Navigating the pandemic

Last Updated on Monday, 5 April, 2021 at 1:22 pm by Andre Camilleri

Dr Georgiana Farrugia Bonnici is a diagnostic radiographer and medical doctor

It is no news to say that each and every one of us is struggling during the global pandemic. 

Some have adapted easily to this new way of living, mostly thanks to their personality type and are now enjoying the newly-found peace. However, the discomfort of not being able to move around freely will probably still affect them. Others, who are considered as more social individuals, as well as those who struggle with mental health issues, are finding themselves increasingly frustrated, anxious, worried or depressed.

Individuals have also reported the inability to sleep well, needing to have an alcoholic drink before bedtime in order to be able to sleep, as well as an increased tendency for obsessive-compulsive behaviours that are mainly associated with cleanliness and hygiene, or paranoia towards the novel coronavirus.

Diagnosing and treating depression

Depression is a common psychiatric disorder that can be diagnosed clinically if any of the below symptoms are present for longer than two weeks:

Avoidance: symptoms may include avoiding places, activities or people that were previously enjoyable.

Negative changes in thinking and mood: symptoms may consist of an inability to experience positive emotions, a lack of interest in activities which previously were enjoyable, memory glitches or difficulties in maintaining close relationships.

Changes in emotional reactions: symptoms of changes in emotional reactions could result in troubled sleep or lack of concentration, aggressive behaviour, feelings of overwhelming guilt or worry, being easily startled and constantly on guard for danger.

Depression can leave an individual feeling powerless and vulnerable. However, it is important for one to realise that they are not helpless. Getting effective treatment after depressive symptoms develop can be critical to reduce symptoms and improve overall function. 

The first self-help tip would be to engage in any rhythmic exercise routine that helps to release endorphins and unwind the nervous system.  Secondly, mindful breathing and virtual social interaction with close family or friends can help in alleviating sadness.

Volunteering can turn out to be a great way to reclaim one’s sense of power. Joining an online mental-health support group can help an individual feel less isolated and also provide invaluable information on coping with symptoms as well as working towards recovery. 

The symptoms of depression can also be excruciating on one’s body, so it is vitally important to take care of oneself and develop healthy lifestyle habits. When struggling with difficult emotions, one may be tempted to indulge in alcohol or drugs.  However, substance abuse worsens many symptoms of depression, interferes with treatment and with building sound relationships. 

Other types of professional treatment for depression include cognitive behavioural therapy and prescribed medications to relieve any worsening symptoms if the need arises.

Battling insomnia

The human body requires around six to eight hours of sleep daily in order to be able to function effectively the following day.

A sleep disorder is classified as a disruption of an individual’s sleeping patterns that may interfere with the everyday physical, psychological, emotional and social functioning.

One of the most common types of sleep disorders is insomnia. In addition to trouble with retaining sleep, insomnia is typically characterised by daytime fatigue, decreased attentiveness or mood swings, for a period lasting more than four weeks. This condition may have no defined underlying cause or else surfaces as a result of a combination of physical or mental illnesses as well as substance abuse.

The cure for sleep disorders can often be found by making changes in the daily routine and adopting a healthier lifestyle while addressing any underlying causes such as depression, stress or anxiety. It is important to keep in mind that sleep medications are only a short-term solution as these often result in dependence and tolerance.

A holistic approach

Coronavirus is here to stay, for a while.  Thus, continuous joint efforts need to be made to adapt to the situation and be able to move on, from day to day. 

First and foremost, individuals may help themselves by setting a routine. One should wake up at the same time each morning, ideally similar to their waking-up time when they used to physically go to work. One should shower, dress comfortably and have a nutritious breakfast to start off the day. A plan of each day should be made, so that an individual is aware how the week is going to be filled up.

Exercise needs to be conducted daily, mostly within the home, while spending time in mindfulness practice – by simply focusing on the scenic views from the balcony or the roof, taking time to listen to nature’s sounds and absorbing in some much-needed vitamin D through the sun’s rays (again, exercise caution now that the UV index is getting higher).

This connection to the outside world, despite the ongoing social restriction measures, will still help us detach from what we are all currently facing, for it gives us a well-deserved break from what is happening, and our mind can rest. 

Above all, we need to practise acceptance – this is what is happening world-wide and we cannot control what is happening to us. But we can control how we handle it and how we react to it.

We should take it day by day and start using the time to catch up with things we have been meaning to do for such a long time. Take a deep breath, accept the situation as it unfolds, plan each day and enjoy discovering a new hobby. Most importantly, keep close to all your family and friends virtually. 

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