pandemic as one has no obligation to constantly monitor the development of all news stories about it.

    Be mindful when searching for additional information on the internet, Cruz added. Do not be drowned in fear-mongering headlines and controversial clickbait articles.

    Be responsible for the things that are in control, as well as be sensitive to others’ headspace and emotional resilience, she said.

    Maintain and follow routines that would make one feel safe and calm – painting, writing, cooking, etc. – in case one feels spiraling into despair and anxiety, Cruz noted.

    When encouraging others, she pointed out not to fake positivity by telling them to “cheer up.” She advised to validate their feelings and offer to listen whenever.

    Cruz said try to live instead of just surviving, keep a sense of normalcy and continue to do things that make one feel positive and safe.

    “Do not be afraid to plan and hope for the future: these hard times will not last forever,” she said.

    According to Guterres, mental health services are an essential part of all government responses to COVID-19. “They must be expanded and fully funded,” he said.

    He added that policies must support and care for those affected by mental health conditions, and protect their human rights and dignity.

    “Lockdowns and quarantines must not discriminate against those with poor mental health,” Guterres said.

    “We must shift more mental health services to the community, and make sure mental health is included in universal health coverage,” he said, as people recover from the pandemic.