Outbreaks and pandemics periods can be stressful, but how can we turn it to a positive life-changing experience?

covid mind

(United Nations COVID-19 Response: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Samah Khierbeik, a newly three-month graduated medical student at Tishreen University in Syria. 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.


Infectious disease outbreaks can be scary and can affect our mental health. While it is important to stay informed, there are also many things we can do to support and manage our wellbeing during such times. And as the COVID-19 pandemic and its far-reaching implications continue to unfold globally and dominate the headlines and public concern, it’s normal for people to experience a wide range of thoughts, feelings and reactions.

Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Coping with stress will make us, the people we care about, and our community stronger. So, how can we be positive influencers on ourselves, family, friends and community?

When many things feel uncertain or out of our control, one of the most effective ways we can manage stress and anxiety is to focus on the actions that are in our control. Here are some ways we can take intentional steps to look after our physical and emotional wellbeing during this challenging time:

  • Learn how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19: There are many important actions we can all take to protect against infection and prevent the virus from spreading including practicing good hygiene, self-isolation, and social (physical) distancing.
  • Acknowledge your feelings. Whatever you are feeling right now, know that it’s okay to feel that way. Allow yourself time to notice and express what you’re feeling. This could be through journaling, talking with others, or channeling your emotions into something creative (e.g., drawing, painting, poetry, music).
  • Maintain your day-to-day activities and a routine as much as possible. Go back to basics: eating healthy meals, physical exercise (e.g., walking, stretching, running, cycling), getting enough sleep, and doing things you enjoy. Even if you’re in self-quarantine, or working from home.
  • Keep learning and maintaining your study: Read a book, Listen to a podcast, and try out a new hobby or skill (e.g., cook a new recipe, play an instrument, learn a language, learn how to sew, gardening).
  • Stay connected: Remember that physical distancing does not need to mean social disconnection. There are many ways we can use technology to stay connected, and both give and receive support (remotely). You could: Call, text, or video-chat with friends and family, Share quick and easy recipes, Start a virtual book or movie club, schedule a workout together over video chat, or Join an online group or peer forum. Showing care towards friends, family, or vulnerable people in our community can be all the more important during times like this. It can foster a sense of hope, purpose, and meaning.
  • It’s also okay to take breaks from conversations with others about COVID-19 and suggest talking about other topics. Tune in with yourself and ask if they need to be adjusted. Are there particular accounts or people that are increasing your worry or anxiety? Consider muting or unfollowing accounts or hashtags that cause you to feel anxious. Rumors and speculation can fuel anxiety. Having access to good quality information about the virus can help you feel more in control.
  • Stay up to date with university advice and support. Check the University’s student support website for important information, including course-specific updates and other advice for affected students.
  • Don’t judge people and avoid jumping to conclusions about who is responsible for the spread of the disease. The coronavirus can affect anyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity or sex.
  • Children and teens react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. Reassure your child or teen that they are safe. Let them know it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you. Try to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
  • Look after your sleep: Try to maintain regular sleeping patterns and keep good sleep hygiene practices – like avoiding screens before bed, cutting back on caffeine and creating a restful environment.
  • If you can, once a day get outside, or bring nature in: Spending time in green spaces can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. If you can’t get outside you can try to get these positive effects by spending time with the windows open, or arranging space to sit and see a view (if possible) and get some natural sunlight.
  • Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking: Try and focus on things that are positive in your life. WHO recommends to find opportunities to amplify the voices, positive stories and positive images of local people who have experienced the novel coronavirus and have recovered or who have supported a loved one through recovery and are willing to share their experience. When it comes to mental health, words matter.

During this time of change, it’s natural for our minds to think of all the usual activities we may not be able to do at the moment. Make a conscious shift to focus on the activities we are still able to do, or those that we may have more opportunity to do if we’re at home more often.

What is happening now is out of our desire but we have the key to make it a great life-changing experienc.

References

  1. 14 ways to protect your mental health in the pandemic, according to Public Health England [Internet]. World Economic Forum. 2020 [cited 25 April 2020]. Available from: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/14-ways-to-protect-your-mental-health-in-the-pandemic-according-to-public-health-england
  2. Coronavirus: 8 ways to look after your mental health [Internet]. Mental Health Europe. 2020 [cited 25 April 2020]. Available from: https://www.mhe-sme.org/covid-19
  3. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020 [cited 25 April 2020]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fprepare%2Fmanaging-stress-anxiety.html
  4. Services C, anxiety C. Coronavirus (COVID-19): managing stress and anxiety [Internet]. Counselling & Psychological Services. 2020 [cited 25 April 2020]. Available from: https://services.unimelb.edu.au/counsel/resources/wellbeing/coronavirus-covid-19-managing-stress-and-anxiety
  5. Looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak [Internet]. Mental Health Foundation. 2020 [cited 25 April 2020]. Available from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/looking-after-your-mental-health-during-coronavirus-outbreak?fbclid=IwAR14jAugd25NXJcwuaRYm7vzfM9AHxaGI4HTKxld_799gMO9o-mxsEBk3Q8

About the author

Samah Khierbeik is a newly three-month graduated medical student at Tishreen University in Syria. She is a member in many medical and scientific teams and organizations. As a member of the MED Research Team, she helps to enroll medical students in scientific researches and case reports by making workshops and participation in local and international conferences which one was lately held in Oxford. They have published many researches in international Journals. Also, as a member in Syrian Researchers Organization, they have an objective of raising both scientific and academic awareness and to share knowledge through all readable, audible and visual means. Nowadays, she is working in CRCTU (Cancer Research Centre-Tishreen University) in the department in Tishreen Hospital in Lattakia as a research assistant. She highly believes in the role of youth medical students to improve the academic and
educational reality, as well being in touch with all local and international events, like what we are living today in the time of COVID-19, to be active members in spreading knowledge and awareness in their communities.

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