Managing the psychological effects of Covid-19

As some of you would know I was scheduled to speak at the World Congress of Family Therapy in Switzerland in March 2020. However, due to the impact of coronavirus the Congress was cancelled, and I consequently made the decision to cancel my trip completely and remain in Australia.

COVID-19 is a new, foreign virus, which we don’t know much about and of which we are learning new things virtually every day, so it is understandable people are concerned about it. I am particularly mindful of acknowledging people’s feelings, while treating this new virus with respect, rather than panic.

Our fellow humans from other nations including China and Italy have experienced the full brunt of the virus and have taken measures to manage it. It is time for Australia to take on board some of the successful approaches which are having a positive impact overseas.

The aim of my post is mainly to address the psychological, social and mental effects of Covid-19.

Psychologically, we deal with the ‘unknown’ through either:

  • Denial and avoidance: denying its existence, act as if nothing is happening; as if there is a conspiracy and this is ‘made up’, displaying ‘unrealistic avoidance’ e.g.: they continue to go on their daily life without talking about it or without taking precautionary measures, or trivializing or making fun of those who do.

Or

  • Becoming overly fearful and hyper-vigilant, displaying heightened levels of anxiety while possessing little knowledge about the situation. People in this category, are susceptible to embracing fake news and claims interpreting it in a threatening way, holding irrational views or behaviours, basing views on evolutionary approaches highlighting stereotypes & the view of ‘everyone for one’s self’ E.g.: acting in a hostile manner towards minority groups such as those from Asian cultures and blaming them for creating the situation; or ‘panic buying’ excessive amounts of home or medicinal supplies while leaving others vulnerable.

The healthier way of dealing with this ‘unknown’ is somewhere in the middle.

It is important to recognize it, accept it and name this for what it is…’ an epidemic/pandemic’. Acknowledging the unpredictable nature of it while accepting it is unrealistic to control every possible risk that comes our way is important…while remaining, informed, calm and pro-active with a plan of action to manage the consequences.

Regain a sense of control over your fears, one of the ways of doing this is to stay informed by accessing ‘accurate’, ‘reliable’ information from reputable sources such as the W.H.O & the Health Department… this is key in ‘gaining knowledge’ rather than heightening anxiety levels. It is also important to monitor your media exposure as over exposure can lead to heightened anxiety levels. So, ensure you put boundaries around how much you hear and where you hear it from.

During these times we need to be particularly aware and mindful of children as they are vulnerable and likely to become particularly fearful, stressed and anxious. The amount and source of information children are accessing needs to be monitored. The best way children should be receiving information is directly from their parents (rather than the media), in an age appropriate manner. That is why parents need to remain calm as the children will absorb the parents’ response in terms of emotions and behaviours.

This is particularly important as I have already witnessed this is my practice; families, adults and children presenting with extra high levels of anxiety and intense fear about the virus, looking at it in defeatist and fatalistic manner. As earlier stated, I would like to acknowledge people’s feelings. I would like you to consider the more anxious parents are, the more anxious children become; yet the more calm, informed and proactive parents are, the calmer the children will remain.

I would like to suggest we take a considered, common sense precautionary approach and a pro-active stance to this situation in order to reduce the risk and best manage the likelihood of contracting the virus and/or dealing with community members/or loved ones who have contracted it.

The more informed we are, the more prepared we are, and the more prepared we are, the calmer we become.

Apart from keeping informed, there are important steps to prepare and manage this situation:

Nutrition:

As a general principle, good nutrition is important and may help boost one’s immune system

-Consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those rich in vitamins especially vitamin C and possibly with the addition of mineral supplements.

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system

Hygiene:

-Apply hygiene principles-Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 15 to 20 seconds with foaming soap and water or (if not available) use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PmVJQUCm4E

-Avoid shaking hands & touching your face

-Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a fresh tissue you then discard

https://u.osu.edu/buckmdblog/2017/01/17/mythbusters-hand-elbow-or-hankie/

-Isolate yourself if possible, particularly if displaying any signs or symptoms or if exposed to people who are infected.

Mental/Relational:

-Incorporate meditation & mindfulness activities into your day

Some useful resources: CALM (calm.com), Headspace (headspace.com)

-Practice diaphragm or belly breathing preferably twice a day ideally as you rise from bed and as you go to bed. Ensure you get the technique right first of all. The more confident you are with the breathing the more familiar you become to it. The more familiar you become to it, the more likely youn will do it.

Download the ‘paced breathing’ app on your mobile phone

or see breathing techniques link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ua9bOsZTYg

See link for kids https://copingskillsforkids.com/deep-breathing-exercises-for-kids

Socialisation:

We are social beings and our biological, psychological, and social systems evolved to thrive in relationships and collaborative networks of people. Thus, keeping socially connected is key.

-Keep connected with your loved ones. If you need to isolate yourself due to the virus, it is paramount you do not feel alone or disconnected from others. Keep in touch whether via phone messenger, or WhatsApp , but keep in touch. The more isolated you and they are, the more distressed and hopeless you & they will become.

Talking Therapy:

-Ensure you access talking therapy (counselling). Talking about it best helps you deal with managing heavy thoughts and feelings including panic and fear and unpredictability.

-If talking therapy was important and useful in supporting you to best manage issues and coming up with coping skills until now whether it may be low mood, anxiety, work related issues or relationship issues, talking therapy becomes imperative during a time of uncertainty and ambivalence such as this.

I have already witnessed some people, due to exposure, experiencing heightened levels of anxiety, fear, hypervigilance and ambivalence. It is important to find a way to cope with your fears, anxiety, and uncertainty about the situation. Also important is finding ways to address it and best manage it, so it does not become overwhelming, debilitating, or takes over your life.

We know that stress, particularly sustained stress over an extended period of time, is detrimental to one’s health and known to be associated with negative impact on health; mental, physical, social and immunity. This issue (Covid-19) pandemic, and the effects of it, is likely to be with us for a few months, maybe over the whole of winter. This makes talking therapy even more important during this time.

The best way to do this is through talking therapy. Some people may not be open to accessing ‘face to face’ therapy, due to perceived risk of exposure, so online counselling becomes a more viable option.

I have provided online counselling for many years to people, who for a number of reasons, including geographical distance, have not been able to access face to face therapy. Currently, due to the current situation, some of my clients are opting for online therapy. This can take place via skype, zoom, email or phone.

For further information on online counselling, please check my website and feel free to make contact (on the details below), so we can set up a session.

Keep well and connected,

Deisy.