By Annan Boodram – The Caribbean Voice
Panic, fear, uncertainty, anxiety, stress, depression, hopelessness, helplessness, cabin fever, frustration, disconnection, isolation, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, mood swings, inability to relax, feeling overwhelmed, loneliness, are among mental health issues related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. So how can we protect our mental health?
Long periods away from news websites and social media helps to manage anxiety. For social media, turn off notifications, set message boxes to ignore, hide, mute or unfollowing accounts and posts. For news, stick to trusted sources such as government and reputable health websites like the US based Center for Diseases Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). Share only reliable information.
Without being obsessive, wash your hands, as often as necessary, with soap and water for 20 seconds. Make sure the washing is through – the entire palms, back of the hands, in between fingers and the wrists. Use 60 per cent or greater alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your face. Cough into your elbow or disposable tissue.
Put clothing in a laundry bag or other container. Do not shake them before washing. Wash them in detergent and hot water. Change and wash clothing once you return home from outside. Leave containers, packages, envelopes in a designated corner of the kitchen or inside a cabinet for three days if you don’t have time to disinfect them. Sanitize the containers with take out food before opening them but the safest measure is to not order take out.
Infectious disease specialist Mary E. Schmidt warns that the coronavirus could survive on rubber, leather and PVC-based soles for five days or more, the Huffington Post UK reported — and has even suggested that individuals wear shoes that are machine-washable. So take your shoes off before entering the home is a smart measure for anyone. If possible leave them outside for six days before wearing again or sanitize them after each wear – all adults and children footwear each time they’re used.
If it gives you peace of mind, use masks and gloves once you head outside the home. Practice social/safe distancing – three feet minimum, six feet recommended. Do not shake hands; clasp hands, Hindu style or bow, if you prefer. Sanitize any space you share with others as well as personal items such as wallets and cell phones. Wash all surfaces with alcohol-based products. In colder climates open your windows for a while so the air inside can flow out and fresher air can flow in.
The coronavirus could be detected up to three hours once in the air, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel, so use this as a guide to determine what and when you wash/sanitize.
Make sure the vulnerable are taken care of: the elderly, children, those with mental health issues, anyone who has pre-existing medical conditions – diabetes, heart conditions, asthma, kidney diseases, chronic diseases and weakened immune systems – as they are more vulnerable. Display empathy, use appropriate language when speaking about COVID-19 and be frank about social distancing. Reassure them.
Since recent reports that a much higher than expected percentage of younger are hospitalized with COVID 19, everyone needs to follow safe, healthy practices. Protective measures help ease anxiety and panic and eliminate helplessness and hopelessness.
Fear of contracting the virus can cause some people to become socially withdrawn, but maintaining relationships and social support are vital when combating anxiety. Thus if you are self-isolating or in mandatory quarantine, keep up social interaction as much as possible using the various mediums such as Whatsapp, Skype, phone calls, text messages, Messenger, Facetime, Google Hangout and the like.
Strike a balance between having a routine and making sure each day has some variety. Work through your to-do list, engage in projects around the house, read a book or watch a movie. Play games. Engage in journaling, creative writing, art, singing or music. Involve family as much as possible. All of this eliminates boredom and loneliness.
Focus on health
Exercise provides a healthier mental and physical state, no matter what’s going on around you. It’s calming and helps to boost the immune system. So take a walk outside with the family. Stretch, practice yoga or some other indoor routine. Take a nice, relaxing bath or just sleep. Adequate rest helps build immune systems.
Take more alkaline foods such as lemon, limes, grapefruits, oranges, tangerines, avocados, garlic, mangoes, pineapples, ginger. Stay hydrated. Manage your sugar and salt intake. Before cooking, clean the kitchen– every surface, area, and utensil. Associate professor at the University of Sydney, virologist, Timothy Newsome stated that since “every surface is a hazard” fruits and vegetables should be washed with soap and water.
Stress can sometimes turn people to drugs or alcohol. Get rid of these substances if you have them in the house and reach out to family members, neighbors and/or friends to help keep you grounded.
Knowing that all necessary measures are being taken to protect yourself and your loved ones helps to ease stress and anxiety and boosts mental health on the whole.
Seek help; help yourself!
If you are struggling to cope with the anxiety or panic, seek help from your general practitioner or mental health specialist. If you are worried about going to the clinic, request for virtual (Skype, Zoom etc) sessions. Or reach out to government help lines/hotlines and NGOs that may offer free or low cost counseling.
If you think you have coronavirus symptoms (fever, breathing difficulties, tiredness, symptoms of flu and cold) call your doctor for advice. Do the same if you experience loss of sense of smell, and diminished sense of taste.
If you are quarantined at home, designate yourself a “sick room” and use a separate set of dishes, cups, cutlery, bedding and towels. Wash them regularly. Let someone who is not sick sanitize common areas and frequently-touched surfaces (the remote control, doorknobs, light fixtures) while you tend to your “sick room.”
As well, helping others can give you a sense of purpose and control. Do you have an elderly or sick neighbor you can offer your services to? “The idea is to get out of the helpless zone. If you can get out of that then be an agent,” says Dr Ken Duckworth, medical director of National Alliance on Mental Illness (UK).
Coping with mental health fallout
Dr. Cacioppo, the director of the Brain Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, studies the effects of love and loneliness in the brain. “The first thing we need to do is to think about right now and not let our mind wander to the future,” she said. “Right now you can control your environment” – the food you decide to eat, the clothing you decide to wear. “That gives you a sense of stability.” In other words practice mindfulness. Psychologists and mental health experts also advise that we accept uncertainty so we don’t overreact.
Also, while panic and anxiety are understandable, do remember that neither actually helps the situation; they simply negatively affect you. If needs be, take a few minutes each day to pray, meditate and/or practice this simple but effective breathing exercise: bring your attention to your breath and your body. Focus all of your attention on the here and now: noticing the sights, sounds, and smells around you and what you’re feeling in your body. Continue to breath slowly in and out—gently bringing your mind back to your body and breath every time it drifts—until you feel calmer.
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