It’s a frightening time in a dangerous world. Some of us are in areas that have already been affected by coronavirus. Others are bracing for what may come. All of us are watching the news headlines and wondering, “What is going to happen next?”
As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the world, stress, anxiety and depression can appear in a variety of physical, psychological, emotional and behavioural ways. Such psychological disorders can lead to physical problems, such as headaches, tension, gastrointestinal problems, sleep disorder, lower appetite, fatigue, feelings of being overwhelmed, powerlessness, increased use of alcohol, drugs and/or medication. With the lockdown here to stay for the next few weeks at least – and with schools, workplaces and social hubs closed – the situation could have serious consequences for our mental health. Those whose job security has been threatened are likely to be experiencing severe stress, as are those who are now having to juggle looking after their children while working from home. We’re all feeling very isolated by the lack of social contact.
Our bodies are not designed to handle social deprivation for long. Studies suggest that people forced to “shelter in place” will experience more depression. Those living alone and lacking social opportunities are at risk. Loneliness breeds depression. Families who must spend unusual amounts of time together in confined spaces may experience more conflict. China experienced an increase in divorce following the Covid-19 quarantine. Divorce often causes depression, especially in women, largely due to increased economic hardship over time.
The biggest stress for many is financial. Unemployment and economic losses will be severe due to this pandemic. Times of recession in the past have led to increased rates of depression and suicide. Those who experience unemployment, debt, and financial deprivation are at significant risk for depression. Recession will make recovery from the emotional or psychological crisis harder across a spectrum of needs. It will have impact on motivation and problem-solving. Even when our economy recovers, those who are depressed will have a harder time engaging in new pursuits. When the period of mandated social isolation ends, those who are depressed will have a harder time re-engaging in meaningful social activity. Those who are depressed will face increased immunological dysfunction, making it more likely they will suffer other infections. Depression amplifies symptoms of chronic illnesses.
What to do?
1) Try to connect with others. Video calls with friends and family can help beat isolation.
2) Help and support others. Think about how you could help those around you – it could make a big difference to them and will make you feel better, too.
3) Talk about your worries. Remember that this is a difficult time for everyone and sharing how you are feeling and the things you are doing to cope will help others too.
4) Look after your physical wellbeing. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, drink enough water, exercise where possible.
5) Sleep well. Try to maintain regular sleeping patterns and keep good sleep hygiene practices – like avoiding watching TV or mobile before going to bed, cutting back on caffeine, and creating a restful environment.
6) Manage difficult feelings. Try to focus on the things you can control, including where you get information from, and perform tasks to make yourself feel better prepared.
7) Manage your information intake. 24-hour news and constant social media updates will only make you more worried. It may help to only check the news at set times or limit yourself to a couple of hours of TV watching a day.
8) Get the facts. Gather credible information that will help you to accurately determine your own and other people’s risk of contracting coronavirus, so that you can take reasonable precautions.
9) Think about a new daily routine. Think about how you can adapt and create positive new routines – try to engage in useful activities (such as cleaning, cooking or exercise) or meaningful activities (such as reading or calling a friend). You might find it helpful to write a plan for your day or your week.
10) Do things you enjoy: If you can’t do the things you normally enjoy because you are staying at home, try to think about how you could adapt them, or try something new.
11) Set goals. Setting goals and achieving them gives a sense of control and purpose – think about things you want or need to do that you can do at home.
12) Keep your mind active. Read, write, play games, do crossword puzzles or draw and paint.
13) Take time to relax. Relaxation techniques can help some people deal with feelings of anxiety.