By now, you may have experienced various negative emotions like sadness, fear, and anxiety brought on by the pandemic. While we do our best to take care of our physical wellness, we should also focus on our mental health.
We consulted with Dr. Jacqueline E. Banzon, a neurologist-psychiatrist at Metro Antipolo Hospital and Medical Center, on how we can best manage our mental health while on quarantine.
Team GoWell: How important is it to prioritize mental wellness during this time?
Dr. Jacqueline Banzon: This pandemic – with its grave threat to our health, survival and economic situation – will be one of, if not the most, stressful life events we will encounter. Each of us will experience some level of stress which can bring out feelings of distress, sadness and grave anxiety.
It’s important to know that these negative feelings are NORMAL and VALID. As we try to achieve a sense of equilibrium, taking care of our mental health will take center stage. After all, our feelings dictate our thoughts and ultimately, our thoughts will dictate our actions. Sound mental health will keep the stress in check and help us make realistic decisions.
TGW: What should people do more of?
DJB: Give yourself time to let all the emotions set in and to get accustomed to the situation. It’s important to get information from verified sources only and use it to logically plan for the near future.
Take this time to pause your busy schedule, reconnect with your loved ones, and recalibrate your priorities and values. Pursue a healthy lifestyle by getting proper nutrition, adequate rest, and exercising regularly.
TGW: What should people avoid?
DJB: As much as possible, avoid triggers of negative emotions. These can be in the form of negativity from social media, people that make you worry more or an overly ambitious to-do list. Likewise, avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking illicit drugs.
TGW: Can you share tips on how people with varying situations below can keep their mental health in check?
o A health and essential worker
DJB: Going to work can bring out mixed emotions of fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness. It gets pretty lonely, too, as you see your colleagues less often and conversations become shorter. Take advantage of social media to touch base and establish a network between you and your colleagues so you can be emotionally supportive of each other. This challenge is like a marathon so pace yourself and accept your limits. Take care of yourself physically and mentally. After all, you can only take care of others when you have taken care of yourself first.
o An individual with existing psychiatric condition(s)
DJB: The present situation will be an additional hurdle for individuals with depression and anxiety. Acknowledge that this may be a set back to your pre-COVID treatment plan. Do not be too hard on yourself when some feelings of sadness and anxiety resurface. Monitor your emotions and be mindful of how it’s affecting you. Continue your medications and maintain communication with your psychiatrist or counselor if possible.
o An employee working from home
DJB: Start by acknowledging that working from home will be challenging as you will encounter distractions you normally don’t experience at work. Lower your expectations and forgive yourself if you stumble as you try to adjust to a new “normal,” figure out a routine, and how to work efficiently at home.
Be mindful of the highs and lows of your emotions. Give yourself longer deadlines and if possible, schedule your important tasks at times when you have the greatest level of concentration and energy.
Improve your mental health by starting work on a positive note – try listing down yesterday’s achievements or communicating with your colleagues and encouraging each other.
o An individual living alone
DJB: Many will deal with loneliness during this period. The best means of combatting loneliness is to interact with people and connecting with them even if remotely or virtually.
This may also be a time to get to know yourself better, learn how to be comfortable alone, and get accustomed to your emotions and thoughts. Practice self-relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and mindfulness exercises. Engage in activities and hobbies that can improve your mood. Doing volunteer work to help others can also provide a sense of purpose.
o Someone who has family or children to take care of
DJB: Acknowledge that your parenting style may change and accept the adjustments that come with the quarantine. Each family member will cope differently. Children tend to throw more frequent tantrums, be extra clingy or demanding – these are ways that children express their emotions. Give them time to explore and communicate their feelings.
Be mindful of your emotions and your reactions as children tend to absorb them. Deal with stressful situations calmly so you can provide the best support for your children. Accepting that sometimes you feel sad or scared and showing your children how you deal with these feelings can help them manage their emotions.
Slowly establish a new routine. Set a time for the family to openly discuss what’s happening outside, how to procure food, and how to stay healthy. Create a new family ritual where everybody can relax and connect.
TGW: Who can people turn to when they need help? Are there hotlines they can call or support groups they can get in touch with?
DJB: If your anxiety and sadness have become unmanageable to a point that it paralyzes your ability to work or it affects your interactions with people, ask help from people you trust or seek support groups. The following offer free online counseling:
Thomasian Mental Health Responder
Viber: 09171521817 Messenger: m.me/ThomasianMHResponders
Philippine Psychiatric Association
UP Diliman Psychosocial Services (UPD PsychServ)
An organization that provides telepsychotherapy services for healthcare professionals
Ateneo Bulatao Center for Psychological Services