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

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Mariana Santos Alencastro Figueiredo, a second-year medical student from Universidade Tiradentes, Aracaju-SE, Brazil. 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.


In times of horror and fear of pandemic and quarantine, the most affected thing is our minds. The idea of the forbidden fruit, gives a sensation of desire to see the world, stay close to friends and family. Therefore, in the lockdown with the impossibility of leaving your home, the levels of anxiety and depression starts to increase. Thereby, arises the question “What can we do to lessen the burden?”

On March 19, one person suspected of positive to the new corona virus committed suicide in Delhi. The new routine of washing hands every time we touch on something also can bring some OCD (obsessive Compulsive Disorder) like obsessive cleaning. Those examples show how the COVID-19 pandemic is getting into high levels of non-mental health. In this scenery, one way we can follow is the practice of MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction), a simple act we can make in minutes that can change our isolated days. A meditation like the MBSR can affect our immune system, as seen in an experiment with 61 adults, decreasing IL-6, an interleukin that acts along with cortisol in stressful situations, meaning that people practicing meditation have a different response to stress.

Some other ways, there are a lot of activities we can do to reduce damage to our minds. Play board games with your family, learn new dance moves, do some exercise. A study shows that a medium of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise can cause many improvements in anxiety feeling and these consequences can last for hours. To use these “weapons” to our advantage, there are a lot of apps for smartphones that help to practice activity, like the app PEAR Personal Fitness Coach, easy to download and helpful to our minds. Although it makes us physically tired in the beginning of this practice, the exercises with these apps can greatly improve our mental health in these times of full anxiety.

Therefore, the answer for that question that has arisen can be more than just one. Our mental health guides our lives and in the quarantine process, we are alone with ourselves which can culminate in a huge feeling of loneliness. This feeling makes completely important the practice of simple activities which do not take much time of our days and can change a lot of feelings we’re having these times, like anxiety and depression. Lastly, that is the way every single person that is passing through this social isolation can leave this moment of history with a good mind and an amazing health.

References

Raglin, John S. “Exercise and mental health.” Sports Medicine 9.6 (1990): 323-329.

Pace, T. W., Negi, L. T., Adame, D. D., Cole, S. P., Sivilli, T. I., Brown, T. D., … & Raison, C. L. (2009). Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34(1), 87-98.

ZHU, Weimo. Should, and how can, exercise be done during a coronavirus outbreak? An interview with Dr. Jeffrey A. Woods. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 2020, 9.2: 105.

Eberth, J., Sedlmeier, P. The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation: A Meta-Analysis. Mindfulness 3, 174–189 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-012-0101-x. [cited 2020 April 15]

Nigam C, Kumar A. Covid-19 pandemic: Depression, anxiety go viral as nation observes lockdown. India today [Internet]. 2020 Mar 26 [cited 2020 April 15]. Available from: https://www.indiatoday.in/mail-today/story/covid-19-pandemic-depression-anxiety-viral-nations-observes-lockdown-1659774-2020-03-26

About the author

Mariana Santos Alencastro Figueiredo is a second-year medical student from Universidade Tiradentes, Aracaju-SE, Brazil. Affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA).

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