Anxiety is our body’s natural response to stress. Some anxiety is in fact beneficial, in allowing us to cope better and develop our potential. The COVID-19 pandemic has caught us by surprise and we have already witnessed its vast impact beyond healthcare.
Many countries have implemented lockdown or its equivalent to manage the outbreak. In Singapore, the circuit breaker (CB) measures have been extended to 1 June. Even if the CB measures are discontinued by June, the impact of the COVID-19 situation may last longer than expected.
Thus it is natural for us to feel that it is beyond our ability to cope. A person’s personality also plays an important role in how he/she handles stress. For example, some people are fatalistic or indifferent to everything in life, while others are naturally anxious.
During this period, stress symptoms that are likely to appear include:
- Experiencing a sense of loss
- Poor appetite
- Emotional outbursts
- Other anxiety or depressive symptoms
Whether such psychological or behavioural symptoms appear also depends on whether the person has an existing mental illness.
To manage your stress during the COVID-19 outbreak/CB period, I would recommend the following strategies:
- Maintain the same rhythm and habits as before the outbreak. Take up one or two activities to reduce anxiety. This can be reading a book, listening to music, learning a new skill, etc.
- Do some moderate exercise daily
- Maintain a balanced diet as it will help to maintain the body’s immunity
- Get enough sleep (not less than 7-8 hours)
- Master a few simple relaxation techniques
- Continue to keep in touch with relatives and friends via phone or other communication platforms such as social media
We need to express our own negative emotions using the correct channels – talking to a family member, trusted friends or colleagues can be helpful.
For workers in essential services, please continue to take protective measures such as wearing a mask when leaving the house, ensuring social distancing, maintaining good personal hygiene such as washing hands with soap frequently, not touching the face, and keeping our surroundings clean.
For workers who are working from home, social isolation may arise from working remotely for a prolonged period. It is crucial that supervisors check in regularly on their staff and allow them to work on a flexible work schedule if the staff member needs to also take care of young children at home.
Information related to the outbreak should be maintained at 40% to 50% of the total amount of information we receive. We are gradually learning about the new coronavirus over the past months but there is also a lot of fake news circulating around. We should not trust unverified information – instead only obtain information via formal or authoritative channels.
We need to express our own negative emotions using the correct channels – talking to a family member, trusted friends or colleagues can be helpful. If one is incapable of managing the anxiety or have emerging symptoms of depression, one should seek the help of a mental health professional.
The National CARE Hotline (NCH), 1800-2026868, offers emotional support to individuals who may be worried about COVID-19 and its impact on personal, family lives and livelihoods. Beyond NCH, there are also a number of mental health helplines run by social service agencies (SSA) as well as on- site or teleconsultation mental health services run by SSAs and psychiatric clinics.
Let all of us take this opportunity to rethink and reflect on our lives, and build up our resiliency while we earnestly battle this virus outbreak.
The contributor is a Psychiatrist and Senior Consultant of the Institute of Mental Health, Vice Chairman of Medical Board (Clinical) and Chief CARE Officer with the National CARE Management System.