Mental health and wellbeing during Covid-19

How to support others and look after yourself, whilst practising social distancing


Theme: Health Issues and Disease


Venaya Binwani


After nearly 5 weeks in lockdown, it may be becoming difficult to accept that for some of us, staying at home is the most we can do to support our frontliners working tirelessly to combat the outbreak of Covid-19. For lots of us, this pandemic has turned our lives upside down, leaving us to adapt to these strange circumstances and find a new norm. Whether being at home has been easy to adapt to or given rise to new levels of stress and anxiety, it is important to note that there is no right way to feel about these circumstances, and however you’re feeling is completely okay. Whether your mental health has appreciated a break from your previously frantic daily routine or you’re struggling to cope with these drastic changes, there are ways we can look after our own mental health, and reach out to others in need of support. 


Reach out to your elderly neighbours and family members


You may have come across in the news that the eldery are in the high risk category when it comes to their chances of recovering from Covid-19. With weaker immune systems or underlying healthcare conditions (1) it is important that we stay at home, not just to protect ourselves, but to stop ourselves becoming vectors of the disease to someone who may not have the same chance of recovery as us. Being in quarantine can be difficult for everyone, and staying connected to our friends and families can help maintain our wellbeing. Something else we may be able to do to support the older adults in the community is to reach out to them virtually: if you have elderly neighbours who live alone or could do with a checking up on, a text or email could make their day. Contacting them in a way that is safe is crucial - so make sure you’re only communicating online, where there is no risk of transmission!



Combat the spread of misinformation


It is likely that you’ve received some sort of chain mail regarding the coronavirus on a family group chat at some point over the last few weeks. Unfortunately, much of what we read could be an obscured representation of the truth or myth altogether. According to the Star newspaper (2),  some of these posts being spread, denies following healthcare recommendations and spreads false information about treatment methods not verified by healthcare professionals - The world health organisation has also deemed the gravity of misinformation an ‘infodemic’. This is not only putting our physical health at risk, but being bombarded with stressful information on social media can be particularly taxing on our mental health. The next time something suspicious pops up in a group chat or media feed, following it up with a Google search from a reliable source can help reduce the spread of misinformation, especially when some of this exaggerated information could cause unnecessary distress amongst your friends and family.



Speak out against Xenophobia and Racism 


Unfortunately for us, the novel coronavirus doesn’t seem to be the only outbreak plaguing our population at the moment. Many east asian citizens across the world have become victims of racist hate crimes and xenophobia. A Hong Kong native new yorker wearing a mask in public, ended up receiving death threats and racist comments on the Subway, a Singaporean student in London also a victim of a violent assault (3) . Whilst thankfully there have been fewer physical assaults within our Malaysian community (4), reviews of comments on social media have shown a spike in racially-charged remarks being spread online. Times of uncertainty create fear, and misinformation ends to turn fear into hate and discrimination. Being able to support these marginalised communities and stand up for them whether online or in person can help support their safety.



Develop a routine


With the amount of uncertainty we’re dealing with everyday, having a routine can help make us feel a bit secure about our lives (5). Just knowing what time you plan to eat a specific meal or workout, can help combat stressful thought cycles making you question what to do next, as well as reduce procrastination. Moreover, organised time leaves more room for self care, time to speak to a friend, read - whatever activity may help take your mind of the stresses of life right now. Having a routine can be especially beneficial for your sleep-wake cycle, as waking up and going to bed at a similar hour everyday can help improve your quality of sleep. Getting good quality sleep, for the right amount of time can play a significant role in cognitive processing and emotional control, as well as your immune system too. 


Exercise - the science behind it


I know you’ve probably heard a lot about exercise so instead of telling you what to do, here is some scientific insight on the positive effects it has on our brain. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, increasing the oxygen supply it receives, which facilitates the growth of brain cells called neurones - especially in a region of the brain known as the hippocampus (6). This region of the brain is responsible for emotional control, which may be why emerging research suggests that mental health conditions can be related to lack of brain cell growth or ‘neurogenesis’ in this area. Exercise also releases endorphins and enkephalins which are chemicals associated with feelings of wellbeing, that tend to help us put our issues into perspective.


I may not be a mental health expert, and everyone’s mental state needs to be treated differently. Based on my own personal experience, I suppose that being home, with a lot of free time on my hands, has made me feel this need to be constantly productive. Why don’t you start teaching yourself next year’s course in advance? Why don’t you try to take sign language classes online? Well, because we’re in a world pandemic. It is not a holiday. It is not a free pass to get your life together - it’s a stressful time. Make of it what your mental health permits.


References


  1. World Economic Forum. 2020. An Expert Explains: How To Help Older People Through The COVID-19 Pandemic. [online] Available at: <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/coronavirus-covid-19-elderly-older-people-health-risk/> [Accessed 

  2. The Star Online. 2020. Covid-19: Whatsapp Limits Message Forwarding To Slow Spread Of Coronavirus Misinformation. [online] Available at: <https://www.thestar.com.my/tech/tech-news/2020/04/07/covid-19-whatsapp-limits-message-forwarding-to-slow-spread-of-coronavirus-misinformation> [Accessed 17 April 2020].

  3. Yasmeen Serhan, T., 2020. The Other Problematic Outbreak. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: <https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-covid19-xenophobia-racism/607816/> [Accessed 17 April 2020].

  4. Malaymail.com. 2020. Think Tank: Xenophobia, Racism Rampant On Social Media Amid Global Covid-19 Lockdowns, Malaysia Included | Malay Mail. [online] Available at: <https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/04/04/think-tank-xenophobia-racism-rampant-on-social-media-amid-global-covid-19-l/1853502> [Accessed 17 April 2020].

  5. Team, B., 2020. The Mental Health Benefits Of Having A Daily Routine. [online] The Blurt Foundation. Available at: <https://www.blurtitout.org/2018/11/08/mental-health-benefits-routine/> [Accessed 17 April 2020].

  6. Psychology Today. 2020. How Your Mental Health Reaps The Benefits Of Exercise. [online] Available at: <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-works-and-why/201803/how-your-mental-health-reaps-the-benefits-exercise> [Accessed 17 April 2020].



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