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Managing Mental Health During COVID-19

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit us earlier this year, our initial concern was that of our physical health. However, since then we have endured lockdown, isolation, a loss of our normal day to day liberties and a serious knock on the economy. All of this is taking a serious toll on our mental health.

We all know what to do to protect ourselves from getting and spreading the virus – wear a mask in public, practice social distancing, wash hands, sanitise surfaces and boost our immunities – but what about taking care of our psychological selves?

Did you know that mental health is directly linked to the body’s immune system? New research is beginning to show a strong connection between major stress and a weakened immunity response. In fact, people with mental disorders seem to be more at risk of getting various illnesses of the immune system. That is how powerful our minds are.

During these uncertain times of radical change, stress, anxiety and frustration, it is imperative that we keep positive, healthy and strong to ward off not only the COVID-19 virus but severe anxiety and depression, too. Here are the FIVE Rs to practice when managing your stress, staving off depression and staying in a good frame of mind:

Routine – While the world is spinning out of control, keeping a daily routine will help you feel in control of your life. It also has a hand in keeping us sane because it helps us cope with change and reduces our levels of stress. By performing the simplest daily tasks such as getting up at a set time, having a shower, getting ready for the day ahead, and eating a healthy breakfast will give you a sense of normality and self-assurance.

Restriction – Usually, as humans, we find that being restricted causes us to rebel but in the case of a global crisis and all the uncertainties it brings with it, restriction can also be a good thing. For one, it helps us feel secure when we have set boundaries and in the case of COVID-19 the restrictions which have been placed on us will also keep us all safe while slowing the spread of the virus. There is, however, another type of restriction which goes a long way in helping ward off anxiety and that is the restriction we place on ourselves from watching and reading the news every minute of every day. Restrict yourself to only about 30 minutes of news a day and no more, and be sure to only follow the news about COVID-19 from reliable sources. There is a lot of fake news out there, and the types of stories which will push your stress levels through the roof.

Relationships – Staying connected with your friends and family using free online communication platforms such as Skype, Zoom, House Party, Hangouts or Teams is a stress reliever for these reasons:

  • You feel loved and acknowledged
  • You know you’re not alone
  • You can talk out your worries
  • You will be supported and comforted
  • You can express all your emotions
  • You can inspire positivity
  • You can laugh together and forget your worries

There is no excuse during the various levels of lockdown to not connect with your loved ones. Make sure you speak to at least one person outside of your home, daily.

Release – Take time to acknowledge your feelings of anxiety and frustration, then let them go. An effective way of doing this is through breathing exercises which are good for you on a physical and mental level. As you take a deep breath in, imagine the things you are grateful for in your life. Hold your breath to the slow count of 4. Then, release your breath until there is nothing left to push out of your lungs, and while you are breathing out, think about what makes you anxious and let it go. Do this at least 3 to 10 times, once a day, either in the morning just after you have woken up or in the evening just before you go to bed.

Remember – When we are in an anxious and / or depressed mental state, we become so focused on the things that are making us stressed that we forget about the important things in our day-to-day lives. Our mind becomes occupied by negative feelings which distract us and make us disorganised which is often accompanied by exhaustion and eventually depression. More importantly, during COVID-19 we must remember to function normally for the sake of good health by taking our daily medications as prescribed by our doctor (especially for chronic mental or physical conditions), taking the right vitamin and mineral supplements to boost our immunity, wearing our masks and washing our hands frequently. When your mind starts to niggle over the worrisome times we are currently living in, your mind will become overwhelmed and distracted from your normal routine. To avoid forgetting all the important day-to-day things you must do in order for your life to function normally, write a list and keep it in a handy place like on the fridge, or set a reminder in your phone.

It is perfectly normal to feel frightened, anxious and even a little frustrated and angry during the pandemic. But it is just as important to learn to manage your stress. If you are struggling to do this, make an appointment to see a psychologist, who will help you to get through these tough and uncertain times.

For more information please contact:

Ms Gugu Nyawose
MA (CLIN PSYCHOLOGY) Zululand (2001)
Ethekwini Hospital and Heart Centre
Telephone: +27 82 427 2083

Dr M Ndhlovu
Clinical Psychologist,
D Litt et Phil South Africa (2011), M Soc Sc (Clinical Psychology ) North West (1999), (Clinical Psychology), BA Hons (Psy) BAEd
Zamokuhle Private Hospital
Telephone: +27 11 923 7814
Email: mjndhlovu@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.