As we enter another phase of the Movement Control Order (MCO), many seem to have somewhat adjusted to the “new normal”, but there’s nothing normal about what’s happening with the COVID-19 pandemic.
People have been forced to stay in for long periods of time, venturing out only when absolutely necessary, all the time worrying if they will catch the virus and bring it home or even being a silent carrier who spreads it to others.
There’s the added stress of working from home and trying to find the ever-elusive work-life balance and setting boundaries. That is, if you have a job that allows you to work from home.
Many yet have already lost their jobs and live in constant worry of when they would, if they haven’t already.
Children are stuck at home, trying to follow the online classes and keep up with their education despite the unique situation we’re in and those unlucky enough to not have access to online learning are lagging behind.
The world is in chaos and it will be a miracle if this does not impact many people’s mental health.
According to a small survey done by Malaysia think tank, The Centre, almost half the respondents are affected mentally by the pandemic.
Malay Mail reported that the study, which involved 1,084 participants, showed many experienced signs of depression, anxiety, and stress, with those living in close quarters with others in a smaller space (such as those living in PPR housings) reporting more severe symptoms.
To understand the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and MCO on mental health, we got in touch with counsellor Jackie Yong from BeLive in Psychology to answer some of our burning questions.
It's different for everybody, so it's important to know where you stand
According to Yong, while the impacts on mental health differs from person to person, the most common problems are psychological stresses, anxiety, constant frustrations and depressive moments.
“In the beginning, these moments appear more frequently and last longer. The extension of MCO had given more time for people to familiarise and cope with the new living style.
“When “normal” lives resume, we would re-experience these symptoms to restructure our body to fit in the lifestyle that we were once familiar yet we could not be as productive as we thought we could,” he said.
Speaking about stress, Yong said the most common way of dealing with stress is through deep breathing and distractions.
“Some professionals recommend acceptance. As for me, I propose living in the present to value the journey rather than aiming for the end of the tunnel, which is the day MCO is lifted.
“Living in the present can help an individual to learn more values that can reduce the stress spike every time an extension is announced or reduce the tendency of someone falling into an existential crisis,” he said.
The struggles of working from home
Touching on the topic of working from home, Wong said that besides the issues of creating healthy boundaries and finding a balance, the situation also combines two types of stresses in one space (i.e work stress and home-related stress).
This also increases the chances of burnouts as you constantly have something to do and cannot “leave” your work stress at work and home-related stress at home.
Yong said that the early signs of burnout include losing one’s temper more frequently, avoiding something that causes them stress, and fatigue.
He added that recognising the signs is important and when you do, try to find some ‘me time’, talk to someone to let out some steam or call one of the many free counselling services out there.
It affects children and teenages differently
Yong, whose career has been focused on counselling adolescents, said that the impact of the pandemic and MCO is also different on children and teenagers.
“The (partial) lockdown has literally trapped children and adolescents at home. At this stage of life, they are filled with energy and waiting to burn it outside. For adolescents, they wanted to meet and chat with their friends. They spend more time talking to their friends compared to family.
“As such, they might have enjoyed the first few days of the lockdown as a short getaway from busy school life but later boredom, being forced to stay home and controlled movement may increase the thoughts of wanting to challenge the order.
“Negative thoughts, power struggles and social stress are common issues faced by minors compared to financial struggles, work stress and work-life balance by the adults,” he said.
Yong also said that children below the age of 12 are often more honest with their parents, and as such are more easily handled. However, with teenagers it’s more complicated as they are at a stage in life where they listen to their friends more than families.
“It is recommended that adults take this opportunity to know their adolescents better and put in some time to bond with them. It takes time to build trust but once it is formed, at least the adolescents have a space to talk and be honest about it,” he explained.
It is important for parents and guardians to have a conversation about the pandemic and MCO with their children and help them understand the situation.
Organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) have even come up with guidelines to help parents this. If need be, you can also contact licensed counsellors or psychologists.
While some are adjusting to spending more time with their families or even housemates, others are living on their own and may have issues of isolation.
For many, this means limited communications with others, and even those are in the form of texts or video calls, if they have the means and technology.
Yong recommends people living in isolation to engage with online communities by joining virtual classes and activities.
While it does not make up the lack of human connection, it may help some to beat off loneliness and keep them occupied.
Continue your treatment if you're already in touch with a therapist
As for those with serious mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and other conditions, Yong advises them to continue engaging with their therapists, counsellors or psychologist if they have any or seek professional help.
“People diagnosed with mental health conditions are suggested to acknowledge the feelings that they are experiencing. Validation and not denying makes things easier.
“Then, look into the skills taught by respective therapists and practice those that worked well for them. Common ways are deep breathing, journaling and reframing,” said.
Seek help when you need to
Many mental health professionals are still helping their clients and others who need the assistance online, via phone, and under special circumstances, face to face.
Some of the people you can contact are those at BeLive in Psychology such as Yong, free hotlines such as Befrienders at 03-7956 8145 and Talian Nur at 15999 or find a list of mental health professionals on Mentalogue, where there's even a specific page to help those impacted by COVID-19.
Just remember this: you are not alone.