The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has brought life to a halt. Media coverage all over the world has been crammed with updates on this global pandemic and a large number of countries have announced lockdowns and travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus that originated in Wuhan, China.
Its highly contagious nature has caused alarm amongst people, who are now panic buying face masks, hand sanitizers and rolls of toilet paper. Apart from that, social media has been flooded with fake news about the outbreak which has fuelled anxiety and stress levels among the masses.
Governments across the globe have shut down schools, offices, malls and other public places. People have been advised to avoid non-essential travel and stay at home. While staying at home can be seen by some as a chance to spend time with family, it has some serious implications for people with pre-existing anxiety disorders and other stress-related problems. It is, therefore, important to take care of one’s mental health in these tough times, along with maintaining good physical hygiene and social distancing.
There has been a lot of disinformation in the media regarding the virus, from the conspiracy theories about its origin to the “so-found” remedies claiming to fight against it. Fake news and its impacts on society can form a different story altogether.
It is helpful to limit one’s time on social media for following the updates on the situation, according to the University of Hong Kong’s Counselling and Person Enrichment (CoPE) group. The team also recommends only trusting reliable news organisations to get the facts. Staying updated is important, but spending the entire day following the news can lead to anxiety. Hence, one needs to be wise and open-minded when following media to absorb only the information that is helpful.
Exercise can also be really beneficial for mental health, writes Dr. Amir Khan, a UK-based NHS doctor and senior university lecturer, in Al Jazeera. Gyms and public parks are not suggested, so it is advised to try to exercise at home, which can include jogging around in the garden and walking up and down the stairs, as suggested by Dr. Khan.
While being under quarantine or isolation is not the most pleasant experience, mental health experts suggest people see it as an opportunity to do something for which they didn’t usually find time before the outbreak. Chen Jianzhong, an educational psychologist, writes in am730 HK, that one can find time for painting, sports, calligraphy, music or books as per their interest.
Mental health has always carried with it societal stigma, causing some people to refrain from discussing the problems they might be experiencing. However, experts suggest that opening up about one’s feelings and staying connected with people can help one cope with the stress of being walled in. The UK’s Mental Health Foundation recommends connecting with family and friends in these times. It helps to be surrounded by positive people who are emotionally supportive and understanding.
The art of mindfulness has been with us for years and experts recommend practising it irrespective of one’s mental health status. This meditative process is based on awareness and paying attention to the present moment without judgemental reaction. Exercises such as body scan mindfulness and three minute breathing space are recommended by CoPE for self-help and relief from anxiety and high stress levels. These exercises are available online, such as on YouTube.
While the fight against COVID-19 continues, it is important that we keep calm and take all necessary precautions rather than panicking about the outbreak. High anxiety and stress can worsen physical health. Hence is recommended to be mindful of the situation and not fall into the trap of disinformation spread on social media.