Thu | Dec 9, 2021

COVID-19 and mental health

Published:Wednesday | October 20, 2021 | 12:09 AMJanet Walters/Contributor

Dr Janet Walters
Dr Janet Walters
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UNDOUBTEDLY, WITH a global crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals are more likely to experience and undergo some level of stress, anxiety, grief and worry, which is natural. There are a number of techniques you can use to manage your stress.

It doesn’t matter your nationality; a pandemic will be a natural stressor. Persons will experience feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, frustration, while others will have changes in their appetite, interest and even experience difficulty concentrating and sleeping; they may also have body aches and headaches.

As I share insights with the viewers on the reality show Real Life hosted by the couple Kerie-Ann and Denvo Thombs, I reflect on the need for greater emphasis to be placed on how we manage stress in a pandemic. This being the first pandemic in our lifetime, and as a counselling psychologist, I see so many of our people struggling to cope with the new ways of working in a new normal that we were unprepared to tackle. It’s like we are in a Sci-Fi movie fighting a war with a faceless enemy.

While it’s commendable that mental health awareness has been receiving greater attention over the past years and more so months, resulting in a noticeable uptick in persons coming to my office to seek counselling, I am personally perturbed as I am seeing more children who are negatively impacted by COVID-19. Lest we forget, our children crave social interaction for growth and development.

Never before have our children faced social non-interaction on the scale now experienced. It is hard for our children to concentrate, especially when online and sitting for hours for classes. Without face to face, they get bored, which can get stressful. They will feel isolated, and kids do not know how to regulate their emotions.

Helping our children cope with the pandemic and its socialisation ill-effects is critical. It is important that children have the opportunity to express their feelings in a safe and supportive environment. It is good to maintain familiar routines in daily life as much as possible, or create new routines, especially if children must stay at home. Help our children! Provide engaging age-appropriate activities for them, including activities that encourage education and learning.

Keep your children close and help them to feel connected so they do not experience thoughts of abandonment. Especially during times of stress and crisis, children become more attached and demanding.

Couples have not been spared. They are experiencing communication issues, the stress spilling over from each partner, especially as they are forced to spend more time together uninitiated. Being restricted by no-movement days and sometimes small spaces unearth tension and stress in couples. Suddenly, you are seeing habits and attitudes that you did not notice before and have no desire to entertain.

Dread not a visit to a counsellor. Finding a medium that will create the space for open, honest and soul-stirring conversations may save your relationship.

CHALLENGES

Healthy ways to cope during this pandemic include taking care of your mind and emotions, taking deep breaths, meditating, maintaining a healthy diet; exercising regularly and getting plenty of sleep. Certainly, you must avoid excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco and substance use, however difficult it may prove. Healthy stress management techniques will get us through the challenges of COVID.

We can also cope with the stresses of this pandemic by taking breaks from listening to and reading about the pandemic, especially on social media. While it is good to be informed, try to regulate your consumption of news in all forms on the pandemic.

For persons facing job losses, or reduced incomes because of the pandemic, you may need to take another look at your budget and prioritise the items to include essentials like rent/mortgage, groceries, medication and utilities. You can also find ways of reducing expenses, and look at new ways of earning, because COVID has taught us that households cannot depend on one source of income.

Employers, it is important to provide help and support to staff affected by stress. Ensure that good-quality communication, and accurate information and updates are provided to all staff: where and how they can access mental health and psychosocial support services and, as much as possible, facilitate access to these services.

It is OK to feel deflated or stressed. Some may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, especially if they have been hospitalised or experienced the loss of a loved one to the virus. You may want to validate your anxiety and fears and avoid distorted thinking like blaming yourself or overthinking. It is very important to talk to someone about how you are feeling, preferably to a professional.

It’s OK to not feel OK! It’s OK to talk about it. There are a number of organisations available for counselling services. Engaging a counsellor may be just what you need to get you through this pandemic.

Dr Janet Walters is a licensed counselling psychologist and a marriage & family therapist. Email feedback to janetcainwalters@gmail.com.