Anxiety during CoVid-19
By: Karen Legrand
The world is more alive than ever. In the news we see that little by little the ozone layer is regenerating itself. Some rivers are clearing up. Native animals walk around freely in large cities while humanity is going through moments of uncertainty. And why not just say it–a sense of extinction.
These last few weeks the popular topic of discussion, conversation, news and, of course, social media has been CoVid-19. Because of that it’s fitting to ask oneself, “what impact will this pandemic have on our mental health?” Yes, that part of our health we always forget about, but which is present for all of us. What is mental health? And what does CoVid-19 have to do with mental health?
Health must be understood as a state of holistic well-being and mental health as a part of that state. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is related to mental/psychological well-being. And this includes prevention and/or attention to psychological disorders as well as protection of human rights. Additionally, health is defined as the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not just the absence of illness or affliction.
Etched in our memories are the physical symptoms of CoVid-19: according to WHO, fever, cough, difficulty breathing. But what happens to our mental health? What are alarming signs we should learn to identify and what actions should be taken to reinstate our health?
Let’s do a short exercise: How many of these conditions are familiar to us since the onset of virus in our countries and/or communities? Empty supermarkets, face masks and sold out alcohol-based sanitizer, uneasiness or fear about the future, streets empty or crammed, resistance to or difficulty with changes, sleep or eating disorders, checking news or social media more frequently than usual, feelings of hopelessness, confusion, insecurity, distrust . . . . The list could go on and each one of these examples are tied to our emotional, cognitive and behavioral response when we see our “state of security” threatened.
Anxiety within the context of inequality
Like quarantine, the impact of CoVid-19 presents its own nuances for mental health, and those are not experienced equally by societal groups.
Juan now works from home, nevertheless, he finds himself unsettled. He hasn’t been able to sleep well this week. He’s been watching the news constantly, more than five times a day. And his hands have begun to get irritated from such frequent hand-washing which is recommended. He hasn’t gone out of the house because he fears picking up the virus or infecting his father who is elderly. Juan is directly responsible for the care of his dad.
Situation # 2
Matilde and Jorge have two children, three and five years old. Both sell clothing in their community’s market. They are worried because the childcare facility was closed. And now they take their children to the market or they leave them closed up inside the room they rent. Sales have dropped off and currently the market is only open a few hours. At the end of the month, they are successful in putting together enough for the rent, but after that payment their minimal income only allows for purchasing beans and sugar. Matilde cries and fears becoming homeless next month. Jorge has lost his appetite and is irritable most of the day.
These two situations exemplify and contrast the ways in which the pandemic is emotionally affecting people within their personal circumstances, living conditions, gender and access to basic services. Inequality brings major challenges for the many communities in poverty, i.e. the somewhat utopian state and privilege of well-being is available to only a few.
According to WHO anxiety is an emotional state that causes physical, emotional, affective and behavioral malaise. It can manifest in the following ways:
|PHYSICAL SENSATIONS||EMOTIONS, AFFECT, BEHAVIOR|
|Increased muscular tension
Desire to escape or flee
Thoughts about death
According to WHO more than 260 million people suffer from disruption/discomfort due to anxiety caused by CoVid-19– societies already living in crises, already dealing with anxiety. In everyday life we are exposed to a variety of stimuli and stresses which develop into anxiety. Whether specific symptoms turn into a disorder will depend on the tools, capabilities, mechanism, the public policies around prevention and attention given to mental health which may be available to us.
What can be done if we show anxiety during these CoVid-19 times?
All of us have felt worried during this pandemic. We have felt insecure, fearful for our lives, the lives of our families, our friends, etc. We have to understand that our emotional response is a valid, normal one. We must not be embarrassed for being afraid. But when these feelings affect our daily lives our ability to make decisions, our sleep rhythms, eating habits, that’s when we must look for help. Here are some ideas about what we can do.
Seek out psychological help. Because of the CoVid-19 emergency telephone lines and internet groups have been created to connect you with others and to obtain support from home.
– Talk with someone you trust. if you don’t have phone or internet access look for an empathetic, trustworthy person who will provide a safe place for you to talk. The Department of Psychology at the University of San Carlos is offering free psychological services virtually. Click on the link which follows for more information.
– Control emotions through your breathing. When you feel confused, fearful or you notice anxiety, go somewhere quiet, close your eyes, place your hands on your belly and your chest and begin to breathe–let yourself feel your body calming itself. There are various on-line videos that can introduce to how to do breathing exercises.
– When possible, eliminate stress factors. Identify things, people or situations which produce anxiousness in you, avoid watching the news all the time, avoid pessimistic conversations about the catastrophic situation and replace these with playful, creative and artistic activities.
– Reconnect with the medicinal substances that mother nature offers us. Make tea or other natural infusions for yourself, be it chamomile, lemon verbena, lavender, valerian, or linden blossom. And if you are looking for an energizer, try orange blossom, green tea, rosemary, and mint. If you live in Quetzaltenango, we recommend this store for purchasing supplements:
– Ask for help from you family, community, religious groups, friends, and local government. Investigate resources specifically for the pandemic in your community or city. Remember, you are not alone.
– Strengthen your relationships with your family, friends, neighbors, community and above all with yourself. These are times of great change for all of humanity. You aren’t alone. Take advantage of communicating with your loved ones. And how about setting up some new goals for yourself and contemplating your personal dreams?
Looking after your health and especially your mental health is not something to be ashamed of. Neither is it synonymous with being crazy. All of us are responsible for taking care of our health.
Contacts for asking for emotional support in Guatemala
–FB Liga Guatemalteca de Higiene Mental — Tel. 2232-6269 and 2238-3739
–FB Colegio de Psicologos de Guatemala — Emotional support chatroom https://www.colegiodepsicologos.org.gt/apoyo-emocional-en-emergencias/ — FB CICAM Guatemala — Support chat room for women www.sosmujer.com
Karen Legrand-Mendez, Community psychologist