Covid-19: Mental Health & Reducing Anxiety From Social Distancing

Dr Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin, a consultant psychiatrist and associate professor at University Malaya’s Faculty of Medicine, outlines clear and concrete steps you can take to alleviate anxiety caused by the Covid-19 pandemic

As the impact of Covid-19 is felt around the world, it is slowly but surely seeping into our psyche. As we enter into the second week of the Movement Control Order (MCO), it is perfectly understandable to get a little more than anxious.

What will be the impact for your business or your work? Is the self-isolation making you feel lonely and concerned about your safety?

Are you feeling the strain of being in such close proximity 24/7 with your family members - especially if one or two of them are toxic?

“Covid-19 is an unprecedented event and no one is spared from its repercussions to our mental health, be it in Malaysia or globally,” notes  Dr Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin

“Covid-19 is an unprecedented event and no one is spared from its repercussions to our mental health, be it in Malaysia or globally,” notes  Dr Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin, consultant psychiatrist and associate professor in University Malaya’s Faculty of Medicine.

So how do we get through it, mentally speaking? Begin by understanding why we feel the way we do, he advises.

The Five Stages Of Grief

He observes that different people react differently depending on the personality and level of resilience. “In any disaster, the general response would be grief due to the loss of autonomy or loss of what is considered normal to us. This can be applied to the MCO that disrupts our routines,” he explains.

Dr Amer uses the Kübler-Ross model, popularly known as the five stages of grief, to illustrate how our collective response plays out: “The first stage is denial, which we are seeing now at the start of the MCO. There’s a sense of disbelief that we are in this mess, which explains why some people are still taking the situation lightly.”

We are now entering the second stage, which is anger. “You will see more angry posts on social media as people are frustrated with the slow progress in curbing Covid-19."

The next stage is what he calls bargaining. "'Why us? Why are we going through this? Can’t we stop the virus without the MCO?' Then comes the slump - depression and mood changes before everyone will eventually accept this as a new normal,” he elaborates.

Here are some of Dr Amer's suggestions at managing your anxiety during this challenging period:

Pick & choose your news consumption wisely

Pick & Choose Your News Consumption Wisely

“Start by covering your basics—read about the fundamentals of the virus, educate yourself about what social distancing is and what are your rights and the rules in an MCO. Make sure your information is clear and authentic. If you can, don’t read the comments section in social media. Social media is a tool to get information, not to generate confusion. If possible, stick to official channels like the  Ministry of Health Malaysia or Malaysian National Security Council.”

Be mindful

Be Mindful

“Journaling, meditation, prayers—these acts of mindfulness have shown to help manage anxiety as it helps ground you to the present instead of worrying about things you cannot control.

Create a routine

Create A Routine

“Having a routine helps you feel ‘in control’ of the situation. Stick to your regular sleep-and-wake time cycle. If possible, try to inculcate a sense of normalcy to your daily life such as regular eating and working hours.

Self Care

Dont Forget To Self-Care

"There is a reason why fitness instructors  have been making their workout routines available digitally—they know that self-care activities like exercise is helpful to mitigate anxiety levels. Of course, self-care isn’t limited to exercise. You can also invest time in self-education or learn new skills to excite you, even if it is over something small like making Dalgona coffee or learning how to create a TikTok video."

Finally, Remember The Why

"Practise meaningful engagement with the activities you do during this period. If you feel any resentment towards the MCO affecting your life, remind yourself that you are doing this to flatten the curve and prevent further spread of the coronavirus. This will reframe your perspective about the situation and hence, assists in reducing anxiety."

  1. Pariante CM, Lightman SL. Trends Neurosci. 2008;31:464–8.
  2. Vaiserman AM, Koliada AK. Hum Genomics. 2017;11(1):34.
  3. Zannas AS, et al. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2016;41(1):261-74.
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