Navigating the Emotional Storm: Understanding the Impact of Covid-19 on Mental Health

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Covid-19 has caused massive challenges to our lives in a short period. The way we can interact with each other and with our loved ones, how we work, and how we spend our free time are all greatly affected. It makes sense that our emotions would also be affected.

Everybody reacts differently to change. Some will be in shock, while others will be in denial. Many of us will have anxiety about our lives, loved ones, jobs, and future. And this affects the extent that Mental Health is affected.

There is no right or wrong way to react. For most people, these feelings are likely to settle over the next few weeks as we adjust to the new ‘norm’.

For some people who may have mental health conditions, these challenges may worsen their symptoms, and they can benefit from seeking support.

Psychologists recognise that there are two feelings that we all experience at these times – anxiety and sadness.

Anxiety comes about from fear of the future and worries that the future may worsen, become more painful or even unbearable.

Sadness occurs as a reaction to the things we have lost, such as our usual routines, access to our social and professional networks, and our freedom to go out to bars and restaurants when we like. For many, sadness causes a lack of motivation and a sense of hopelessness. Sadness can also stop people from doing things they enjoy.

Some people are going to experience feelings of anxiety before they feel sadness or vice versa. Some people will feel anxiety and sadness at the same time. For some people, sadness will be more prominent, whereas, for others, anxiety will be more prominent. Also, the strength of these feelings will vary between people and will go up or down over time.

Being aware of how these extraordinary circumstances are going to affect your emotions will enable you to be better prepared.

Recognising that anxiety and sadness will occur during these extraordinary circumstances is important. Identifying where these feelings are coming from and understanding how these feelings may impact our day-to-day lives can help us cope better. Experiencing these feelings without being able to make sense of them can cause much more distress.

In fact, awareness allows us to take the right action. In turn, the right actions will help us to cope better with our feelings and make them more tolerable.

Asking yourself questions like “What am I missing the most?” or “What may I miss doing the most in 4 weeks if the current situation continues?” may give you an indication of the roots of your loss and sadness. Then, consider what it would take to come to terms with your losses. What positive action could you take to make up for what you miss?

Equally, asking questions like “What are my fears for the future?” and “If I were to ask a good friend, which of my fears would they say are the most likely to happen?” may start identifying useful sources of uncertainty. Write down or make a mental note of your answers. Then, make a realistic action plan about the most likely fears so that you are prepared if they happen.

People cope with significant change in both helpful and unhelpful ways. Unhelpful ways include prolonged inaction, drinking too much alcohol, using illicit substances, overeating and going around in circles with repeated thoughts. Even though these unhelpful ways may bring short-term relief, their long-term consequences are more damaging.

Effective ways to cope include creating a new and flexible daily routine, maintaining a good work-life balance, stress management and focusing on things you have control over rather than the things you don’t have control over. If you choose to be methodical in your planning, try this. Write down the aspects that you have control over and the aspects that you don’t have control over yourself, others and the situation.