Short stories, Travel and Health Information
A few days ago I was privileged to attend a panel discussion entitled ‘Safeguarding Your Mental Health in the Age of Covid 19’.
The discussion – taking place via Zoom, with panellists speaking from as far apart as Israel and Melbourne – featured some eminent and experienced mental health professionals, both psychiatrists and family physicians with an interest in mental health.
The discussion is timely because these days we see many folk suffering from anxiety and depression – struggling and stressed essentially because of the fear of the unknown. Not only are they worried about their own health and the threat of this dangerously infective Coronavirus but they are also worried about their families (especially elderly relatives), about their jobs and livelihoods, and about what the future holds for all of us.
What is known with certainty about this pandemic and the virus is precious little. One thing that we definitely know about Covid 19 is that it will have a significant effect on the world as we know it for years to come. What we are seeing right now is that people who are educationally and economically better off are doing better in the pandemic compared to those who are less fortunate – although previously economically well off countries seem to be struggling now to maintain their affluence and economic clout as the virus damages not just human beings but also businesses.
What has become evident in all this is that our own worlds have become smaller. Curfew, lockdown, isolaton – call it what you will – this enforced social distancing and loss of connectedness with others is taking a toll on all of us. It is well known now that one of the best predictors of your physical and mental health is the number of close friends you have.
It has also been shown that some of the things that trigger our bodies to produce Endorphins (the so-called “feel good chemicals”) are activities like laughter, social eating and drinkingand emotional story-telling. Being isolated and lacking the opportunity to indulge in such shared social activities is certainly detrimental to our mental health.
Being unable to invest face to face time with our friends we lose that deeper human connecion that is essential for us. We may think that we can, in isolation, widen our network to two or three hundred Facebook friends or Twitter connections – but this is not the same as keeping company in real life with intimate family and friends.
So what can we do to remain sane during these unprecedented times?
Simple things like keeping to a routine and getting enough sleep is important. Showering and changing one’s clothes instead of lounging about the house all day in your pyjamas is essential not just to mainatin hygiene but also to avoid sliding into a rut. It is a good idea to lay off the alcohol and not over indulge in food because you have nothing else to do.
Even if it is not face to face contact, contacting and communicating with close friends and family on the phone, while not ideal, is better than simply playing with your phone all day or idly scrolling through Facebook or Youtube.
I was heartened by the words of Dr Esti Galili, the world renowned psychiatrist from Hadassah Medical Center in Israel, who observed nearing the end of the discussion “Even difficult times must come to an end”.
This Covid-19 pandemic is new and it is global. It is affecting all of us. But in due course we will come out of it – knowing new things, able to do different things – and stronger as a result.