Webinar on ‘Coping with the emotional impact of the Covid-19 pandemic’: Follow-up article
Over the past few months, we’ve experienced an unprecedented shift in our way of life due to Covid-19. The Covid-19 pandemic is like nothing that any of us have experienced before. It has left us with a lot of uncertainty and instability in its wake. The emotional reaction that has resulted from the pandemic and the circuit breaker measures, is a normal one to an extraordinary situation. Many report a wide range of reactions such as anxiety, fear, depression, frustration, irritability, insomnia, boredom and anger. It is important to be aware of these emotions and take measures to prevent them from snowballing.
An important part of the psychopathology of mental health disorders is an exaggerated stress response. A healthy stress response is protective and forms the basis of us being able to fight or flee from perceived threats. However, in chronic stress, the stress response becomes exaggerated and the long-term effects of this on our body are far ranging, from the gastrointestinal system, to the cardiovascular and immune system. It is therefore essential to keep our stress levels in check to prevent a chronically exaggerated stress response.
How do we do this?
1. Incorporating regular relaxation into your daily routine
- Mindfulness based stress reduction
- Journaling: Gratitude, stream of consciousness, ‘what went right’, visual, musical and unsent letter
2. Optimise nutrition for mental health
- Gut health: prebiotics, probiotics
- Omega 3
- Nutritional deficiencies: Zinc, Iron, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Magnesium
- Focus foods: Leafy greens, oily fish, eggs, dark chocolate, spices (turmeric, cinnamon), green tea, good fats, whole grains, legumes, nuts
- What to avoid: Sugar, processed/refined food, alcohol, pesticide, hormones, antibiotics
- Regular sleep and wake time
- No electronics two hours before bed
- No alcohol/large meals in the evening
- Cut off caffeine after mid-day
- No exercise three hours before bedtime
- Avoid long afternoon naps
- Wind down routine one hour before bedtime
- Use room only for sleeping/sex
- Relieves stress
- Improves memory
- Boosts mood
- Better sleep
5. Connect with others
- Find your support network
- Connect with friends and family regularly
- Social connection: volunteering, organising virtual events
- Connect with your partner/children
6. Take breaks from the news
- Stay informed but don’t be overwhelmed
- Check on the news once or twice a day
- Avoid too much exposure to the news cycle
- Take a break from social media
7. Some additional tips to help regulate your emotions and navigate this difficult period:
- Refocus attention onto what is positive in your life/day.
- Reframe negative situations to see the positive in them.
- Adjust your expectations of yourself to function at 100% of your capacity and lose the guilt, it IS a tough time, it’s okay to not be okay.
- Have a good routine in place
- Clear work-life boundaries
These are difficult times and the stress of social isolation, increasing financial uncertainty and a sense of yearning for the life that we knew before can leave us feeling hopeless. If you are feeling very overwhelmed, if your mood is pervasively low for several days and you are resorting to increasing amounts of substance use to cope with feelings of anxiety and low mood and if these symptoms are affecting your ability to function at work and at home, please seek the help of a mental health professional, as it could be an early sign of a depressive disorder or an anxiety disorder. Depression and anxiety can be treated with a combination of antidepressant medication and therapy and it is very amenable to treatment. The key is to getting help early.
As lockdowns are easing around the world and at home, life is slowly resuming some semblance of normalcy. However, it’s too soon to say if we will ever go back to the life we knew before the pandemic struck. Coping with the new normal will also bring with it, its share of challenges. We are affected more than usual when someone sneezes or coughs next to us, outings to the mall or our favourite restaurant will always be weighed against the risk of infection, travelling and holidaying seem like a distant past, the way we work and study has changed, and the small things that made up our lives are still missing; no community sports, no lingering at brunch with friends and not to forget some of our favourite establishments which haven’t survived the pandemic.
The first step to dealing with this is to allow yourself to grieve the life that you remember and miss. It is only human to feel this way and you’re not alone in feeling so. And as in any grief reaction, there will be sadness, denial, anger, blame and eventually acceptance of the situation. So, give yourself the time and space to grieve.
Secondly start by creating a new routine for yourself. Slowly fill the gaps in your old life with something new. If you can’t meet your friends at a cafe, meet them online. If you can’t go to the gym, take up an online fitness class. If your favourite neighbourhood coffee joint has closed, look for a new one to patronise. Get creative and be flexible, the possibilities are endless. The above-mentioned pointers for self-care are even more important to incorporate into your routine now. So, focus on your sleep, eating well and doing something relaxing every day. These small changes will reap dividends in time to come.
If you’re stuck working at home, try and find things that make you happy during the day. If you train your mind to focus on what’s going right in your day, it makes it harder to dwell on what’s going wrong. This forms the basis of the positive psychology movement. It can even be something as small as the new bag of coffee beans you bought that smell heavenly, managing to catch the sunrise/sunset that day or catching up with a friend whom you haven’t spoken to for some time.
Lastly be kind to yourself. It is a very difficult situation but don’t forget the resources within you that have helped you overcome previous challenges. They will get you through this as well. The pandemic will come to an end someday, but the resilience forged while battling the emotional aftermath of this extremely stressful period of time, will last you a lifetime.
About Dr Kamini D/O Rajaratnam, (MBBS, MRCPsych, FAMS) Consultant Psychiatrist, Better Life Psychological Medicine Clinic
Dr. Kamini Rajaratnam (MBBS, MRCPsych) is a passionate and patient-centered psychiatrist with 12 years of experience.
She graduated with an MBBS degree from the National University of Singapore and obtained the Membership of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (UK). She is an accredited psychiatrist with the Specialist Accreditation Board, Ministry of Health Singapore and a registered psychiatrist with the Singapore Medical Council.
She has trained in mindfulness-based therapies, nutritional psychiatry and nutritional and environmental medicine and learned that a plethora of other issues can contribute to and perpetuate mental illness.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of AAM Advisory Pte Ltd. This article is intended for general circulation and for information purposes only. It may not be published, circulated, reproduced or distributed in whole or part to any other person without prior consent of AAM. Whilst we have taken all reasonable care to ensure that the information contained in this article is not untrue or misleading at the time of publication, we cannot guarantee its accuracy or completeness. Any opinion or estimate contained in this article is subject to change without notice. AAM advisory Pte Ltd is licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, FA Licence no 100032.