Mental Health In The Time of COVID-19 and Social Distancing
As someone who comes from a family of worriers, I will be the first to tell you: this new pandemic nothing to be taken lightly. There’s constant worry, and now, as we live through the first leg of enhanced community quarantine, I can imagine that the struggle with anxiety could get worse. Dr. Ronald del Castillo, a doctor of psychology (PsyD) and a master of public health (MPH) from the University of the Philippines Manila, concurs.
He says: “For those of us who are already experiencing mental health problems before the outbreak, such as depression, bipolar or other mental disorders, the quarantine can aggravate an already tough situation. Now, muddle these with other circumstances, many of which are entrenched for us here in the country, such as poverty, unemployment or underemployment, isolation, poor transportation, limited health care access, or disingenuous politicians, then the psychological impact of the quarantine is all the more difficult.”
And true enough, stories have been surfacing online of people worried about having to be quarantined alone or with toxic family members or roommates. It’s difficult when the flow of our everyday lives is disrupted by something as serious as a pandemic. With this, Tatler Philippines has compiled a list of tips on how we can get through this quarantine together. It’s all about taking a step back, slowing things down, and getting used to a new routine that, like everything else, is temporary.
We are healthier when we are socially connected and socially integrated, and so a community quarantine puts pressure on that
Social distancing does not equal social isolation. There are plenty of tools — both online and offline — that can help us keep in touch with friends and family. Instant messaging tools are an example, as are video calls. Netflix Party allows people in remote locations to come together and watch a movie together. There’s plenty of ways to keep in touch, and no reason not too.
However, Dr. Del Castillo also suggests an old-fashioned phone call. Not with a laptop or a device, but preferably with a plain old landline. He suggests that the human voice helps soothe and calm the nerves during times like these. Have no distractions, dial the right person (who makes you feel good), and enjoy an hour-long talkathon that will leave you feeling so much better.
Limit stressful media consumption
The media has become a constant bombardment of bad (if not alarmist) news. And yes, we all need to be aware of what’s happening around us, but do you really need to be in the loop 24/7? Chances are, not really. In 1972, Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw, both college professors, introduced the world to Agenda Setting Theory. This communication theory states that the media sets the agenda for what people should care about; and with global news outlets and websites constantly producing breaking news pieces on the novel coronavirus, it’s no wonder that it’s become all we can think about.
So it’s time to take a step back. Limit the time you spend watching the news, or mute online media sources that make you worry. Be aware, but don’t go overboard in your news consumption. Take time to watch things that make you laugh or read books that distract you. Take care not to put needless worry onto your plate.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an US-based advocacy group that deals with mental health and wellness. One of their suggestions is for people to maintain as much of their regular routine as they can. This may be tough in quarantine so if your regular routine has been somewhat thrown to the wind, we suggest keeping busy.
There are so many things you can do, now that you have the time for it. Exercise is a good one. Reading a book, learning to cook, watching Netflix. There are plenty of online and offline resources you can use to help keep you busy (and allay cabin fever).
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Meditate or pray
Many people fall back on their faith during tough times. Right now, the situation is out of most people’s hands — all we can do is stay true to our quarantine and hope that our government does what it should. But praying can be a way for people to give up this need for control, and meditation is a great avenue for a more peaceful experience in daily life.
As Dr. Del Castillo says: “This community quarantine offers us that opportunity for a bit of reboot. Quiet and isolation can offer solace, respite, and calm.”
Read also: Top 5 Meditation Apps For When You're Feeling Overwhelmed
Care for a plant
As cheesy as it sounds, caring for a plant has taught me plenty about life (and it’s gotten me through some major low points too). You don’t even have to have a garden — a small pot, some soil, and some seeds will do great. And it doesn’t have to be anything fancy either; feel free to just pop a tuber or a clove of garlic in some soil. It will feel so satisfying to watch your plant grow with you as we buckle down for quarantine (we’re only on day 5!).
Caring for a living thing yields much reward and it can even help alleviate some loneliness if you decide to talk to your plant (they don’t mind listening to you repeat another story). And don’t worry about not being a green thumb: I guarantee that every living being grows beautifully with a little love.
Get some sunlight, if possible
Humans are diurnal creatures - we benefit from sunlight, time outdoors, and a good night's rest at home. But quarantine can make that difficult so we say: sit by a window or step out onto the balcony! Sunlight has been known to stimulate serotonin production, which can lead to better moods. Not to mention, it’s also a great source of Vitamin D (in the early hours of the day).
I am fortunate enough to have some space outside my house where I can sit down and get some sun. Every morning when I wake up, I take some time to sit outside and enjoy a lovely, little breeze with a cup of boiled ginger juice and think about what there is to be grateful for. It’s something that helps me calm down in times of trouble and if you’re fortunate enough to have this opportunity, I would suggest trying it.
Remember there are plenty of heroes
Times like these are scary and a little overwhelming. But trust that there are everyday heroes out there who are doing all they can for our community. We have amazing frontline workers who bravely step outside their homes every day (despite the risk and despite the lack of public transportation) to care for the sick, to deliver our essentials, and to provide for their families. We’re lucky that we get to stay at home and by simply doing that, we get to save lives. Unlike what some may assume, not everyone has that choice. People are doing the best they can, so we can all rise again.
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