My take on the mental health side of the Covid-19 pandemic
Whilst medical science is researching for Covid-19 vaccines, students are asked to stay home, and many companies are sending their employees to home offices if possible. Social distance to friends, family and acquaintances as well as the shifting of everyday life into our own four walls enforces the feeling of isolation and can strain our psyche.
The spread of the corona virus, or also known as SARS-CoV-2, has now caused a global pandemic, and this time the impact on our everyday lives is profound. Strict measures have been taken for those who returned to their countries from highly spread Covid-19 areas, or had contact with a sick person, and even for the ones who are not infected.
"Flatten the curve" using quarantine and social distancing, is the measure that has been taken by many countries already, be it for the sick, the unknowingly ill and for the healthy.
As the situation has worsened, the instructions are clear, that we have all been asked to remain in “voluntary” to “forced” quarantine, at home as far as possible, and the situation ordered us to do. The goal of such quarantine is to slow the spread of a “highly contagious disease”, to prevent further infection.
In this context, the expression “flatten the curve” is used repeatedly in the media. By staying at home and restricting our social contacts, the curve of the newly infected should be kept as low as possible, and letting only the ones, that didn’t show symptoms till now, give the best chance for a bed in hospital. Therefore, if people become infected more slowly and not all fall ill at the same time, the health system can provide better care. If many people are infected at the same time, the best possible treatment for the individual can no longer be guaranteed.
In the popular social medias called Facebook or Instagram we can currently read the term “social distancing” over and over again. Yet quarantine leads from social distancing to social isolation, which has far-reaching psychological consequences and effects on the “Social Human being”
With the request #stayhome ("stay at home") we are all now in an unusual situation. The office is closed, work moves to the home office and leisure activities outside our own four walls are canceled, or at least restricted to our back yards, community gardens or own garden. These restrictions do not leave most people unscathed.
Whilst some find themselves in what they have looked forward to, like a little more time at home and to things for which they otherwise hardly find an opportunity, like reading, cooking, drawing or writing; whilst others feel more negative effects. These can include feelings of loneliness, depression or claustrophobia. The loss of social contacts then makes life and perseverance particularly difficult.
In our everyday life, building and maintaining social relationships are daily and often self-evident components. If this important part of our life no longer takes place as usual, feelings of loneliness can quickly rise, even if we are not alone at home. Because “being alone” and “loneliness” are not the same thing, because “alone” describes a physical state, while loneliness expresses a state of mind, an emotional and mental frame.
Our need for protection and belonging, being useful and honored also suffers in insecure situations and when in social isolation. The feeling of being locked in, of not being able to go about our daily routines and having limited access to for us important resources, contacts and places, may also have a negative impact on our mood and emotions. Pursuing a regulated work and private life (work – life balance) or practicing our hobbies are important sources of strength for many of us in everyday life. Regarding this new and difficult situation, the following symptoms or mood changes are not atypical: mental stress, emotional restlessness, insomnia, bad mood, irritability, anger, emotional exhaustion or fears associated with the virus, like oppression, shortness of breath and nightmares.
No matter if our TV, the newspaper we receive, or the social media on our screens; the topic of corona virus is omnipresent. To ensure or at least help a stable mental health during this time, it may be recommendable to limit the daily media consumption, as the brain is bombarded with negativity more than the normal dose we get under normal circumstances. For some, a fixed daily routine helps during the time in isolation well, whilst others feel better when there is no routine, like “every day something new or different”, be it though different books, different food, other drinks and calls through phone on random times of the day. Maybe the good old board games, can bring some excitement and fun.
Fact is that our urges need to be satisfied, and we may have to be careful to not overdo things we wouldn’t under ordinary circumstances. The earlier we identify our own shortcomings the better.
Again, it’s all about learning and learning from each other. Its about discovering unknown potentials. It’s about knowing that after every sunset there is a sun rise.
By Thomas Fleckner