Minding your mind | Daily News


Minding your mind

Keep calm , stay safe during the Covid 19 outbreak

The outbreak of the Coronavirus COVID-19 has impacted people in varying ways on an international scale. Therefore, during times like this, people are feeling afraid, worried, anxious and overwhelmed by the constantly changing alerts, media coverage and decisions imposed during the spread of the virus.

While it is important to stay informed, it is also crucial to take care of you mental wellbeing. The Daily News spoke to Consultant Psychiatrist and Senior Lecturer to the University Hospital, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University, Dr. Neil Fernando on how to use strategies to continue looking after ourselves and each other during these difficult times.

 Be compassionate

“People who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have not done anything wrong. We should not refer to them as ‘COVID-19 cases’, ‘victims’, ‘COVID-19 families’ or the ‘diseased’. They are simply people who have been diagnosed with the virus, people who are being treated for COVID-19 or people who are recovering from the virus. They too require our support, care and compassion,” Dr Fernando explained.

Showing compassion and kindness to one another during these times of fear, isolation (both physical and social) and uncertainty strengthens our sense of community. We need to remind ourselves that we can manage this situation much better together in solidarity by connecting with and supporting each other.

 “COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate – it can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, nationality or ethnicity,” he pointed out.

 Be responsible

He notes that while you should be updated about the disease, its status and preventive measures, you should not be overwhelmed with worry and anticipation, particularly with an overload of information.

“Limit the number of times you seek information. Get information from reliable sources. Do not share and disseminate information which lacks credibility. Be responsible for yourself and others,” he advised.

 Keep calm, but be cautious

A calm, yet cautious approach needs to be followed. A person should do his or her best to remain calm and be mindful not to contribute to the widespread panic that can hinder efforts to positively manage the outbreak. Ensure you are following directives issued by the Government, medical professionals and observe good hygiene habits.

“Social distancing and washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and running water is the best preventive public health strategy,” he noted.

Going into a period of social distancing, self-isolation or quarantine may feel daunting or overwhelming, and can contribute to feelings of helplessness and fear.  Dr. Fernando urges everyone to look at the situation in a positive manner.  You need to try and see this time as unique and different, not necessarily bad, even if it something you didn’t necessarily choose.

Incraesed family time

 “This is an opportunity for you to spend more time with the family. Therefore connect with family and friends (even if not in person). Use this opportunity to play with your children and help them with their school work. Include them in plans and activities around the house.

Help your children to understand the situation. Give them extra attention and reassurance,” he said.

Research after the SARS pandemic in Hong Kong in 2008 provides evidence of the significance of connection through epidemics. It found that residents in Hong Kong experienced increased social connectedness, which offset the negative mental health impacts of the pandemic.If there is someone you think may struggle through social isolation, it is important to reach out to them and let them know you care. You can call them and inquire about their welfare, drop an e- mail or connect with them through free messenger apps like WhatsApp, Viber or Skype. It is especially important to shield the vulnerable like the elderly and those who have serious underlying medical conditions. 

“Don’t underestimate the power you have to offer hope to another person,” Dr Fernando stressed.

Stay connected

It is essential to stay connected with your values too. Actively manage your wellbeing by maintaining routines where possible. Don’t let fear or anxiety drive your interactions with others. Remember that we are all in this together. “Stay physically active. Get an adequate amount of sleep. Eat nutritious food,” he said.

Dr. Fernando also sees this era as an opportunity for the public to practise self discipline.  The authorities and medical experts has done their best to mobilize thousands of civil servants and volunteers to help ensure those under self-quarantine follow the instructions faithfully but they can be overwhelmed by the task of ensuring that thousands of people follow the quarantine rules.

 Exercising self-discipline while self-quarantined is the best cure to contain the spread of COVID-19.Dr. Fernando requests people who have already been diagnosed with CROVID-19 to trust the medical professionals who are treating them.

“It is not your fault that you contracted COVID-19. It is all right to be scared and anxious but don’t be overwhelmed. Request a referral to a mental health professional if you need help,” he opined. He asks those who are already at quarantine centers or are self-quarantined to stay connected and to maintain their social networks.

“You are doing the right thing - however, distressing and uncomfortable it may be. Even when isolated, try as much as possible to keep your personal daily routines or create new routines. During times of stress, pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in healthy activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly, keep regular sleep routines and eat healthy food. Seek information updates and practical guidance from credible sources,” he said.

Do not neglect your mentatl state

Focusing on those who are already suffering from various forms of mental illnesses he adds that they should not neglect their mental state. “Take your medications as usual. Call your psychiatry unit to find out how you can obtain medications and follow-up. Call 1926 for further advice,” he said.

He insists on those who are already addicted to smoking to stop smoking.

“Smoking is always bad for your physical, mental and psychosocial wellbeing. However, the evidence is that COVID-19 affects badly on those who smoke. This may be due to several reasons like people who smoke already have compromised lung functions. They have other co-existing illnesses too,” he mused.

His advice for health care workers is that though it is normal to feel stressed in the current situation. However that does not mean that they cannot do the job or that they are incompetent.

“Managing your mental health and psychosocial wellbeing during this time is as important as managing your physical health. Take care of yourself. Try and use helpful coping strategies such as ensuring sufficient rest and respite during work or between shifts. Eat sufficient and healthy food. Engage in physical activity, and stay in contact with family and friends,” he said.

He advises mental health professionals to address the mental health issues and try to minimize patients coming to clinics in accordance to a plan developed by their unit. Address unhealthy habits - particularly smoking, as smoking is a bad prognostic factor.

 “Avoid using unhelpful coping strategies such as tobacco, alcohol or other drugs. Healthcare workers and their families may unfortunately experience stigma or fear. Do not hesitate to seek help if you are too stressed - you are not immune to stress,” he said.  If COVID-19 is considered possible when in an inpatient or outpatient consultation is already in progress, Dr Fernando urges the medical professional to withdraw from the room, close the door and wash his or her hands thoroughly with soap and water.

“Avoid physical examination of a suspected case. The patient, any accompanying family, belongings and any waste should remain in the room with the door closed. Advise others not to enter the room. If entry to the room or contact with the patient is unavoidable in an emergency, wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in line with standard infection control precautions, such as gloves, apron and fluid resistant surgical mask (FRSM) and keep exposure to a minimum. All PPE in full should be disposed of as clinical waste,” he said.

With all the changes rapidly taking place around us, it may feel like life has stopped but there are ways to keep these times in perspective and learn how to carry on. Remind yourself that COVID-19 is a serious but temporary illness, and that life will return to normal in time.

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