We are being bombarded everyday with news and online articles about the Covid-19 crisis. While the media is giving us good insights about the situation, checking the news constantly, being worried about getting sick, or worrying about loved ones can cause psychological pressure that it can be difficult to endure.
According to the US magazine Psychology Today, many people are experiencing heightened emotions during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some are fortunate enough to still have a reliable income or live with loved ones not at high risk from Covid-19 complications. However, others are experiencing the pandemic differently, in some cases having lost family members, or living alone, or having lost their source of income. Some people may be experiencing domestic violence, and those working in the medical sector will naturally be under intense pressure during the crisis.
So, how can we deal with this heightened emotional situation and find positive sides to the current crisis?
According to Cairo life coach Dina Elmessiri, our emotions are a vital part of our being. We should not underestimate their importance, as each emotion we experience is sending us an important message. It is only the excess of some emotions that is harmful.
During the Covid-19 crisis, feelings of anxiety might arise from the state of uncertainty we are facing. “We don’t have enough concrete information – in fact there may be too much information and too many changes taking place every day. Being afraid of something that is also not tangible can create a state of constant worry, and being unable to make plans and have a clear view of the future is confusing for many of us,” Elmessiri noted.
“What if” questions running in our heads may be creating this state of anxiety. Some minimal feeling of anxiety is a good thing as it helps us to take needed precautions, but excess worry will not benefit our minds and can harm them, she added.
It is thus a good idea to monitor our feelings and how many times we are checking the news each day to prevent this from becoming an obsession. Only trustworthy sources should be used, for example the Website of the World Health Organisation (WHO), and a certain time of day should be chosen to follow the news. Once or twice a day is enough. We should also be aware of what we are sharing and sending on social media and limit the amount of time spent connected to the Internet.
In order to control any negative thoughts or fears circulating in our minds, we need to do our homework as well, Elmessiri said. We need to apply the health instructions we have been given, but care should be taken not to do this in an excessive way. We should also be aware that while we can control our actions, we cannot control their results. In other words, differentiating between what we can control and what we cannot control can alleviate a lot of the burden we put on ourselves, she added.
Being able to adapt to the changes we are facing is also a key element that will help us to have a calm state of mind, Elmessiri said. “We must make the best use of alternative solutions that can compensative for our previous daily routine. In other words, we can go for walks or jogging instead of going to the gym. We can start to take courses online, and we can use video calls to check up on loved ones. Making a daily routine is extremely important, as it can help us to be more balanced,” she noted.
Beating anxiety in the crisis
Waking up early at a certain time, doing spiritual exercises, getting properly dressed, doing some sport, or taking an outside walk while maintaining social distance – all these things can help to establish a routine. Reading for at least 30 minutes a day is also a must.
Motor activities also help us to have a calmer state of mind and alleviate stress. “Art and crafts or colouring are excellent and soothing activities. Cooking is another good motor activity. But any motor activity can help you to focus and will in turn help to calm you mind,” Elmessiri said.
Allocating times to do fun activities with loved ones living with you is also a very good idea, including playing board games, having a movie night, or even cooking together. Calling close friends to check up on them also helps to strengthen a support system.
As for people who complain of boredom during the quarantine period, Elmessiri explains that sometimes it is good to be bored. “This will get the best out of you. Creativity will rise to the surface. We all have time now, so make the best use of it,” she said.
Elmessiri’s advice for doctors or medical staff who are on the frontline and who are experiencing a lot of stress is to practise mindful breath control and meditation. “Take a good breath in and exhale from the nose. Focus on the sound and rhythm of your breathing, and be aware of it for three or four minutes. This can help to alleviate stress,” she said.
Finally, Elmessiri explains that now can be a good time to reflect on our lives, to see where we stand, and to understand what we need to do and what we need to stop doing. During these tough times, each of us may be getting a different message from the crisis. It is healthy to take a breath, pause, and reflect, and to keep in mind the good habits acquired during this crisis so that they can be continued peacefully after the storm passes.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly