Mental health and COVID-19 — how to reduce the stress

By Vladimir Marchenko

The coronavirus pandemic is not slowing down yet. While in some European countries medical specialists are preparing for the autumn "second wave" of COVID-19, the number of cases in the United States has exceeded 5,9 million (on 30.08.2020). So how to strengthen our fragile mental health during this stressful period and minimize the effects of the “September blues” and anxious anticipation of the possible lockdown?

Why it’s important to take care of your mental health?

The World Health Organization defines mental health as a state of well-being when a person can fulfil his inner potential, effectively cope with stress, be productive, and also contribute to society. It also includes the ability to have a healthy emotional response to certain circumstances, including the adequate strength of such response. It is important as in the result of excessive or constant stress many people start to experience emotional blunting and even burnout. Subsequently, various physical conditions can develop due to such emotional states.

Mental health doesn’t only imply the absence of mental disorders. It is closely related to biological, psychological, social and economic factors. An emotionally stable person doesn’t take problems to heart but does not ignore them either. He takes into consideration every aspect of the situation he is in and does what is in his power to overcome the problem. It is best explained by a phrase "Give me the strength to change the things I can change in my life, courage and peace to accept what can’t be changed, and wisdom to know the difference."

However, rapid changes occurring in society, working under constant stress, unhealthy lifestyle of most people and conflicts with the loved ones can quickly put anyone down. Also, after the outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic (SARS-CoV-2) many people are scared of the unpredictable negative events that can come to their life unexpectedly and change its course, not to mention the fear of getting sick and dying, being obliged to self-isolate or not being able to earn money.

stress factors
To boost your mental health, keep your mind active - read, write, play games, do crosswords, solve Sudoku and puzzles, draw or use colour sheets

Mental health crisis

The World Health Organization's regional director C. Etienne on August 18th announced that the global pandemic has already triggered a mental health crisis in the North and South America. Six-month lockdown and quarantine caused severe stress, drug and alcohol abuse, and a surge in domestic violence. She also added:

«The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a mental health crisis in our region at a scale we’ve never seen before. It is urgent that mental health support is considered a critical component of the pandemic response.»

Correspondingly, Etienne called on the authorities to expand the scope of mental health services. She drew attention to the fact that America is one of the most exposed countries in terms of the disease as 64% of the deaths officially registered in the world are in this region, which is a great number considering that only 13% of the world's population live there. The countries most affected by the pandemic remain the United States and Brazil.

In this regard, the Australian Government Department of Health provides 10 subsidized psychological therapy sessions for residents of the regions most affected by COVID-19. It is possible to use them until March 31, 2021. The main factors contributing to the increasing levels of stress during the pandemic are:

  • panic states, fear of contracting COVID-19 and dying;
  • social disconnectedness due to prolonged isolation and lack of communication face-to-face;
  • economic consequences: job loss, unemployment, business collapse;
  • an increase in domestic violence due to the presence of the victim in a confined space and the inability to complain or escape.
online consultation
It is important to address and resolve the situations you are going through with the help of specialists rather than keeping them to yourself

Based on the results of a survey among the residents of Germany, there was revealed an increase in the levels of anxiety and distress. The well-being index went down to 50.7 out of 100%, which is much lower than the normal indicator for those who don’t suffer from depression (~75%). 50.9% of the participants reported an increased level of irritability, while 45.3% admitted problems with sleep compared to the pre-pandemic period.

The negative impact of the pandemic on mental health is likely to carry on in the medium and long term prospective as similar trends were observed in Asia after SARS, where PTSD symptoms persisted 30 months after the epidemic.

How to improve your mental health

First of all, it’s necessary to create good conditions for enhancing your mental health abilities. You can start with these basic principles:

1. Exercise. Everything in our health is connected, that’s why you shouldn't forget about your body either. Even a little physical activity, combined with proper nutrition, can help improve mental health.

2. Don’t read junk news and use only reliable information sources, for example, the website of the World Health Organization, the European Commission, and the official resources of your local authorities. This will help you avoid being manipulated by fake facts and misinformation. Disable automatic news notification and try to keep away from the COVID-19-related news.

3. Stay connected. Maintaining social contacts and close relationship with friends and family gives you a sense of security and well-being. Nowadays, there exist dozens of remote communication services (video chats, instant messengers, phone calls) that allow you to stay in touch with the ones you care for. However, remember to practise safe personal communication (by distancing and wearing a mask).

4. Get used to a new routine. Quarantine and isolation have forced many people to reconsider the way they live and work. Especially due to the restrictions concerning bars, clubs and cafes. However, you can still have lunch with colleagues over a video chat. Also, maybe it’s finally your chance to start new rituals, for example going to bed earlier.

5. Ask for support and help others. It is important to share your feelings and emotions with friends, family, and colleagues. Besides, there exist counselling services that provide support for people having difficulties during Covid-19.

happy family with baloons
Communication and moderate exercise improve mental health and positive thinking

To help yourself even more, you can also practise auto-trainings, especially considering that it has become so easy today with various mobile apps. For example, the Hypnopedia app has a whole complex for improving your mental health and sleep. If in the evening you have to scroll the news feed in your social networks only because you can’t fall asleep, or can’t get read of possible negative scenarios in your head, Hypnopedia has multiple sets of relaxing sounds that will help you drift off. Your favourite sounds can be combined to create a personalized atmosphere that will make you fall asleep.

Ссылка App Store

To improve your emotional state, Hypnopedia also provides an opportunity to listen to short motivational statements (affirmations) during sleep. Affirmations are played during specified sleep phases when you are able to perceive information and infix such verbal formulas in your subconscious mind. Affirmations practised regularly  improve your psychophysiological characteristics such as productivity, motivation, self-awareness, desire to develop your skills and reveal your potential. Also, the app includes a smart alarm clock with a haptic-alarm function that makes you wake up fresh and ready to act in the morning.

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During the periods of stressful events, it is especially important to remain psychologically stable. If you feel that you cannot cope with emotions by yourself, contact the appropriate specialists. Even if you are feeling relatively stable, by implementing those few recommendations we mentioned above you will be able to give yourself additional support during these hard times and will surely feel better both physically and mentally.

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