Thursday | 30 April | 2020
By Essie Bester
The Covid-19 pandemic steered the world into uncharted waters. Researchers, authorities, health-care workers and ordinary citizens are struggling to keep up. “It is a fast-changing landscape,” says the psychologist Roxane Cohen Silver, a professor at the public research University of California at Irvine.
All of us simply have to learn how to adapt to a new reality. We are trying to manage our daily lives to the best of our abilities in the midst of worries about aged parents, our children’s future, and our financial and work prospects. All of these are stress triggers that can lead to a lot of negative feelings such as depression, fear and even post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). The collective trauma that we are experiencing now may feel gloomy. However, this is not the first crisis in our history.
Psychologists such as Roxane, who researched previous crisis times, are of the opinion that while the situation in which the country now finds itself is unique, there are lessons to be learned from the psychological and behavioural responses of individuals during previous disasters.
These lessons include:
- Limit your exposure to the news and media
Chronic exposure to news can lead to trauma and PTSD because it can activate a fight-or-flee reaction. Mentally strong people limit their exposure to news, choose reliable and responsible media reporting and avoid unsettling images shown in the news.
They also understand how the social media functions. Social-media platforms such as Facebook are unofficial news channels and provide news that has been adapted (some false) according to users’ behaviour and preferences during the past decade. Algorithms are used to show news that will probably find favour with you. It increases prejudice and the inclination to spread rumours that cause anxiety.
- Accept your feelings as normal
Our feeling of risk is driven by our emotions. We judge by relying on our feelings instead of looking at the data, statistics and evidence. Research has shown that certain factors increase fear and the perception of danger ─ if a threat is unfamiliar, when your feeling of control over the threat is low, and when a feeling of fear is experienced (such as when you are exposed to unsettling tales of illness and death).
The corona virus has all the most important elements to trigger our built-in alarms.
This does not mean that we are overreacting. As can be seen in countries like Italy it can become catastrophic very fast. It is unsure how this is going to end and it is quite acceptable to be concerned, say psychologists. A resilient individual therefore understands that feelings such as fear, anxiety, hopelessness, anger and sadness are normal because the information is too overwhelming to process everything at the same time.
Mentally strong people choose individuals who promote rational action and avoid individuals who spread negative and undermining reports. Look for a leader who presents the facts in a critical, evidence-based, calm and workmanlike manner. Psychologists recommend that you choose one or two reliable sources that you read once a day to keep abreast of critical updates.
- Understand your unproductivity
Perhaps you are pressuring yourself to be more productive during your stay-at-home time. But ask yourself the following question: “Is it fair to expect greater productivity of me when we are at war?” It is important to understand that there will be a lack of focus, concentration and overwhelming feelings.
Mentally strong people realise that when their physiological and safety needs are under threat ─ as with this pandemic ─ they should not put pressure on themselves to produce more or achieve greater highs.
Mentally strong individuals are well aware of it when their emotions are getting the better of them. To be emotional is natural during times of crisis, but if you consciously move to rational thoughts by taking the facts and logic into consideration, you can lessen unnecessary negativity.
The benefits include anxiety relief, lowered tension, increased attention span, depression relief and improved emotional health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that individuals who meditate are over the long term able to return to a state of calm much quicker after exposure to stressful stimuli.
- Limit contact with negative and toxic people
Behaviour such as gossiping, chronic lying, being demanding and/or self-centered, is negative and puts pressure on your well-being. Although in normal circumstances you can tolerate some toxicity in friends, family and colleagues, the elimination of negative energy is essential because you are now in a survival mode. Rather spend time with loved ones whose behaviour is normal .
- Focus on self-sufficiency
Mentally strong people know that self-sufficiency is always important and they try to be flexible with new routines. With gymnasiums also closed now, it is imperative that you think of other options for exercise (such as jogging, walking or cycling). Prioritise things that will help you through this time of crisis ─ look for something to laugh about every day, contact family and friends, get enough rest and maintain a good sleep routine.
Parents must see to it that the communication channels between them and their children remain open. Use the online services by psychologists to help children handle the tension and anxiety.
- Know your personality needs: introvert vs extrovert
Mentally strong people know themselves and know what they need to support themselves. In these times introverts can satisfy their need to talk to friends and family by using Facebook, Zoom or Skype. But do so in small groups and less regularly than extroverts, who get their energy from other people.
In order to minimise the impact of lockdown (especially in adults) it is necessary for the authorities to provide clear and rational information regarding lockdown protocol and to make sure that people in isolation have access to sufficient supplies.
* All information was correct at the time of publication.