DR SALIHA AFRIDI, PSYCHOLOGIST & MD
FROM PANIC, obsessive compulsive disorders to suicidal thoughts, Covid’s second wave has taken a toll on mental health. People are scared of dying, losing their loved ones, being alone, of losing their jobs — anxieties that add a new height of mental-health issues to the ongoing crisis. Moreover, social distancing, lockdown, and stay-at-home policy have deteriorated the vulnerability of mental health.
People are experiencing serious psychological effects, including frustration, anxiety, depression, and boredom with post-traumatic symptoms. Children face many psychological issues including stress, anxiety, and depression due to online education. In some other cases the mental health problem could interfere with daily life, or cause suicidal thoughts, to the extent that the patient would need treatment by a mental health professional immediately.
In an interview with MADIHA RAZA, Dr Saliha Afridi, PsyD. (US) Psychologist & MD, The Light House Arabia, Dubai, suggests how to cope up with the fear and reduce stress down during the coronavirus pandemic.
EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW •
As the coronavirus pandemic rapidly sweeps across the world, it is inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry and concern in the population at large and among certain groups in particular, such as older adults, health care providers and people with underlying health conditions. How Covid has impacted our mental health?
COVID-19 has brought about so many changes and with each change there are periods of adjustment. Anytime we experience uncertainty or change, we can feel anxious. COVID-19 and all that ensued from the pandemic has resulted in many people experiencing mental health concerns such as low or anxious mood, engaging in addictive behaviors and having relationship problems. Those with difficulties prior to COVID-19, have been exacerbated by the pandemic and/or difficulties arising due to the adjustments resulting from COVID-19 including work life balance, being away from family and health anxiety.
Based on what we have seen at The Light House Arabia and what we have come across from our interactions with other mental health professionals worldwide the mental health implications of the pandemic include:
◆Anxiety Disorders including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalized
◆Anxiety Disorder/ Panic Disorder
◆Mood disorders, including Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder
◆Substance Use Disorders (Alcohol/ nicotine abuse/ prescription medication)
◆Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms or Disorder
◆Acute Stress Disorder
Other mental health concerns include:
◆Domestic abuse /child abuse
Anxiety has hit a peak during the deadly second wave, particularly in India. People are afraid of dying, losing their loved ones and being alone. How should one handle Covid stress?
Have a rhythm or routine to your days: When everything in the outside world feels uncertain, you want to create a sense of certainty in your life. Routines are the antidote to anxiety because they give you a sense of certainty. So whether you are working from home or back to life as usual with kids at school and you at work, it will be important to set a routine to your day.
Use the bottom-up approach to mental health: SEE
- Sleep: If you do not get 7-8 hours of good quality sleep, you are going to have a more activated amygdala, which is the ‘emotional center’ of the brain and also the part of the brain that is highly active during the fight or flight response. In order to ensure proper sleep, set your circadian rhythms to natural sunlight by getting morning sunlight and trying to mimic the bright light and blue light exposure as the day goes into the night. You can do this by having blue light screen protectors on all your devices or blue light blocking glasses. Also make sure to limit your caffeine intake after 11 AM, and avoid food 3 hours before bedtime.
- Exercise: Research shows that exercise can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and low mood by boosting neurochemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, also known as the happiness and pleasure neurochemicals. Write a prescription to yourself to move 20 mins in the morning sun every day.
- Eat right: You are what you eat. Literally. The gut-brain axis is real and so in order to feel mentally healthy and strong, you need to be eating foods that will promote mental and physical health. Eat natural and unprocessed foods as much as possible, and avoid fried and fatty foods.
Any recommendations for someone who goes in self-isolation?
Take time off technology and be with real people: We can often anesthetize and self-medicate using technology. Social media or Netflix can keep our mind occupied for hours, however, that type of coping is not helpful or rewarding. Instead, step away from technology and connect with the people in your life. Real and close relationships are the number one indicator of happiness and the biggest mitigator of stress. It is important to consciously and actively invest in your relationships by giving them undivided attention when you are with them.
Highlight the positive moments: As humans, we have a brain that is wired to detect threats and it is ‘Teflon’ for positive events, and ‘Velcro’ for negative events. This means we are more likely to readily remember all the negative things that happened yesterday, and will have to make a conscious effort to remember the positive. So take some time out every day to highlight the positive, while naming the negative. This way you will have a balanced view about your life and your experiences resulting in realistic optimism.
In this ongoing crisis, what would you suggest for the people who are already dealing with mental-health issues such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety etc
If individual are struggling with clinical difficulties, it would be important for them to take it seriously and to seek professional treatment. There are many workshops, support groups that people can avail at low cost or no-cost. It is important not to brush it off as something that will pass, because the longer a mental illness goes unaddressed, the more it can create difficulties in a person’s professional and personal life.
News and social networking websites have become a big source of worry? How to deal with it?
Social media, if not used consciously and thoughtfully, can result in social media burn-out, secondary trauma, and a feeling disassociated and disconnected to their environment. So much of what we do is online, but when the online reality starts to take over our in-person reality, then it is important to have some strict rules about how to engage with social media so that it is truly used for connection and not comparison or distraction.