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The silent pandemic

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COVID-19’s impact on mental health

COVID-19 has brought on so many changes and with each change, there are periods of adjustment. Anytime we experience uncertainty, we can feel anxious. COVID-19 and all that ensued from the pandemic has resulted in many people experiencing mental health concerns such as low or anxious mood, engaging in addictive behaviours and having relationship problems. Those with difficulties prior to COVID-19, have been exacerbated by the pandemic and/or difficulties arising due to the adjustments resulting from COVID-19 including work-life balance, being away from family and health anxiety.

Strategies to cope in these uncertain times

Have a rhythm or routine to your days: When everything in the outside world feels uncertain, you want to create a sense of certainty in your life. Routines are the antidote to anxiety because they give you a sense of certainty. So, whether you are working from home or back to life as usual with kids at school and you at work, it will be important to set a routine for your day.

Use the bottom-up approach to mental health: SEE

1. Sleep: If you do not get 7-8 hours of good quality sleep, you are going to have a more activated amygdala, which is the ‘emotion centre’ of the brain and also the part of the brain that is highly active during fight or flight response. In order to ensure proper sleep, set your circadian rhythms to natural sunlight by getting morning sunlight and trying to mimic the bright light and blue light exposure as the day goes into the night. You can do this by having blue light screen protectors on all your devices or blue light blocking glasses. Also make sure to limit your caffeine intake after 11 AM and avoid food three hours before bedtime.

2. Exercise: Research shows that exercise can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and low mood by boosting neurochemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, also known as the happiness and pleasure neurochemicals. Write a prescription to yourself to move 20 mins in the morning sun every day

3. Eat right: You are what you eat. Literally. The gut-brain axis is real and so in order to feel mentally healthy and strong, you need to be eating foods that will promote mental and physical health. Eat natural and unprocessed foods as much as possible and avoid fried and fatty foods.

Take time off technology and be with real people: We can often anaesthetize and self-medicate using technology. Social media or Netflix can keep our mind occupied for hours, however, that type of coping is not helpful or rewarding. Instead, step away from technology and connect with the people in your life. Real and close relationships are the number one indicator of happiness and the biggest mitigator of stress. It is important to consciously and actively invest in your relationships by giving them undivided attention when you are with them.

Highlight the positive moments: As humans, we have a brain that is wired to detect threats and it is ‘Teflon’ for positive events, and ‘Velcro’ for negative events. This means we are more likely to readily remember all the negative things that happened yesterday and will have to make a conscious effort to remember the positive. So, take some time out every day to highlight the positive, while naming the negative. This way you will have a balanced view about your life and your experiences resulting in realistic optimism.

Talk to a professional: If you are struggling, seek support from a professional. You can also attend free, online community support groups or take online workshops.

The mental health implications of the pandemic include:

  • Anxiety disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized
  • Anxiety disorder/ panic disorder
  • Mood disorders including Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder
  • Substance Use Disorders (Alcohol/ nicotine abuse/ prescription medication)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms or Disorder
  • Acute Stress Disorder
  • Sleep disorders

Other mental health concerns include:

  • Loneliness
  • Burnout
  • Domestic abuse /child abuse
  • Relationship problems

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Dr Saliha Afridi

This article appears in the latest issue of Omnia Health Magazine. Read the full issue online today.  

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