The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about several unwelcome changes to our lifestyle. Some may be encountering mental health issues which they have never experienced before while for others who are already sufferers, these trying times are indeed exacerbating these same problems. A collaboration by Dr. Georgiana Farrugia Bonnici, BSc (Hons), M.D. (Diagnostic Radiographer & Medical Doctor) & Dr. Adele Muscat, Ph.D (Lecturer -Institute of P.E. and Sport & Sport Psychologist) provides professional insight and a guide to tackling these issues.
1) What are we really all going through, at the moment?
It is no news to say that each and every one of us is struggling, at this novel time of a global pandemic.
Some have adapted easily to this new way of living, mostly thanks to their personality type, and are now mostly enjoying the newly found peace. However, the discomforts of not being able to move around freely still affects them. Others, who are considered as more social individuals, as well as those who struggle with mental health issues, are finding themselves increasingly frustrated, anxious, worried, or depressed.
Individuals have also reported the inability to sleep well, needing to have an alcoholic drink before bedtime in order to be able to sleep; as well as increased tendency for obsessive-compulsive behaviours, that are mainly associated with cleanliness and hygiene, or paranoia towards the novel Coronavirus.
2) What are the symptoms of clinical depression, and how can this condition be managed effectively?
Depression is a common psychiatric disorder, that can be diagnosed clinically, if any of the below symptoms are present for longer than 2 weeks:
AVOIDANCE – Symptoms may include avoiding places, activities or people that were previously enjoyable.
NEGATIVE CHANGES IN THINKING AND MOOD – Symptoms may consist of an inability to experience positive emotions, a lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities, memory glitches or difficulties in maintaining close
CHANGES IN EMOTIONAL REACTIONS – Symptoms of changes in emotional reactions could result in troubled sleep or lack of concentration, aggressive
behaviour, feelings of overwhelming guilt or worry, as well as being easily startled and constantly on guard for danger.
Depression can leave an individual feeling powerless and vulnerable, however, it is important for one to realise that they are not helpless. Getting effective treatment after depressive symptoms develop can be critical to reduce symptoms and improve overall function.
The first self-help tip would be to engage in any rhythmic exercise routine that helps to release endorphins and unwind the nervous system. Secondly, mindful breathing and virtual social interaction with close family or friends can help in alleviating sadness. Moreover, volunteering can turn out to be a great way to reclaim one’s sense of power, whilst joining an online mental health support group can help an individual feel less isolated and also provide invaluable information on coping with symptoms as well as working towards recovery.
The symptoms of depression can also be excruciating on one’s body so it is vitally important to take care of oneself and develop healthy lifestyle habits. When struggling with difficult emotions, one may be tempted to indulge in alcohol or drugs, however substance abuse worsens many symptoms of depression, interferes with treatment as well as building sound relationships.
Other types of professional treatment for depression include cognitive behavioural therapy, as well as prescribed medications to relieve any worsening symptoms, if the need arises.
3) How can we battle insomnia?
The human body requires around 6 to 8 hours of sleep daily in order to be able to function effectively the following day. A sleep disorder is classified as a disruption of an individual’s sleeping patterns; that may interfere with the everyday’s physical, psychological, emotional and social functioning.
One of the most common types of sleep disorders includes insomnia. In addition to
trouble with retaining sleep, insomnia is typically characterized by daytime fatigue, decreased attentiveness or mood-swings, for a period lasting more than 4 weeks. This condition may have no defined underlying cause, or else surfaces as a result of a combination of physical or mental illnesses, as well as substance abuse.
The cure for sleep disorders can often be found by making changes in the daily routine and adopting a healthier lifestyle, whilst addressing any underlying causes, such as depression, stress or anxiety. It is important to keep in mind that sleep medications are only a short-term solution, as these often result in dependence and tolerance.
4) Above all, how can we help ourselves holistically amidst the Covid-19 global pandemic?
Coronavirus is here to stay, for a while. Thus, continuous joint efforts need to be made to adapt to the situation and be able to move on, from day to day.
First and foremost, individuals may help themselves by setting a routine. One should wake up at the same time each morning, ideally similar to their waking up time when they used to physically go to work. One should shower, dress up comfortably and have a nutritious breakfast to start off the day well. A plan of each day should be made, so that an individual is aware how the week is going to be filled up.
Exercise needs to be conducted daily, mostly within the home, whilst spending time in mindfulness practice – by simply focusing on the scenic views from the balcony or the roof, taking time to listen to nature’s sounds and absorbing in some much needed Vitamin D through the sun’s rays (again, exercise caution now that the UV index starts getting stronger). This connection to the outside world, despite the on-going social restriction measures, will still help us detach from what we are all currently facing, for it gives us a well-deserved break from what is happening, and our mind can finally rest.
Above all, we need to practice acceptance – this is what is happening worldwide, and we cannot control what is happening to us. But we can control how we handle it, and how we react to it. We should take it day by day, and start using the time to catch up with things we have been meaning to do for such a long time. Take a deep breath, accept the situation as it unfolds, plan each day and enjoy discovering a new hobby. Most importantly, keep close to all your family and friends virtually.
5) One final heartful message from Dr. Adele; “Am I using all this time at home, WISELY?”
Over the past weeks, I have managed to spring-clean all the house (something which I have been meaning to do for years). I have also spent time practicing the piano (something that I hardly ever have time to do), and I also did a couple of photobooks of trips which I have done over the years.
I have also caught up with loads of books and academic reading that had started piling up, learnt a couple of new recipes – so I am now enjoying eating healthier. I am also doing more exercises than I had previously done, in a while … So I would also like to end this article, with a question that comes naturally: “What have YOU been doing to spend your increased free time in a useful manner?”
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– Dr. Georgiana Farrugia Bonnici’s blog
xBe Holistically Healthy, MDx
– Dr. Adele Muscat’s blog