Coronavirus: Keeping your mind healthy

By Rakhi Beekrum Time of article published Mar 27, 2020

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LIFESTYLE - Have you given any thought to the implications of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) on your mental wellbeing? Durban counselling psychologist, Rakhi Beekrum says we should be aware of signs of anxiety we may overlook.

Understanding anxiety:

Uncertainty often gives rise to anxiety. Some of the anxiety experienced is rational, for example, the uncertainty of the disease and its impact on us, the impact of work/income and concern for the elderly or immune-compromised loved ones.

The idea of social distancing also creates anxiety for many. Connection is a protective factor for those with mental health challenges, so social distancing does not mean that we cannot connect mindfully.

Technology is a useful, safe way to connect with those who are good for our mental health. We have the option to use video-calls to connect with loved ones, have therapy sessions online, use apps such as Headspace to promote calmness and mindfulness, and have online prayer services since large gatherings are now forbidden.

Irrational anxiety is evident in those who are catastrophising (magnifying the bad, while discounting what is positive), frantically checking for news updates, are unable to sleep (due to being consumed by thoughts of the virus), stockpiling and panic buying, and the inability to focus on anything else.

This is a global crisis, so we need to remember we are all in this together. For now, this is our new normal. If we all do our part by social distancing, we can curb the spread.

The only way to manage anxiety is to first recognise the thoughts that are irrational (not fact-based).

Rational anxiety can be managed by accepting what cannot be changed, while focusing on solutions.

Limit exposure to the news. Read enough from reliable sources, but not more than you need to.

The risk of feelings of being overwhelmed:

When we are overwhelmed, we cannot think rationally and make the best decisions. We make the best decisions when we have a calm mindset.

We can achieve this calm by considering the facts and taking the preventative measures we have been advised to (hygiene practices and social distancing).

Anxiety is often about the future, so practising mindfulness - by being grounded in the present - is a significant help.

We must certainly plan for the future, but our minds should not live in the future. If we do our best in the present, the future outcomes are likely to be more positive.

Children may also be anxious at this time. We cannot help children feel safe, if we are overwhelmed around them. If your anxiety is overwhelming, get help. If you are scared to leave home, psychologists are offering online or video-call sessions. The focus needs to be on what we can control and what we can do to prevent worse outcomes.

Moving forward, positively:

Follow reliable news sources and limit the intake of news.

Take care of ourselves physically (boosting our immune system, exercise, self-care and nutrition) and emotionally (prayer, meditation, connecting with loved ones, bonding with close family and using free time to do things that bring us joy).

Connect emotionally, while social distancing. Use technology to stay connected.

Use technology positively. Instead of sharing stories and updates about the virus with our networks, rather share useful information, like which shops have good stocks of provisions, resources for the elderly, online prayer services, etc.

Focus on any silver linings. Has this helped you slow down if you were always too busy? To connect more mindfully with your children, spouse or parents? Finally, feel pushed to get more techno-savvy? Have the time to do things you couldn’t fit in before? Learn a new skill? What kindness have you witnessed during this time?

Beekrum is a psychologist, marital therapist and mental health blogger. You can follow her on Facebook at Rakhi Beekrum - Psychologist) and Instagram @rakhibeekrum. Visit www.rakhibeekrum.co.za

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