By Raneesha De Silva
Good riddance, 2020! What a year it has been – it felt more like a Monday after Christmas.
Last year has been a year of many leanings, across many domains. With limited free will, we had little to no choice but to slow down, reflect on our thoughts and actions, and above all, appreciate our blessings. With the continuing circumstances, we cannot (rather should not) expect our living conditions to differ much in 2021 than 2020. As experts have coined it, this is the “new normal”. In order for our personal and professional lives to thrive (as much as a pandemic would allow it), we have to learn and adapt to the ongoing and/or post-coronavirus world, whilst prioritising the health and safety of ourselves and our loved ones.
How does the ‘new normal’ affect your psychological wellbeing?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) strongly recommends that essential services for Covid-19 should include “mental health” as an “integral component of their response and recovery plans”.
According to the WHO, “the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide while the demand for mental health is increasing. Although 89% of countries report that mental health and psychosocial support is part of their national Covid-19 response plans, only 17% of these countries have full additional funding to cover these activities”.
In addition to aforesaid existing mental health difficulties in the community, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on an individual’s emotional wellbeing as a result of altered routine lifestyle (i.e., isolation and/or social distancing, curfew, remote working/studying), mental status (i.e., stigma and discrimination if infected, insecurity and fear over uncontrollable future), and unemployment, are not yet largely known. Research findings are still emerging and therefore, academics and practitioners are unable to assess distinctive and significant mental health-related consequences of a global pandemic, amongst the frontline workforce and/or the community.
However, common and recurring indicators are apparent and undisputable:
- Fear and anxiety about contracting or spreading the virus, shortage of food/medical care;
- Depression and boredom during lockdown periods;
- Feelings of social isolation for people who live alone and are forced to socially distance;
- Anger, frustration, and/or irritability due to lack of control over personal and social situations;
- Restless/disturbed sleep and/or un(healthy) in/decreased eating patterns due to elevated anxiety, stress, restricted movements, and boredom;
- Deteriorated (existing) mental health difficulties due to increased anxiety regarding the virus and/or symptoms triggered by loneliness and isolation;
- Increased use of substances (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, and/or drugs) as a temporary coping mechanism to manage stress, anxiety, and depression;
- Neglect general health and/or delay life-saving treatment due to fear of contracting the virus at treating facilities which may in turn worsen their overall wellbeing including mental health.
Not everyone is in a similar status of mental stability during a pandemic. 1) People are affected gradually; 2) some only require psychological first aid; 3) some have never experienced mental health difficulties before and are unexpectedly affected by the pandemic; and 4) existing mental health difficulties are aggravated by the pandemic.
How can you protect your psychological wellbeing in 2021 amidst a pandemic?
Despite our liking, the psychological impact of this global pandemic is “wide-ranging, substantial, and long lasting”, independent of if you were directly affected or not. May it be due to rational fear, lack of knowledge, or misinformation, resources should be utilised to overcome coronavirus-related mental health difficulties, as a collective effort of professionals and the community:
- Stay informed through reliable sources;
- Manage your information intake from social and/or traditional media;
- Prioritise your mental and physical self-care through work-life balance – set daily goals, a routine, and strict guidelines to avoid burnout (i.e., you work more hours when working from home)
- Less caffeine, more water;
- Less junk food, more vegetables and greens;
- Maintain strong communications with your loved ones;
- Prepare an “emergency stock” with dry rations and medical supplies which will be sufficient for a prolonged emergency lockdown period;
- Do not make definite plans too far into the future due to rapidly changing circumstances;
- Make new leisure activities to explore your interests and develop more skills.
In saying so, we shall not disregard the silver lining of this pandemic for some – positive outcomes such as healthy coping mechanisms that emerged in the form of creatives (e.g., art, music, cooking), strengthened familial relations, and enhanced quality of life (e.g., physical exercise, meditation, reading).
This too shall pass. Until such time, be mindful of your mental health needs. Do not deny the psychological wellbeing of yourself and your loved ones. Failing which, we may have to endure consequences of a pandemic within a pandemic, in the time to come.
Takieddine, H., & AL Tabbah, S. (2020). Coronavirus Pandemic: Coping with the Psychological Outcomes, Mental Changes, and the “New Normal” During and After COVID-19. Open Journal of Depression and Anxiety, 07-19. https://doi.org/10.36811/ojda.2020.110005
World Health Organisation. (2020). COVID-19 Disrupting Mental Health Services in Most Countries, WHO Survey.
(The writer is the Research Lead (QR-GCRF), Post-Crisis Disaster Management in Sri Lanka)
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