The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. The extraordinary COVID-19 pandemic scrambles this definition. Measures like Work From Home and Safe Distancing are challenging our traditional ways of life and making it difficult to work productively and contribute to society.
This pandemic has unleashed extraordinary stressors in our daily lives. Thus, it is important to ground ourselves and learn to reframe any catastrophizing thoughts. We can start by looking at how we, as a country and community, have overcome past viral pandemics. SARS in 2003 and H1N1 in 2009 are good examples. While there was much suffering, these events eventually passed and we moved on with our lives. Similarly, we will overcome COVID-19 although it may take some time.
Stress that is short-term or one-off, although potentially intense, is referred to as acute stress. COVID-19, SARS and H1N1 bring about acute stress. Acute stress can have positive effects. The short- term release of stress hormones helps us to focus on the threat and take steps to ensure our survival. In the case of COVID-19, we take proactive steps to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe from infection by practicing good personal hygiene, safe distancing and avoiding social interaction.
On the other hand, chronic stress is long-term and recurring. Chronic stress causes wear and tear to our mind and bodies and the constant release of stress hormones weakens our immunity and resilience.
Our genes, personality traits and socio-economic environments can affect our coping mechanisms towards acute stressors.
We can take steps to manage our stress. Here are some ways:
- Observe where your stress is coming from. Family? Work? Health? Understanding what causes you stress and to what degree are important first steps.
- Face up to the issues that are causing you stress. Acknowledge your worries and face up to them. Avoiding problems and wallowing in negativity will not make them go away.
- Analyze your problems. A problem may seem overwhelming initially but become more manageable on closer examination. Ask yourself how serious the problem is and the actions you can take.
- Take small steps and be patient. Don’t expect to find a magic bullet that will make your problems go away overnight. Remember, every little step matters. Keep chipping away at your problem.
- Change how you react. If nothing else can be done, it may be time to let the worry go. We may not be able to change our problems, but we can decide how we want to react to them. For example, we can decide to focus on improving other areas of our lives.
- Be Grateful. Give thanks regularly for all that you are thankful for. Research shows that gratitude improves physical health, self-esteem and boosts mental strength. Keep a Gratitude Journal and jot down your entries daily, although making a mental note in your head is great too!
The ability to cope mentally with stress differs from person to person. Each one of us is built differently. Our genes, personality traits, past experiences and socio-economic environments can affect how well we cope with stress.
If stress is causing you severe distress and you are finding it difficult to cope with daily life, do seek professional support. Click on ‘I Need Support Now’ on the menu bar to access a directory of mental health support services. You can also call the National Care Hotline for help.
The contributor is an Executive Director at Clarity Singapore.