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Writing Detours | Keeping a good headspace

A neuro-psychiatrist shares insights on mental health in the time of COVID-19

It’s easy to succumb to fear, doubts, stress and anxiety when the world is filled with uncertainties caused by the pandemic at the moment.

The World Health Organization (WHO) expects levels of loneliness and and depression to rise as quarantine measures continue, keeping people from their usual routines, activities and livelihood.

While WHO maintains that it’s normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared or angry during a crisis, people can do so much more to adapt to the situation and take care of themselves.

The anxiety that any person feels today is a normal reaction, but given the long duration of the anxiety, depression may arise, said Dr. Bernardo Lupisan Conde, resident neuro-psychiatrist and medical director of New Day Recovery Center, Inc., a private treatment facility that offers various services and care for people with psychiatric and psychological disorders.
“Anxiety transforms into something pathological when this impairs people’s daily functions and routines, as evidenced by lack of sleep, irritability, loss of appetite; a lot of bodily (somatic) complaints and interpersonal conflicts,” he said. “With this long duration of anxiety, it is not uncommon to see the occurrence of depression to varying degrees. Anxiety and depression may coexist making one’s overall adaptability and functioning severely impaired.”

Dr. Conde describes challenges ahead as people continue with the quarantine, mentioning that mental health is just as important to keep during these times.

“The more frequent symptom of mental disturbances due to quarantine are anxiety-depression, characterized by low mood, unhappiness, insomnia, anger, guilt and or emotional numbness; and post-traumatic stress disorder for those front liners and those who have recovered from COVID-19 after being intubated, injected with so many medicines and experiencing near death events.”

Fear of the unknown is also a challenge to look into. This is often triggered by announcements that lack description of time and are instead filled with words like “until further notice.”

He said the long standing anxiety-depression is under the umbrella of stress, and there are ways people cope.

“Mechanisms or coping styles are usually classified as mature or immature in the broadest sense,” he said.

Denial (denying the existence of the stressful event) and projection (blaming someone or others for the cause of the stress) are examples of immature coping. He referred to the two as narcissistic defenses.

“Blaming higher authorities as a way to cope is counter-productive,” he said.

Mature ways to cope, he said, include anticipation (planning for something that has goal-directed effects to soften or lessen the impact of something more dreadful) and altruism (using constructive and intensely gratifying service to others, like donating to charitable institutions or volunteerism).

Dr. Conde shares the following tips to manage stress in the time of pandemic and quarantine.

He advised people to begin by being aware of their stressors and their emotional and physical reactions and to recognize what can be done and/or changed.

“The pandemic is real; the lockdowns and ECQs are likewise real and obligatory. You can, however, limit and manage your stress by following the rules and guidelines mandated by health authorities; and tempering or reducing the intensity of emotional reactions (anger and displeasures),” he said.

Deep breathing exercises and relaxation techniques also help to moderate physical reactions to stress like palpitations and fidgeting.

He further advised us to “build physical reserves” and “maintain emotional reserves.”

Exercising, eating well, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and getting enough rest contribute to physical reserves; while calling friends and getting busy with creative works and other unfinished projects help maintain good emotional disposition.

He also said to “stop bickering about shortcomings of authorities. They do not help.”

Dr. Conde said we should keep a close eye on mental health because it is just as important as keeping a sound well being.

“Mental health includes bio-psycho-social aspects of our everyday life. It affects how we think, feel and act in a reasonable manner. Mental health connotes congruency of our thoughts, behavior and emotions; and is important in every stage of life. Good mental health keeps us farther away from all sorts of mental illness; memory loss, dementia; and physical infirmities,” he said.


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