“Circuit breaker”, “safe distancing” and “3-ply masks” are just three words in the new vocabulary that we have become too familiar with as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. Many of us may experience a wave of emotions at the mere mention of these words, suggesting the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on our mental health.
A survey 1 of employees in the United States found that 70% saw the COVID-19 pandemic as the most stressful period of their entire professional career, causing them to feel symptoms of depression, anxiety and insomnia. Another study 2 in China found that 53.8% of the respondents rated the psychological impact of the coronavirus outbreak as moderate or severe, and reported moderate to severe levels of depression, anxiety and stress.
The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and will inevitably impact our mental health as we try to make sense of and cope with the new normal. As we seek to cope with our lives, we are also inundated by constant news about the worldwide impact. COVID-19 can affect our mental health in the following ways:
- The great disruptions create a new normal that we must adapt to within a short time. The uncertainties create fears and insecurities about our ability to cope, resulting in stress and anxiety as the situation drags on.
- The impact on the economy and livelihood creates real financial stress for many to meet basic needs, and the widespread impact limits our ability to seek alternative means of income. This creates a sense of helplessness and even hopelessness.
- The need for safe distancing reduces our social interactions and support at a time when we need these the most. We may feel more isolated and have less ability to cope.
- Constant news updates and talk about COVID-19 may overwhelm us emotionally and cognitively. This may create a vicious cycle in which we overestimate the danger and catastrophise the situation, which further reduces our confidence to overcome the situation.
- Worries about our health, loss of income and employment, boredom and physical isolation can trigger or exacerbate certain mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety, anger and even post-traumatic stress disorder 3 .
Here are some ways to take care of our mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Seek facts about the situation and evaluate what we read or hear from the news. Also, limit our consumption of news by subscribing to only reliable sources or limiting the time that we spend on reading the news.
- Be aware of your thoughts and emotions and assert control by asking yourself: What am I concerned about? What am I feeling? What is the worst or best thing that could happen? What can I do about it?
- Keep active and maintain a routine at home by continuing to engage in activities that you are familiar with, such as cooking, exercising, connecting with your friends etc.
- Engage in learning and new activities that help you focus on what you can do.
- Stay connected to the community, help to look out for one another and check in on your loved ones regularly.
- Make this circuit breaker a meaningful time and offer your help where you can, such as helping an elderly neighbour to purchase food and essential items or donating towards a charity of your choice.
Be in control and seek help for yourself or your loved ones when needed. You can contact:
- National Care Hotline – Tel: 1800-202-6868
- IMH Mental Health Helpline – Tel: 6389 2222
- Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) – Tel: 1800 221 4444
- Viriya Therapy Centre (Viriya Community Services) – Tel: 6256 1311
The contributor is a Clinical Psychologist at Viriya Community Services.