In isolation? Tips to keep you sane

Health & Fitness

In isolation? Tips to keep you sane

The Covid-19 pandemic declared by World Health Organization (WHO) has created a lot of fear, anxiety, restlessness and panic worldwide thus affecting individual’s mental health. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The Covid-19 pandemic declared by World Health Organization (WHO) has created a lot of fear, anxiety, restlessness and panic worldwide thus affecting individual’s mental health.

This highly infectious disease has brought about uncertainty on the future, in addition to tremendous change that we must adjust to in order to fight and survive it.

Some of the life-changing adjustments people are going through include avoiding handshakes, wearing of face masks, curfews, lockdowns in some countries and extreme measures of social and self-isolation.

Others include indefinite closure of schools, restriction of movement, unemployment, detrimental leave without pay, reduced pay, closure of businesses and uncertainty of the future. It is critically important to protect our state of mind during this pandemic.

What is mental health and how do mental health problems exhibit during Covid-19 pandemic?

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Mental health refers to our cognitive, behavioral and emotional wellbeing. It is how a person thinks, feels and behaves. Good mental health makes for a healthy life as opposed to having a poor state of mind.

People are becoming restless, sleepless, and losing concentration on their day-to-day activities due to the various changes brought about in their lives by coronavirus pandemic. This is contributing to making them fall victims to poor mental health, more so for those with existing or with a pre-disposition to mental health issues.

The most common type of mental illnesses are anxiety, depression, eating disorders and panic attacks. Others may become traumatized to a point of getting Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD). Signs that might indicate a person is suffering from some kind of mental disorder include, loss of appetite, or overeating, having insomnia, distancing self from other people and a feeling of constant fatigue.

Other factors to look out for are being unable to carry out normal day to day activities, extreme mood swings, and excessive consumption of alcohol, smoking a lot and feeling confused, anxious, sad, hopeless and helpless.

How can people protect their mental health during Covid-19?

It is important to have a sense of hope during these challenging times. Try and live life as “normally” as can be possible, by adjusting to the changes implemented by the government, or finding alternative things to do. Some of the things a person can do to avoid mental health problems include exercising regularly, access to the internet can provide opportunities such as writing articles online, creating content online by starting either a blog, or vlog, identifying hobbies that you were unable to explore due to past busy work schedules.

It is important to wake up in the morning with a sense of purpose and a routine. Life must continue.

How can we deal with the panic caused by the infodemic on Covid-19 trends?

We need to reduce focus on watching or receiving negative news regarding Covid-19 by restricting the amount of time spent either on the internet, or other media channels such as TV and radio. It is important to stay updated, but consuming information that might be stressful to you can affect your mental health. It is important to remind ourselves that the situation in Kenya is different from other countries across the Globe.

What is the role of counselling at this time?

Counselling plays a crucial role at this time. People will go through periods of loss, grief and challenges that will test their resolve. Despair, sadness and traumatic loss will be experienced.

It is important to seek professional counselling that will aim to help the affected person(s) make sense of these emotions, find meaning in life and regain hope and optimism. The earlier Counselling sessions can commence, the quicker the results and reduction in the negative effect on mental health. Technology has played a key role in the provision of these services through SKYPE, ZOOM and video sessions that are as effective as face-to-face sessions. This can be provided for individuals, family members and groups. At the Aga Khan University Hospital, we are doing tele-counseling to support those who need it at this point.

How can healthcare workers in the front-line protect their mental health as they are in a risky profession?

Medicine is described as a profession of sacrifice and healthcare workers are risking their lives daily during this pandemic. It is not surprising that their mental wellbeing is in serious jeopardy as they also think about their own vulnerability. Healthcare workers must take care of their state of mind especially in the face of news of how colleagues in different countries have lost their lives due to the infectious disease.

It is advisable for healthcare personnel to look for positive ways they can put they minds at ease by listening to music, meditating, praying and other activities that can take their mind away from the pandemic and their constant fear of infection for themselves and their family.

Protecting healthcare workers is an important component of the measures for addressing the Covid-19 pandemic as they are in the front line.

They need to find hope despite the pain, loss and changes and take care of themselves.

The role of spirituality is an individual choice and decision and taking strength from faith and hope will go a long way in the self-care.

Above all, we all need to abide by the guidelines provided by the Ministry of Health and WHO with the knowledge that this pandemic will end, and we shall all look forward to brighter days ahead.

Dr Mohamoud Merali is a Consultant Counselling Psychologist, Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi

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