The things we need to pay attention to mentally protect ourselves during COVID-19
Aside from the physical and economic damages, COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) pandemic causes worldwide, this pandemic also adversely affects the mental health of millions of people. Anxiety and panic attacks, which are observed in many people, spread almost as quickly as the virus. Some measures need to be taken to minimize the phycological effects that can emerge during or after this period. Dr. Timur Fadıl Oğuz, MD from the Psychiatry Department of Güven Hospital informed us about the psychological consequences of COVID-19 pandemic and the things we need to pay attention to mentally protect our mental health.
1) What are the effects the COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) have over mental health?
We all have a sense of security that we do not even think about or realize that it exists. Even though we are aware of the dangers surround us, we think that we are fundamentally safe. Recently, a deadly infection, which has suddenly appeared, quickly and easily spread, greatly damaged this sense of security. Essential precautions, which caused by COVID-19, are causing limitations that we would not think before. We are unable to spend time with our family and friends, regular components of our daily lives such as cafes, restaurants are disappearing one by one. We are worried that we will not be able to reach our basic needs. This situation makes us feel like we will be deprived of the basic elements of our daily lives. This means that the basic sense of security and existence to be turned upside down.
The most important psychological effect of the current situation is the manifestation of deep insecurity and anxiety. A sense of uncertainty also plays a significant role in this matter. Uncertainty is what generally batters and wear out the human psychology. What humans essentially find hard to bear is this uncertainty.
2) Most people started to work from home. However, our minds are wrapped around news and social media posts. What can we do to perform our daily tasks without staying away from the current condition?
We can tell ourselves this: the things that are essentially important for us derives from our daily lives. Our daily activities are what make us who we are and what connects us to life. Therefore, the most fundamental action we can take against such a life-threatening situation is to continue our daily activities. Keeping up with our daily life will be one of the most supportive activities we can do not just for ourselves but for our community as well.
In my opinion, during this pandemic using social media as a news source is wrong. Unfortunately, in social media platforms, there is a lot of unwarranted news and misinformation. Therefore, informing ourselves from more credible news sources is very important when it comes to protecting our mental health. With this respect, watching the news every other minute is also meaningless Rather than going online every other hour, monitoring new developments would be enough.
3) Spending more time at home has also increased the number of caffeinated products such as tea and coffee we consume. Can this make us more anxious? Should we limit this amount?
For some people, drinking caffeinated products can increase anxiety. My recommendation would be not to consume more tea or coffee than you are used to and not to drink caffeinated products if possible. You can brew caffeine-free tea. If you empty out the water, with which you have brewed your tea, after 1,5 minutes, and re-brew your tea, you would have removed approximately 80% of the total caffeine amount. You will see that event brewed like this; your tea will still taste good.
4) Even though it is recommended to stay at home as much as possible to decrease the spreading rate of the virus, most people especially the health care workers still need to work. What should these individuals, who need to work during the pandemic, should pay attention to keep their morale and motivation elevated?
First, I recommend that both employees and employers act according to the recommended precautions. Mentally, the most important subject is to ensure one's safety stays at the highest level possible. Moreover, felling the support of their coworkers, employers, government, and community poses great importance to the psychological health of these individuals.
5) One of the most important steps of fighting this pandemic is regularly washing hands with water and soap. However, especially people that are germophobe are washing their hands to the extent where they physically hurt themselves. Is it possible to maintain personal hygiene without letting this situation to turn into obsession?
If we understand the recommendations on hygiene well, we perform them neither less nor more than needed. For example, as a hygiene precaution, we are recommended to wash our hands at least 20 seconds by using the proper technique. A person needs to be aware that washing your hands for 40 seconds rather than 20 seconds would not make any difference if you are doing it correctly. Right now, we are not aware that whether the current COVID-19 increases the hygiene obsession and compulsion of a patient. Whether this is the case, the time will tell.
6) Can this global pandemic have permanent psychological consequences? Are there any precautions that can be taken to prevent this?
If the pandemic takes too much time and suitable precautions are not taken by making effective and adequate efforts to get through this situation, there might be some permanent psychological consequences. For example, people with a tendency anxiety disorder might convince themselves that being overanxious is not a problem and everyone should be more anxious to be more cautious. This may make the treatment of anxiety disorder more difficult and the disorder may become chronic. The most effective precaution against such risks is to have an effective and strong plan to fight against this pandemic and prevent people’s sense of security from harm.
7) Everyone writes and talks about the symptoms of COVID-19. Most people feel like they are experiencing throat ache, tightness around their chest, and dyspnea. Is there a psychological reason behind this? If so, can you tell us about this condition and what can we do to calm ourselves if it occurs?
Everyone can experience this, but for people with anxiety disorders, it might reach a level that poses danger to their health. My first recommendation would be to learn more about the actual symptoms of the disease. There is a big difference between just feeling the symptoms of a disease and really showing them. A person needs to remind this to himself/herself. Unfortunately, if you were to have this disease, the symptoms would not be distinctive. At this point, I would recommend considering having fever as an objective symptom, because it is not a confusing symptom. It is completely objective.
I also would like to remind that as a community one of our responsibility during this crisis not to keep the health system busy with indistinctive symptoms. One should remind this to himself/herself.
8) During this pandemic period, it is uncertain how long we will stay at home. How can we protect our mental health in quarantine?
It would be psychologically beneficial to keep in touch with your relatives and friends even through the internet or over the phone, to see this isolation as an opportunity to read and learn more about the subjects you are interested in, to take steps to focus on the hobbies you have, to use this time out for constructive inspections and plans, and to use the opportunity to have a more close and deep relationship with our family.
9) Is there something you wish to add?
I wish these hard times to be over quickly and not to experience such disaster again, however; in life, we can always face unexpected difficulties or even such disasters. Just as difficulties can make individuals more conscious, mature and strong, when properly managed, communal difficulties can also improve our community. I hope that this global disaster teaches people that we all share the same fate regardless of our language, religion, and race and we can take more sharing, more solidaristic, and peaceful steps towards the future.