The Psychological Impact of COVID-19
How coronaphobia has taken its toll on mental health
COVID-19 has caused untold suffering throughout the world, both physically and financially, but it has had psychological repercussions too. Mass fear brought on by the pandemic, dubbed coronaphobia, has triggered a huge range of psychiatric conditions affecting everyone from the young and the old to the rich and poor. In many ways, COVID-19 has been the great leveller of modern society, which is why Neomed has invited psychologist Valencia Myint to add her expertise to our Post-COVID-19 Rehab Programme. In this week’s long read, Valencia offers an insight into the psychosocial impact of coronavirus.
Why many are struggling
Valencia arrived in Cyprus from her native Hong Kong a few months before the coronavirus swept westwards, bringing with it a level of fear that shut down business and schools while confining huge swathes of the global population to an isolated existence within their own homes.
“It has had a huge impact on people,” Valencia acknowledged. “This is quite a novel situation that has created a huge upheaval in people’s lives and their sense of normality. There has been a sudden loss of freedom with many people unable to do the things they once took for granted such as getting on a plane, being with their families or going to work, and we are now seeing a response to this loss.
“While some people will be more resilient than others or have better-coping strategies, for a lot of people COVID-19 has caused a number of issues because uncertainty leads to feelings of anxiousness, including health anxiety. There is a sense of fear and worry, with a lot of negative emotions coming to the fore. People feel angry at the situation, upset and frustrated. I have certainly seen a rise in symptoms of depression.”
When to seek help
According to studies, restrictions imposed as a result of COVID-19 have produced acute panic, anxiety, obsessive behaviour, hoarding and paranoia with the potential to cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the long run. In turn, the combative nature of social media has brought outbursts of racism, stigmatization, and xenophobia against certain communities while frontline healthcare workers are experiencing burnout, anxiety, depression and increased substance-dependence. Children have also seen their lives disrupted, causing mental distress and the psychosocial aspects of the pandemic have also affected older people.
“These kinds of mental health issues don’t mean you have an illness as such, but people experiencing these feelings may not understand what they are experiencing them and as a result, they are not reaching out for help in a timely manner,” said Valencia.
“You need to recognise the shift in yourself. If you see that your feelings are becoming persistently negative or maybe your behaviours have changed, or your sleeping or eating patterns, to a point where you are finding it increasingly difficult to cope, it is probably time to reach out for some form of support.
“This doesn’t mean that everyone now needs to seek professional help, it could be a matter of simply reaching out to someone in their support system, for example, a friend or a community group member or a religious group member or any kind of social club member within their network. Relief might be found in something as simple as reaching out to talk to someone because having someone as a soundboard to actively listen might be enough, meaning there is no actual need for therapeutic intervention. Others, of course, may feel better seeking the help of a professional.
How can people help themselves?
Right now, various think tanks are designing all manner of coping strategies for those psychosocially affected by the pandemic and future pandemics including psychosocial crisis prevention and intervention models to be adopted by governments and health care personnel; social media controls to prevent the spread of hysteria; and the establishment of more mental help support. However, Valencia says there is much that individuals can do to prepare for and cope with the psychosocial effects of COVID-19.
“In my work, we talk a lot about self-help strategies so people know they have this power within themselves because external help might not always be available in the immediate timeframe. So, in terms of self-help coping mechanisms, it’s a case of finding the one that works for you.
“Maintaining some kind of routine and incorporating activity into that routine – such as exercise, applying relaxation techniques – is one strategy. Perhaps focus on something physical, like a sense of touch or breathing. This only takes a couple of minutes in your daily routine, but stress and anxiety often come from worrying about things that are beyond our control so it’s important to remember what is in our control.
“Writing also helps some people, allowing them to concentrate on different thoughts that are positive in nature rather than the negative thoughts that come to us automatically. Yoga and meditation are also very good coping strategies, but you need to discover what works best for you, and if you need external help, don’t be afraid to reach out for it.”
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