Consumed by stress and anxiety during the pandemic? We share expert-backed tips on how to take care of your mental health.
Taking care of your mental health during Covid-19
We’re calling it – 2020 has got to be one of the sh*ttiest years ever. Though we’re slowly easing out of the circuit breaker as we enter Phase 2, the battle is not over yet. Forget the forecast for travelling or creating a wishlist of post-CB activities. Even the tiny bits of adjusting to the new normal – or the thought of it – can be tough. And don’t get us started on ‘re-entry anxiety’ (yes, it’s a thing). It’s not all doom and gloom though as there are ways to manage these intrusive feelings. We share helpful expert tips on coping with mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic and how to ease your way into the new normal.
Meet the expert…
Karyen Chai is currently a practicing psychologist and a psychology lecturer in Singapore. She’s an advocate for mental health education and shares her applied knowledge through Singapore Psychological Society. Karyen has worked with mental health care hospital in-patients with anxiety and eating disorders in the UK. Her current role sees her involved with working adults to improve mental health in their lives.
Now, let’s get to it.
Some of us have never experienced a pandemic. How do we look after our mental health during such times?
Notice how you are feeling. Sometimes our behaviours are our ways to cope with an often unidentified emotion. For example, some people can experience disrupted sleep but they cannot quite identify why that is. I used to eat a lot of snacks when I was stressed. The first step to making any changes is identifying how you are feeling when you have these changes in behaviour.
Accept your feelings
Your feelings are valid. We can experience different feelings from those around us. Regardless how you feel, these feelings are yours and you have the right to feel that way.
What is making you feel this way? The more specific you get, the closer you can get to developing healthier coping strategies. So ask yourself, what about the change in your work nature is troubling you? What about virtual negotiations is stressing you out?
Develop a locus of control
Know what is within your control that you can change, and what is outside of your control that you have to let go.
Talk to someone
Social support is a great predictor of mental wellness.
Practice healthy habits consistently
Eat well, sleep well, move well, think well. Mental wellness is linked to physical health. And just like physical health, good mental health habits come with practice as well, which brings us to the next point…
Take note of positives
We have a tendency to “solve a problem”, making us neglect our positive behaviours. The more we note our positive behaviours (recognising those feelings and “triggers”), the more salient it becomes and the easier it is for us to repeat them.
How can we cope with stress and anxiety (especially in isolation) during the pandemic?
The feeling of stress or anxiety can hit suddenly. Create distance between you and the feeling to avoid being overwhelmed by it.
Regulate breathing – Take around 5-7 deep breaths. Use an audio guide if needed.
Reach out – Call or video chat. Tap into your social networks. Just because we are physically distant doesn’t mean our communications have to stop.
Distract – Watch a movie/short clip, listen to music, exercise. The purpose of this is to create space between you and the problem so that you can come back to it with a clearer view of the situation.
My friend is catastrophising. How do I calm them down? What are some things I shouldn’t do or say?
You may be the social support that your friend turns to. Lend a listening ear. Sometimes we just want to be heard. You can share your positive perspective. Avoid catastrophising together, that can create a downward spiral.
Always take care of yourself first. If you feel negatively affected by others catastrophising, refer him/her to someone else. This is a stressful period for everyone, including you. Make your mental wellness your priority.
What are some tell-tale signs of anxiety and depression?
Symptoms differ from person to person. Here are some of the common symptoms:
Anxiety – preoccupation with thoughts; feeling agitated (racing heart, sweaty palms, shaky hands, dry mouth); change in energy (unusually strong desire to move or unexplained fatigue); change in sleep patterns; panic attacks.
Depression – loss of interest; change in appetite (overeating or lack of appetite); change in sleep patterns; unexplained fatigue; sense of hopelessness.
We can experience anxiety and low moods from time to time. Speak to a professional especially if these symptoms are long-lasting, intolerable, or interfering with your life and your relationships.
It’s okay to seek professional help if you’re dealing with depression, anxiety or stress
It may not be a linear process but as long as we take baby steps, be kind to ourselves and remain resilient, it’ll make a difference in keeping your mental health in check during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The National CARE Hotline is open 24/7, with over 400 psychologists, counsellors, social workers, psychiatrists and public officers manning the hotline. Call 1800 202 6868 to talk to someone.
Other counselling hotlines in Singapore: