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Managing stress levels during COVID-19

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COVID-19 has put mental health at the forefront with the global surge in stress levels and anxiety

The COVID-19 outbreak has put mental health at the forefront with the global surge in stress levels and anxiety caused by the pandemic.

While the world has now come to terms with the situation; carrying forward with a healthy state of mind is a priority. Dr. Khawla Ahmed Al Mir, Consultant Psychiatrist at Rashid Hospital says, “The initial shock period is over and we are clearly in the adjustment phase, which is extremely important as we need to learn to live with the current realities, we need to adapt in order to stay fit mentally. Adaptability is a key trait to help you navigate the ups and downs of life. At the same time, for a situation like COVID-19, it means that while you adapt to the new normal you also follow all precautions to ensure you are staying safe and protecting your loved ones to the best of your ability. This essentially means that you are not in denial of the situation and so you are doing everything you can while accepting that there is an ongoing pandemic.”

Mir added that in order to support your mental health, it is important to stick to routines and timetables without being too rigid but at the same time, not letting a very fluid routine get in the way of day-to-day tasks. “We have to learn to live with the new normal situation. It is best to stick to a routine as much as possible especially when it involves regular exercise, as exercise is a known and proven stress buster; it helps release endorphins, which are feel-good hormones.”

Mir adds, “Those who do not exercise, I strongly urge them to take up an activity, it could be simple exercises for 30 minutes on the mat or a walk outside now that the weather is cooler.

“Connecting with nature is therapeutic in many ways so combine spending time outdoors with exercise, but of course make sure you wear a mask and follow all precautionary measures in line with governmental regulations.”

Mir added that falling off the bandwagon and slacking when it comes to habits such as exercise is common in stressful times but that is when you need to commit the most, as you will reap maximum mental health benefits of a workout.

She also encouraged community members who are not able to cope with the stress to seek professional help. “Some level of stress is normal in a situation like this but if the stress reaches unmanageable levels for long periods of time where for instance you are not able to get out of bed or doing daily tasks seems like a problem or you are facing persistent negative thoughts, it is time to seek professional help and support.”

She also advised people to have realistic expectations and embrace the current situation to find solutions rather than trying to escape or fight it. “I understand that parents of young children, in particular, have a lot on their plate especially if they have opted for homeschooling. Working out a timetable where they probably wake up an hour earlier to finish their work or prepare for busy mornings might be helpful or dividing their tasks into specific time zones that work for the family might help too. Women in particular should make sure they do not take on too much and find time for themselves. They should share the tasks with their husbands and other house members. If their children are old-enough they should empower them by encouraging them to take charge of some home tasks but of course, they need to ensure it is safe and age-appropriate.

“On weekends while there are several things that need to be completed, parents should find some quiet time for themselves, even if it is for a short while.

“The current situation also poses stresses which cannot be changed such as job insecurities. It is important to remember that we should focus only on the things that we can change, and we should not stress about the things that are beyond our control. Although a certain amount of forward planning and strategising is important to prevent sudden setbacks, overthinking is definitely not helpful for the mind.”

“I strongly believe that our habits define us to a large extent so stick to habits and routines that will help you and your family and do those consistently. If you slack do not be hard on yourself, get back on track.

“Finally, it is important to adopt calming down activities such as yoga, meditation or journaling and practice it daily even if it is for 15 minutes. Your mind is the backbone to health and well-being, take time out to protect and nurture it.”

Stress management tips

Exercise: It is not only good for your physical health; it is great for your mental health too!

Deep breathing and meditation: Do not underestimate the power of breath to help calm your mind. Prioritise sleep: Lack of sleep increases stress hormones.

Reduce or eliminate caffeine: If caffeine makes you anxious, consider cutting it back.

Journal

• Accept that there are events you can’t control

• Set-realistic goals and be kind to yourself

• Seek social support

• Seek medical support if you are suffering from persistent stress  

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