Supporting your mental health while in lockdown

Keeping your spirits up during the COVID-19 pandemic

Tuesday, March 31 2020

Some South Africans may find the idea of a three-week period at home – whether working remotely or having time to spend with family an attractive prospect. Others may dread the idea of being cut off from the outside world, alone, or in the company of a partner, or a few family members.

“In either case, many people are likely to find it challenging to stay at home for this period in lockdown, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic is creating a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety. Some people may struggle with ‘cabin fever’ and social isolation. Others who have to work from home may find it difficult focusing on their job while having to contend with children playing around and demanding their attention,” says Sandy Lewis, a clinical social worker and the head of therapeutic services at Akeso mental health facilities.

Pic: Sandy Lewis, head of therapeutic services at Akeso mental health facilities.

“It is important to note that prolonged isolation can take a toll on mental health and we should look at ways to reduce the chances of becoming anxious or depressed. There are a number of measures that you can take to help you keep up your spirits as well as to support your physical and mental health during this time,” adds Lewis.

“For those with families, the fact that we have fewer outlets to “escape” family situations may well place additional psychological strain on us and on our relationships, and this has the potential to result in conflict between family members. Given the uncertainties of the current situation, people may well be more irritable, tense and even volatile. It is a good idea to be conscious of, and acknowledge, this. There is a need for us all to be more understanding of one another at this time.

“It can be a good idea to discuss these issues with your adult loved ones. One could address this by saying ‘Look, we’re all most likely going to be more reactive than normal under these circumstances – let’s try to be aware of this and be as sensitive to one another as possible.”

Lewis says that one can consider potential areas of conflict proactively and look at how you can reduce these. Should you find yourself in a situation of an explosive conflict, you can usually diffuse it by taking a 15-minute time-out from one another, and getting a break on your own, even if it is to go out into the garden or to sit on the fire-escape of your apartment block. In each case where you find tensions rising, ask yourself whether a particular issue is really worth the battle.

“If your relationship has long simmering underlying issues, try not be fixated on these and make statements such as ‘You always do this’ and ‘You always let me down’. Rather try to focus on tackling day-to-day issues and dealing with current matters that require attention. Take it one day at a time, rather than looking forward or trying to predict the future, as this can result in increased levels of anxiety, which may in turn cause you to either withdraw or over-react,,or turn to self-destructive behaviours.”

“If you find you are feeling overwhelmed consider how you can positively distract yourself with pleasant activities such as tending to your garden, cooking, reading, playing with your animals, watching a movie on TV, or indulging in your favourite hobby or learning a new one – anything that is pleasant and positive for you. Try to find activities that appeal to all of the senses,” she recommends.

Mark de la Rey, a clinical psychologist at Akeso Kenilworth in Cape Town, says for those who are taking the pandemic seriously, it’s completely natural to feel overwhelmed at times. “Communities need to pull together in the way we care for each other and look out for one another, maintaining communication within the social distancing guidelines,” he advises.

“Staying cooped up in your home and doing nothing else will likely increase negative emotions and thoughts, so I recommend that you get yourself up in the morning, and prepare for the day as you would for any other. If you spend all day watching the news and over-focusing on COVID-19, you are likely to feel much more anxious. It is important to stay in touch with what is going on, but one also needs to find a balance.”

How can we reduce our stress levels over this time? De le Rey and Lewis provide the following recommendations on reducing anxiety and supporting your mental health during the lockdown:

  • Routine creates structure, which is particularly reassuring for children. Planning activities and having daily goals can assist in keeping one motivated, so consider developing and sticking to a schedule for things such as meal times, exercise time and bedtime.
  • Look after yourself and practice self-care. This includes adopting a diet that is best for you and following good sleep practices. Studies show that poor sleep or a lack of sleep can have negative effects on both physical and mental health.
  • Getting 20 minutes of exercise a day can also help lift your mood and reduce feelings of tension, as it releases endorphins, the ‘feel good hormone’. It can furthermore assist in supporting the immune system. So haul out that old exercise bike, or download one of the myriad exercise apps that are available today and get moving!
  • Should you be on your own and/or have problems with “cabin fever”, try to stay connected with loved ones and friends through a phone or video call or by messaging them regularly. This enables us to obtain support, share concerns and stay connected, so keep in touch with your social networks. If you live on your own see if you can find a “buddy” so that to check in on each other regularly.
  • Helping others can provide a great distraction from our own anxieties, so consider ways you can assist others remotely over this period.
  • Try to use the time to engage meaningfully with your family.
  • Stay focused on the present moment and your own current issues that need addressing rather than stressing about a future we are not able to predict.
  • Support your optimism by thinking of all the wonderful ways people are supporting one another during this crisis.
  •  By all means provide your children with factual information, but do try to avoid projecting your own anxieties and scaring them with some the developments associated with the pandemic.
  • Keep in mind that stress can manifest itself in the child becoming either more isolated or more defiant.
  • If you feel self-isolation is having a negative impact on your mental health, you should seek professional advice. There are a number of organisations that provide telephonic mental health support.
  • Remember, a sense of humour keeps things light, especially with children and older family members who might be feeling particularly anxious. We all need to keep our spirits up so that we can help ourselves and each other.

Ends

About the Akeso Group
Akeso is a group of private in-patient mental health facilities, and is part of the Netcare Group. Akeso provides individual, integrated and family-oriented treatment in specialised in-patient treatment facilities, for a range of psychiatric, psychological and addictive conditions. Please visit www.akeso.co.za, email info@akeso.co.za, or contact us on 011 301 0369 for further information. In the event of a psychological crisis, please call 0861 435 787 for assistance.

For more information on this media release, contact MNA at the contact details listed below.

Issued by:            MNA on behalf of Akeso
Contact:    Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville and Estene Lotriet-Vorster
Telephone:    (011) 469 3016
Email:    martina@mnapr.co.za, graeme@mnapr.co.za, meggan@mnapr.co.za or estene@mnapr.co.za