Staying mentally healthy during a time of uncertainty can be a challenge. Daily life has changed drastically since the discovery of COVID-19 and the necessary measures taken to halt its spread.
According to Kathyrn Tan, a Diplomate of the Specialty Board of Philippine Psychiatry and a Fellow of the Philippine Psychiatric Association, it is common to experience a range of emotions while coping with crisis, especially one of this magnitude.
“People may present with various emotions. They may feel angry, sad, helpless, ambivalent, frustrated, or or on the edge. These emotions may be an acceptable reaction to this pandemic, as many people may feel a loss of control of the situation,” Tan says.
What anxiety may feel like
One of the most common emotions one may experience is anxiety, which can manifest in different ways, depending on the person.
“Anxiety can manifest as physical symptoms such as palpitations, tense muscles, abdominal pain, dizziness, sweating, and alike. But take note when you have these symptoms, it is still best to be cleared of a medical problem like thyroid disease, cardiovascular disease, and others,” Tan shares.
“It can also manifest psychologically such as constant worry or distress to the situation. One may experience intruding thoughts such as an uncertain future, uncertain aspects in their lives, or a re-experiencing of a traumatic past.”
The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) defines anxiety as “a feature of a number of common psychiatric disorders” that “is usually perceived in relation to a specific stressful situation or event” that “may manifest with the physical symptoms mentioned above, accompanied by restlessness, fear, distress , worry or apprehension.”
Some people may experience panic attacks. “Panic attacks revolve around the fear of having another panic attack,” Tan says. “This occurs suddenly, lasts for a few minutes involving the body’s autonomic fight or flight response. One may experience fear of dying, losing control or a sense of detachment.”
Tips for keeping anxiety at bay
It is possible to keep from getting overwhelmed with anxiety, though it does take mindfulness and practice. Tan offers some tips:
1. Focus on the present situation rather worrying about the far off future.
2. Check on your thoughts whether they are rational given the current situation. Avoid fixating on the worst case scenario.
3. Practice deep breathing exercises. Breathing evenly helps recenter your mind.
4. Stay away from sugar or caffeine. Eat nutrition rich foods, including protein, and make sure to stay hydrated.
5. Talk to a close friend or family, especially when feeling down.
6. When you feel an anxiety attack coming on, follow the 3-3-3 rule: Name 3 things you see, 3 things you hear, and move 3 parts of your body. This will help you focus on the here and now.
7. Keep yourself busy. Do any activity may distract you form your thoughts.
Being around greenery helps
Having access to greenery, even if it comes in the form of a potted plant in a city apartment, or even just watching a nature show, may help keep spirits up.
“Being out in nature is associated to some physical activity. Exercise helps out body combat chronic pain or stiffness. It also releases endorphins which leads us to feel more upbeat. Physical activity also helps decrease cognitive fatigue,” Tan says. “There was a 2010 study in the Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine where findings show walking in a forest decreased blood pressure and stress hormone levels.”
Getting enough Vitamin D, whether through sunlight, vitamin tablets, or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) lamps can also help. “Exposure to the sun helps us absorb vitamin D which is essential for calcium absorption,” Tan says. “Viewing nature out on the porch of on TV has a tendency to decrease anger/ fear and stress while invoking a pleasant feeling.”
More anxiety relief exercises
Tan offers more advice on how people, especially city dwellers, can keep anxiety at bay:
1. Focus on what you can control such as social distancing, hand washing, or (not) stepping out of the house.
2. Manage your time with social media. Be discerning about fake news.
3. Continue your daily routine at home. It’s best to sleep or wake up at regular times. Continuing your work at home gives a sense of purpose and some organisation in your day.
4. Make time to do things that you enjoy.
5. Maintain good health by eating right, hydrating adequately, and getting some exercise.
6. Find ways you can help your community while staying home, like coordinating donation drives or being available when a friend needs someone to talk.
7. Stay connected with people you value. Call or message them when you can.
Most importantly, don’t give up hope. “There is always hope,” Tan says. “The majority of people recover from COVID-19. Health workers, scientists, and the government are finding ways to control this pandemic. We also see how people help each other during this crisis. We are all in this together.”