Six ways to care for your mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic

Working from home, temporary unemployment and home schooling can lead to fear, stress and worry

Throughout the pandemic, doctors around the world worked to dispel misinformation about the coronavirus.

From rejecting bogus remedies such as injecting disinfectant, healthcare workers encouraged people to use trusted sources, such as official government or health care social media channels, to spot fact fake from fiction.

However, one thing they all agree on is the effect the pandemic is having on mental well-being.

While some are able to cope with this change and the uncertainty of what comes next, others are struggling and need support to define and manoeuvre their thoughts, emotions and behavioural responses

From government-enforced lockdowns to mandatory self-isolation, the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 has led to increases in fear, worry, and stress.

Although these are all normal responses to a pandemic, if left untreated there is a real danger of someone developing anxiety, panic disorder or depression.

Early on in the outbreak, the World Health Organisation released support information to help people manage their mental health.

“It is normal and understandable that people are experiencing fear in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the advisory said.

“Added to the fear of contracting the virus in a pandemic such as Covid-19 are the significant changes to our daily lives as our movements are restricted in support of efforts to contain and slow down the spread of the virus.

“Faced with new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, home schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues, it is important that we look after our mental, as well as our physical, health.”

Here, Tanya Dharamshi, clinical director and counselling psychologist at Priory Wellbeing Centre in Dubai, shares some tips on how to take care of your mental health.

1. Don’t try to predict the future

Lockdown and the various social and physical restrictions associated with Covid-19 affect us all.

“Day-to-day routines changed and socialisation patterns with friends, family and colleagues are greatly minimised,” said Ms Dharamshi said.

“While some are able to cope with this change and the uncertainty of what comes next, others are struggling and need support to define and manoeuvre their thoughts, emotions and behavioural responses.”

No one can predict the future and quite often, when people try, it can make them more anxious or result in them putting a negative spin on things, which only perpetuates worry. Focus on the here and now and value the things you do have, rather than what you do not, she said.

2. Stay connected with loved ones

Human beings are social creatures and naturally seek out companionship and interaction with others as part of their well-being. Whether it is with friends, family or colleagues, the benefits of a chat – either on Zoom, WhatsApp, Snapchat or even a simple phone call – cannot be underestimated.

Ms Dharamshi said to use this communication as a means of keeping morale and spirits up during a challenging time. Without this interaction, vulnerability to mental health problems such as stress, anxiety and depression could be increased.

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3. Try to limit screen time and exposure to social media

Throughout the pandemic, information about the virus changed rapidly, which led to rumours and misinformation spreading online.

Ms Dharamshi said there is real potential for many people to develop a greater dependence on their electronic devices at this time. They can become completely absorbed, which can run the risk of them becoming even more isolated from family and friends and, in turn, increase anxiety as a result of the countless news reports and never-ending statistics.

It is hard to set a limit but creating a structure that incorporates electronic time for school and work, time for communication with friends and time for exercise and outdoor activity, is key to achieving healthy results and maintaining balance.

High Angle View Of Woman Wearing Eye Mask While Sleeping In Bed. Getty Images

4. Value your sleep

Ms Dharamshi said sleep can never be underestimated. She recommends going to bed and setting your alarm for the same time to wake up every day. This will help your mind and body to settle into a routine.

“Sleep has an important restorative function in recharging the brain at the end of each day,” she said.

“Maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle allows the natural rhythm of the body to be reset every day and therefore optimises brain functioning.”

5. Learn ways to relax

Being able to relax will help many people through the pandemic. When people are tense, they tend to dwell on things and make them worse. This can negatively effect home and work life.

“If you are well enough, exercise is really good,” Ms Dharamshi said.

“Look for online classes or courses to help you take light exercise in your home.

"Find music that helps boost your mood and if you are able, get into your garden and get daily doses of sunshine.”

She said taking time to do the things you have always wanted to and embracing the opportunity to reflect on the positive effect of a slower-paced life is important.

“Anything that allows your mind time to switch off for a set period of time will help you to refocus and remain calm,” she said.

6. Reach out if you need to

For some people, Ms Dharamshi said virtual therapy is a good way to seek support and engage with a therapist if you are not able to cope or manage.

“These are unprecedented times and it is perfectly normal to feel a range of emotions at this time as well as grief over the loss of your freedom,” she said.

“Engaging with a therapist that is using a confidential platform can allow you the space to experience the emotions and understand, allowing you to move through this time without having  long-term impact on your mental health.”