Coronavirus and mental health: your wellbeing can be someone else’s survival

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” CS Lewis

Chantelle Booysen
A drawing of elements getting out of someones head
Mymindourhumanity Campaign
27 March 2020

When we are facing a crisis, the first thing that gets negatively affected is our mental wellbeing. This, ironically, is also the first thing that will help us endure and survive the same crisis.

In crisis mode, our brains instinctively reduce higher functioning that allows us to do long term planning, and instead shift our thought process to a primal, more immediate threat response. If these symptoms recur and persist, it diminishes the brain's ability to self-sooth. In the midst of our current COVID19 crisis, self-soothing is the one thing that we need more than ever. Recognizing crisis mode living is the first step to bringing balance to your thinking and your health.

Being able to counter-stimulate this with soothing, calming and effective problem solving; doing everything you can to turn on higher brain functions in order to access the parts of the brain that will guide you through this time.

It is important to remember that there are things that you can control and things that are completely out of your control.

Constantly worrying about those things will create an eruption of anxiety in your body, which directly affects your mental and physical health. Anxiety and stress can also affect your immune system, which can place you in a more vulnerable position when dealing with an infectious disease.

The impact of perpetual anxiety and stress severely affects one's ability to feel hopeful about the immediate but also long term future. From my own experiences, I’ve seen the devastation of hopelessness in the eyes of loved ones, friends and strangers and the inhumanity caused by the lack of empathy towards those struggling with mental illness and physical illness every day. I live with a diagnosed mental illness, and symptoms related to my mental illness drastically impacts my mood.

Being in crisis mode makes it even more difficult to access the healthy parts of my brain. I take my daily medication religiously and have to actively do things to reduce my anxiety and stress and reach out to others to avoid complete isolation.

While I would like to sit here and tell you there is a sure fire way to remove your mental agony entirely, there isn’t. But what I can tell you, is that there is hope in so many forms.

Humanity has shown us hopefulness by reaching out to each other, we’ve shown hope in how we are trying to find creative ways to support each other and we’ve shown hope by engaging with each other in an empathic way.

Cultivating and practising a teachable skill like empathy, will take us a long way in our ability to self-sooth. Dr. Anthony Scioli explains that HOPE is a part of a person’s character or personality. You are not born with hope. Hope must be developed, like a set of muscles.

There are four kinds of hope and just like each muscle, each has a special purpose:

➔ Attachment Hope is used to build and keep trusting relationships, have a sense of connection to others, and have strong survival skills.

➔ Mastery Hope is used to become strong and successful, supported in your efforts, and inspired by good role models.

➔ Survival Hope is used to stay calm and find ways out of trouble or difficult situations. It allows you to manage your fears.

➔ Spiritual Hope is used to feel close to nature and all human beings and to draw extra strength and protection.

We are in this together, let’s stick together.

There are some things you can practice daily to limit extreme symptoms that impacts your mental health:

● Stick to a routine every day, get up in the mornings, take a shower and get dressed as if you would be going out.

● Make your bed and clean up the house.

● Do stretches and exercises

● If you take medication, make sure you take them and make arrangements with your doctor

● Eat decent healthy meals and try to have many vegetables and fruit every day

● Clean up your work space and do focused sessions of work, if you are working remotely

● Practice deep breathing and meditation

● Reduce caffeine intake as this will increase your anxiety levels

● Do online calls and video calls with friends and family

● Make sure to switch off from social media intermittently during the day

● Connect with an online therapist or counselor if you are going through a difficult time

● Try and share positive, humanity oriented news and posts

Chantelle is the Creator of Empathy & Hope Project, a traveling social awareness art exhibition. Visit https://www.facebook.com/empathyhopeproject/ for more information.

She is a global mental health advocate and social impact entrepreneur. She is affiliated with local and international organizations, with her main focus on creating mental health support solutions for young people as well as addressing unemployment caused by mental health conditions in the workplace.

Read more on how to learn teachable skills like hope and empathy: https://hopefulminds.org/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23583460