Trillions of dollars have been allocated worldwide to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and rightly so, as we are dealing with a pervasive threat. The money is being spent on personal protective equipment, medical supplies, new hospitals and quarantine centres, screening and testing projects, the development of a vaccine, information dissemination and so on. Very few resources proportionately, however, have been allocated to mental health and psychosocial wellness, an area of concern which inevitably affects everyone in one way or another.
While everyone reacts differently to stressful situations, most will experience a growing concern about infection and death rates and the need to protect self as best as possible. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include the following symptoms:
- Information anxiety – is the information sufficient, understandable, accurate, relevant, authoritative and practical?
- Worrying about your own health and the health of others
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Difficulty in sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic or mental health conditions
- Increased use of addictive substances
For children, one or more of the following symptoms may present:
- Excessive crying or irritation in those who are younger
- Excessive anxiety or sadness
- Play-back to outgrown behaviours (bed-wetting, toilet accidents, etc.)
- Difficulty with attention and concentration
- Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
- Unexplained headaches or pain
The World Health Organisation notes the following in relation to caring for children: “During times of stress and crisis, it is common for children to seek more attachment and be more demanding on parents. Discuss COVID-19 with your children in an honest and age-appropriate way. If your children have concerns, addressing them together may ease their anxiety. Children will observe adults’ behaviours and emotions for cues on how to manage their own emotions during difficult times”.
To limit the amount of stress that one experiences on a daily basis, the following actions may help:
- Keep family/social connectivity profoundly intact – make time for each other and have fun together. A complete family unit should make time to play together during lockdown – play games, cook inside or outside together, exercise together, etc. For longer distance relationships, have frequent video calls to keep bonds in place.
- Reduce exposure to media coverage of the spread of the pandemic – rather follow daily reports at specific times of the day. Spend the rest of the time having fun, communicating or working. Avoid the temptation to turn on the news repeatedly to “catch up” on the latest reports.
- Talk comprehensively about issues and find answers to questions – people, and especially children, have many unanswered questions as most have never had to face and cope with a pandemic before. Explain the pandemic in ways that everyone can understand. Have fun with mask creation to avoid fear in little ones. Reassurance is of paramount importance here.
- Attempt to keep regular routines – children should have a couple of hours for school work and adults should focus on work projects if working remotely. A family that works together limits the possibility of anxiety.
- Get medical assistance if stress-related problems persist – make an appointment with a healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of daily activities for several days in a row. People with pre-existing mental health conditions should continue with medication and treatment and be aware of any new or worsening symptoms.
The spread of COVID-19 around the world is generating huge doses of stress in people from all over the planet. Whilst there is no mental quick fix to solve the pandemic stress issue, consistent emotional care goes a long way to grow emotional resilience – achieving wellness is not a sprint, but a mental marathon. A healthy state of mind and psychosocial wellbeing not only need to be maintained during the corona virus pandemic, but also boosted to create resilience amongst all groups of people, especially amongst those who are marginalised and whose circumstances are more fragile.