By Annan Boodram
Panic, fear, uncertainty, anxiety, stress, depression, hopelessness, helplessness, cabin fever, frustration, disconnection, isolation, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, mood swings, inability to relax, feeling overwhelmed, and loneliness, are among mental health issues, related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
So how can we protect our mental health?
Long periods away from news websites and social media helps to manage anxiety. For social media, turn off notifications, set message boxes to ignore, hide, mute or un-following accounts and posts.
For news, stick to trusted sources, such as government and reputable health websites, like the US-based Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). Share only reliable information.
Without being obsessive, wash your hands, as often as necessary, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds. Make sure the washing is through – the entire palms, back of the hands, in between fingers, and the wrists. Use a 60 percent, or greater, alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your face. Cough into your elbow or disposable tissue.
Put clothing in a laundry bag or other container. Do not shake them before washing. Wash them in detergent and hot water. Change and wash clothing, once you return home from outside.
Leave containers, packages, envelopes in a designated corner of the kitchen or inside a cabinet, for three days, if you don’t have time to disinfect them. Sanitize the containers with take-out food, before opening them, but the safest measure is to not order take-out.
Infectious disease specialist, Mary E. Schmidt, warns that the coronavirus could survive on rubber, leather and PVC-based soles for five days, or more, the Huffington Post UK reported — and has even suggested, that individuals wear shoes that are machine-washable.
So taking your shoes off, before entering the home, is a smart measure for anyone. If possible leave them outside for six days, before wearing again, or sanitize them – all adults and children footwear — each time they’re used.
If it gives you peace of mind, use masks and gloves, once you head outside of the home. Practice social/safe distancing – three feet minimum, six feet recommended. Do not hug. Do not shake hands: clasp hands, Hindu style, or bow, if you prefer.
Sanitize any space you share with others, as well as personal items, such as wallets and cell phones. Wash all surfaces with alcohol-based products. In colder climates, open your windows for a while, so the air inside can flow out and fresher air can flow in.
The coronavirus could be detected, up to three hours, once in the air; up to four hours on copper; up to 24 hours on cardboard; and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel, so use this, as a guide, to determine what and when you wash or sanitize.
Make sure the vulnerable are taken care of: the elderly, children, those with mental health issues, anyone who has pre-existing medical conditions — hypertension, diabetes, heart conditions, asthma, kidney diseases, chronic diseases and weakened immune systems — as they are more vulnerable. Display empathy, use appropriate language when speaking about COVID-19 and be frank about social distancing. Reassure them.
Since recent reports that a much higher-than-expected percentage of the young are hospitalized with COVID-19, everyone needs to follow safe, healthy practices. Protective measures help ease anxiety and panic and eliminate helplessness and hopelessness.
Fear of contracting the virus can cause some people to become socially-withdrawn, but maintaining relationships and social support are vital, when combating anxiety. Thus, if you are self-isolating or in mandatory quarantine, keep up social interaction, as much as possible, using the various mediums, such as Whatsapp, Skype, phone calls, text messages, Messenger, Facetime, Google Hangout, and the like.
Strike a balance, between having a routine and making sure each day has some variety. Work through your to-do list, engage in projects around the house, read a book or watch a movie. Play games. Engage in journaling, creative writing, art, singing or music. Involve family, as much as possible. All of this eliminates boredom and loneliness.
Focus on health
Exercise provides a healthier mental and physical state, no matter what’s going on around you. It’s calming and helps to boost the immune system. So take a walk outside, with the family. Stretch, practice yoga or some other indoor routine. Take a nice, relaxing bath or just sleep. Adequate rest helps build immune systems.
Take more alkaline foods, such as lemons, limes, grapefruits, oranges, tangerines, avocados, garlic, mangoes, pineapples, ginger. Stay hydrated. Manage your sugar and salt intake. Before cooking, clean the kitchen– every surface, area, and utensil.
Associate professor, at the University of Sydney, virologist, Timothy Newsome, stated that since “every surface is a hazard”, fruits and vegetables should be washed with soap and water.
Stress can sometimes turn people to drugs or alcohol. Get rid of these substances, if you have them in the house, and reach out to family members, neighbors and/or friends to help keep you grounded.
Knowing that all necessary measures are being taken to protect yourself and your loved ones, helps to ease stress and anxiety and boosts mental health on the whole.
Seek help; help yourself!
If you are struggling to cope with the anxiety or panic, seek help from your general practitioner or mental health specialist. If you are worried about going to the clinic, request for virtual (Skype, Zoom etc) sessions. Or reach out to government help lines/hotlines and NGOs that may offer free or low cost counseling. Note that New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, has announced the creation of a new free mental health hotline, which is staffed by 6,000 mental health professionals, all volunteers.
If you think you have coronavirus symptoms (fever, breathing difficulties, tiredness, symptoms of flu and cold) call your doctor for advice. Do the same if you experience loss of sense of smell, and diminished sense of taste.
If you are quarantined at home, designate yourself a “sick room”, and use a separate set of dishes, cups, cutlery, bedding and towels. Wash them regularly. Let someone, who is not sick, sanitize common areas and frequently-touched surfaces (the remote control, doorknobs, light fixtures) while you tend to your “sick room”.
As well, helping others can give you a sense of purpose and control. Do you have an elderly or sick neighbor you can offer your services to?
“The idea is to get out of the helpless zone. If you can get out of that, then be an agent,” says Dr. Ken Duckworth, Medical Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in the UK.
Coping with mental health fallout
Dr. Cacioppo, Director of the Brain Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, studies the effects of love and loneliness in the brain.
“The first thing we need to do, is to think about right now, and not let our mind wander to the future,” she said. “Right now, you can control your environment” — the food you decide to eat, the clothing you decide to wear. “That gives you a sense of stability.”
In other words practice mindfulness. Psychologists and mental health experts also advise that we accept uncertainty, so we don’t overreact.
Also, while panic and anxiety are understandable, do remember that neither actually helps the situation; they simply negatively affect you. If needs be, take a few minutes, each day, to pray, meditate and/or practice this simple, but effective, breathing exercise: bring your attention to your breath and your body. Focus all of your attention on the here and now — noticing the sights, sounds, and smells around you and what you’re feeling in your body. Continue to breath slowly in and out, gently bringing your mind back to your body and breath every time it drifts — until you feel calmer.
Annan Boodram is the President of The Caribbean Voice, a New York-based, registered, volunteer-driven, not-for-profit NGO, engaged in suicide and all forms of abuse prevention in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines — in partnership with sister NGO, ‘Say Enough is Enough Support Group — and the Caribbean Diaspora in North America.
The Caribbean Voice offers free counseling. For more information, please contact us at: email — firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com; telephone — What’s App 646-461-0574 or 592-621-6111; or check out our website at www.caribvoice.org.