coping with mental health

Coping with Mental Health Amidst The COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic can place unique stress on anyone from all walks of life. Here is how you can protect your mental health during the pandemic.

by Nathasha Lee

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to drastic changes in the ways that people live and work. The pandemic’s economic impact and new social distancing regulations have become a source of stress for many.

Losing one’s job, taking on new duties to care for children doing online lessons at home, and being unable to meet friends or family in-person can affect our mental health. Health practitioners warn that the effects of the rise in mental illness during COVID-19 could last long after the pandemic is over.

As the pandemic continues to be a long-term situation, we need to protect the mental health of ourselves and our loved ones. In this article we will learn to recognise different types of stress we might experience because of the pandemic. We will also look at how we can reduce this stress. Lastly, we will introduce some mental health resources where you can seek help.

How You Might Be Stressed During a Pandemic

Unexpected changes in our lives because of the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to new forms of stress or worsen existing sources. There could also be mental habits we have formed which can contribute to our stress without us realising. Below are some common sources of stress for us or our loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Being Sick or Quarantined

Being in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 or having COVID-19 yourself can be a source of stigma. Having to be quarantined can also be a worrisome and stressful experience. Being isolated during the quarantine period may also increase feelings of worry and frustration.

2. Constantly Reading News and Social Media

Reading bad news about the pandemic can also take a mental toll on us. Hearing about bad news constantly can make us think more negatively about our personal struggles. Checking our social media feeds all the time can also cause anxiety and result in insomnia. In this way, the things we read online become a source of stress or worsen pre-existing mental health conditions.

3. Grief at Changes in the World

Fears of the pandemic becoming more serious can have a subconscious effect on our mental health. We might feel like we have lost the chance to connect with others physically, feel sad that things around us are not the way they used to be, or be disappointed at having to live through the “new normal”. This discomfort can express itself unconsciously as a feeling of sadness or a loss of sense of security.

4. Sudden Changes in One’s Work or Family Situation

The effects of the pandemic on schools and businesses can make us take on more responsibilities than we normally would. For example, children taking online lessons rather than going to school means that parents will need to make arrangements for someone to be at home and care for them. Working from home may also interrupt daily activities and cause us to spend more hours on work than we would if we were at the office. This can lead to feelings of fatigue or burnout.

Sometimes stress can manifest itself as physical symptoms in our body. Even if we are not actively thinking about our stressors, our body’s reactions may tell us when we need to check on our own mental health. These physical symptoms can include:

  • Body aches
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping or troubled sleep
  • Increased substance use, e.g. drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, etc.
  • Headaches
  • Rapid breathing
  • Skin rashes
  • Stomach cramps

5 Ways to Reduce Stress During a Pandemic

Safeguarding our mental health can start with simple steps to reduce possible sources of stress. Here are five things we can do to reduce stress during a pandemic.

1. Find Time to Relax

We may feel like we should be available for our loved ones all the time. However, we also need to make time for ourselves. Taking regular breaks can protect our mental health by helping us relieve the mental burden of our responsibilities. Remember to take some time off to engage in activities that you find enjoyable. It can be reading a book, listening to calming music, watching a favourite TV show, or doing a hobby like sewing or painting.

2. Keep Clear Boundaries for Work

As many of us are working from home, we should take active steps to prevent work from interfering with other areas of family or personal life. Demarcate an area in your home for working so that you can focus well when you are within that area. Setting clear hours for work and putting away work-related devices at the end of the workday can also prevent us from being stressed by overwork. Connecting with colleagues and friends through video calls can also help us feel less isolated if we are working from home alone during the pandemic. 

3. Look After Your Body

When we are stressed, we tend to develop unhealthy habits like stress eating or spending too much time-consuming media on our devices. Adopting a healthy diet and exercise plan are ways that we can reduce stress. Diet plans like the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits and vegetables and with moderate amounts of meat and dairy products, has been shown to improve emotional resilience, which makes us less likely to be affected by stress. Exercising also reduces stress hormones and releases endorphins which help us feel relaxed and optimistic.

4. Take a Break from the News

Constantly reading news related to COVID-19 can increase our levels of anxiety and even sleeplessness. It is recommended to limit reading news and media about COVID-19 to no more than two hours a day. We should also avoid sending alarming headlines to our friends and family as it may cause them unnecessary stress.

5. Reach Out To Your Loved Ones

As the saying goes, “no man is an island”. Even if we are distanced from each other physically, it does not mean we have to be alone. Finding time to meet up with friends and family can help us to resist feelings of loneliness. 

During this uncertain time, caregivers may be exceptionally susceptible to stress and burnout, especially when the ones we care for tend to be vulnerable to viruses. If you are a caregiver or know someone who is one, here are 10 tips to avoid caregiver burnout.

Mental Health Resources for the Pandemic

Besides ways we can reduce stress in our daily lives, there are also mental health resources we can tap on during COVID-19. These mental health services are offered free of charge or at low prices by different social service organisations.

Fei Yue Community Services eCounselling

Fei Yue Community Services is an organisation dedicated to helping vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. Fei Yue has made its online counselling platform available to people stressed out by the COVID-19 situation. Through their Quick Chat platform, you can speak to one of Fei Yue’s counsellors, or book an appointment if you have already been assigned a counsellor. Quick Chat is open from Mondays through Fridays from 10 am to 12 noon and from 2 pm to 5 pm.

Silver Ribbon Online Emotional Support

Silver Ribbon is providing free online emotional support for people who are affected by COVID-19. You can call Silver Ribbon at a helpline to arrange for support for loved ones experiencing symptoms of stress or who have been placed in quarantine. The helpline is available from 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays. You can find the relevant helplines on Silver Ribbon’s website.

Sofia Wellness Clinic Pro-bono Counselling Support for COVID-19

Sofia Wellness Clinic is offering counselling support at no cost to individuals who have been affected by COVID-19. Each individual is entitled to 4 online sessions with volunteer counsellors and psychologists. Free counselling services will be extended to people who meet one of the four conditions below:

  • Those working in frontline healthcare services,
  • Those working in Singapore as migrant workers,
  • Those who have previously fallen ill with COVID-19 or know a family member who has fallen ill with COVID-19, or
  • Those who have lost their jobs or lost a lot of their income because of COVID-19 and have been approved to receive the Temporary Relief Fund or COVID-19 Support Grant

You may be required to submit documents as proof that you meet one of the above criteria. You can register online on Sofia Wellness Clinic’s website.

While one can turn to online mental health resources for help, it is also important to consult a mental health professional if you feel that you or your loved ones are struggling with a mental health condition. Your healthcare provider might determine if medication is necessary to manage your condition.

Furthermore, if you need additional support with caring for a loved one during this pandemic, Homage is here to help. Our Care Professionals can help you take care of your loved ones, both the young and old, in the comfort of your home. We also provide specialised care support for conditions like cancer and dementia.

No one needs to struggle with their mental health alone. With these tips and resources, we hope that you and your loved ones continue to stay well and healthy both physically and mentally even during challenging times amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

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About the Writer
Nathasha Lee
Nathasha Lee is a final-year Anthropology major at Yale-NUS College. She hopes her writing can make a positive difference in the lives of readers, no matter how small. In her spare time, she enjoys making art, listening to podcasts, and drinking lots of tea.
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