“Mental health in times of a pandemic: what can each individual do to lessen the burden”

depressed 2020___

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Joanna Forycka, a third year Medical Student at the Medical University of Lodz, Poland. 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.

Identified in late 2019, COVID-19 quickly became characterized as a global pandemic
by March of 2020 and is transforming every aspect of our lives. Given the rapid acceleration
of transmission, the lack of preparedness to prevent and treat this virus and the quarantine strategies imposed globally, the negative impacts of COVID-19 are rippling through the society.

This outbreak is leading to additional health problems such as stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, insomnia, denial, anger and fear. The virus will likely exacerbate existing mental health disorders and contribute to the onset of new stress-related disorders for many.

The question is what can you do to look after your mental health?

Firstly, recognize that your anxiety is completely normal. It is a healthy function that alerts
us to threads and helps us to take measures to protect ourselves. However, make sure that you are using reliable sources such as the World Health Organisation to get information or to check any data that you might be getting though less reliable channels. Limit your exposure to media stories about the pandemic, especially those with expert’s views about what is going to happen in the future. If you are worried, it is important to talk to someone about it. Identify what is really stressing you and remember that there are many effective things you can do to keep safe and feel more in control like frequently washing your hands, avoiding touching your face and engaging in social distancing.

Secondly, create distractions. Don’t spend all day thinking about the disease. Try doing something that was calming in the past like reading a book, listening to music or watching a movie. Accept the uncertainty and find things you can control. Make to do lists.

Thirdly, stay in contact with friends and family using online communicators. Call them,
be honest and supportive, but also avoid spending a lot of time online which can amplify your anxiety.

Moreover, focus on you. Try to find ways to productively look after your mental health
by learning to do something new, starting a new book, exercising or practising musical instrument. There are many online resources that can help you. Don’t stress about being productive and “making the most out of the pandemic” slogans that are present in social media, just focus on improving yourself and building self-confidence. Find a project to keep yourself going. Maintain regular rhythms, wake up, eat and got to sleep at the same time you normally would.

Let yourself feel your feelings and support other people in doing the same. Be honest
and acknowledge your emotions. If you’re feeling anxious, try doing yoga or meditation. When it doesn’t help, you can always reach out to psychologists offering online counselling or
a psychiatrist.

Even if you aren’t directly affected by COVID-19, the pandemic has been a significant stressor on everyone’s lives. While it is impossible to predict the future, there are things that you can do in the present to “flatten the mental health wave.”

About the author

Joanna Forycka is a third year Medical Student at the Medical University of Lodz, Poland. She is a volunteer in Treating with a Mission – Student’s Medical Aid organisation providing development aid in Kenya and Uganda and an active member of IFMSA-Poland, currently holding the positions of the Patronage Coordinator, the Local Social Media Coordinator, the Lodz Local Committee Secretary Assistant and a local project coordinator. She is passionate about mental health, sexual and reproductive health and rights and equal access to health care. In her free time she sails as a tall ship crew.


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