Post the pandemic: keeping our worlds turning

hand washing_

(United Nations COVID-19 Response, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Hannah Vrolijk, a second-year medicine student (KU Leuven, Belgium) driven by mental health awareness. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

COVID-19 is spreading rapidly over the surface of the earth and affecting many. As a medical student, I’m deeply concerned about the virus compromising people’s physical health. However, I’m just as concerned about the other victims the virus is making, those whose mental health is indirectly affected. From the people who need therapy and can’t access the resources they need right now, to the people who have never struggled with mental health before and now have the sense of losing their self and safety as the world closes down. What do we do about this? On an individual level there are several easy things we can do to keep our own world turning round as the world outside slows down. Here are three.

First of all, talk to at least one person every day. It’s important to stress that social distancing is not equal to social isolation. We should not undermine our social nature as human beings, especially in these times. We need as much social interaction as we did before, maybe even more. Therefore, stay in touch with those you love and not simply by text. (Video) call someone. If you have a neighbour, chat with them from your window or front door. You could even share a cup of coffee or tea from a distance.

Secondly, set yourself goals. Routine falling away can be destabilizing and when we feel useless it can be easy to see the hours pass by as we’re rolled up on our couch or bed – which only makes us feel more useless. Setting goals helps us keep some sense of normality and brings us satisfaction by accomplishing things. The goals don’t have to be big and should be adjusted in accordance to how you feel. Some days it will just look like getting out of bed and getting dressed. Other days it will look like making a nutritious meal or baking a cake you’ve wanted to try out for so long. Other days it will look like getting several tasks done. If you live in a country where you’re allowed out, I would highly recommend making one of your goals to get some fresh air daily, even if it is only 5min.

Thirdly, take some time before you go to sleep to write down three positive things about your day and why. It’s easy with the current situation of being stuck at home and not having many distractions to get stuck in negative thought patterns. Recalling three positive things about your day will at first be challenging as every day may seem the same as the day before without much hope. However, as you keep doing so, you’ll see more and more sparks of light throughout your day. This can range from a simple cup of coffee that you enjoyed in the morning, to a bird that you heard sing and made you smile or getting back in touch with a person you had lost contact with.

Let’s remember that mental health is just as important as physical health whether it’s caused indirectly by a virus or not.

About the author

Hannah Vrolijk is a second-year medicine student (KU Leuven, Belgium) driven by mental health awareness. She is especially passionate about making young people and people within the realms of medicine more aware of mental health and the importance of an open dialogue. One of the ways she hopes to achieve so is by coordinating BeMSA Leuven’s mental health project during next academic year (’20-’21). Besides medicine and mental health awareness, she loves travelling. She grew up moving around the world which gave her an insight in different cultures and people.

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