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Take Care of Your Mental Health Amidst COVID-19 Threat

Instead of panicking, which is unhelpful, let’s be proactive and channel our energy to do what we can to minimize the risk of infection instead.

We are one day into the one month-long Metro Manila lockdown after the threat of COVID-19 has taken over the country. To say that times are changing is an understatement. Little did we know at the beginning of the year that the Coronavirus threat would reach such heights, with 142 countries affected around the world, and a total of 156,400 confirmed infections. To date, 5,833 individuals have passed away due to the deadly virus, causing unease, panic, and a case of international health emergency.


Truly, the only thing we citizens can do is trust our government by staying home to avoid any further infections outside, staying healthy, and making the most of this time indoors. Boost your immune system by catching up on sleep, working out, eating healthy food, and getting quality time with your loved ones.


While these things are surely easier said than done amidst a time when fear looms above our heads every single day, there are ways to counter the worry, the frustration, and anxiety we feel every waking day. 


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We spoke to Wellbeing Coach Kathi Rañeses and asked for her expert advise about how to keep sane during an uncertain, somewhat life-threatening time, and a mentally-and-emotionally draining time of our lives. She offers heartwarming, doable, practical tips on how to counter the negativity that comes along with this type of event in our lives. Read on, and get enlightened. We've got this! —KPS



1. Instead of panicking over what you can’t control, focus on what you can.

It’s so easy to spiral into anxiety with trying to keep up with the latest news related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Instead of panicking, which is unhelpful, let’s be proactive and channel our energy to do what we can to minimize the risk of infection instead. The most obvious is to wash your hands regularly, keep a bottle of alcohol with you, wear a medical-grade or N95 mask if you have respiratory symptoms, avoid crowded places and practice social distancing, cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, avoid touching your face, and getting in nutrient-dense meals as well as enough sleep. 


2. Remember that we’re all in this together.

Feeling isolated and believing that we’re the only ones suffering from the impact of the outbreak (e.g., traveling restrictions, economic downturn) makes us feel like it’s us against the world right now. But, much like the High School Musical earworm, we can overcome and grow from the challenges and build a better world together. Scientists are working on creating more affordable test kits while others attending to learning more about making a vaccine. Children don’t seem to be infected, and the percentage of patients surviving are high. 


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3. Practice mindfulness and self-compassion.

The practice of mindfulness and self-compassion increases immunity and reduces inflammation in the body. When you notice yourself worrying about the virus, try this self-compassionate, mindfulness-based exercise:

• Pause and take a few slow, deep, and mindful breaths.

• Tune in to what feelings you’re currently experiencing and pay attention to the part of the body that feels the distress the most – it might be your chest, your neck, your temples.

• Place your hand on that part of the body and soothe it with a massage, stroke, or pat the chest, sing a song, or a positive affirmation.

• Remind yourself that many people around the world share similar unpleasant feelings, not just you, and everyone is feeling a level of fear for themselves, their families, and the possible future.

• Radiate kind thoughts to everyone with the same experience, “I wish myself, you, and everyone well. May all people infected by the virus anxiety be safe, healthy, and happy."


4. Techtox from the cyber-infection.

What’s become far more infectious than the virus is the fear associated with the illness due to netizens spreading all sorts of unvalidated stories through the internet and social media. Stick to news from reliable sources like the World Health Organization (WHO), Department of Health (DOH), and other reputable news agencies and be wary of sharing posts that happened to ‘a friend of a friend’. Better yet, just put your phone down and do something that brings you joy instead, like catching up on your reading, gardening, cooking a meal, or spending quality time with family.


5. Tame your fears by putting them into perspective.

In comparison, the human seasonal influenza virus (aka the flu) has killed significantly many more people worldwide (290,000 to 650,000 yearly) than COVID-19 (5,833 deaths worldwide as of March 15, 2020), and based on results, the survival rate is high.


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6. Take this time to work on yourself.

Instead of worrying over the shoulda, woulda, couldas, take this time to work on bettering yourself. With everybody urged to stay in their homes as much as possible, use the time that you would have otherwise spent in traffic on working on learning something new or ticking something off of your to-do list, from learning a new skill like graphic design, cooking, or crochet. This not only takes your mind off of worrying and puts you into a focused state of mind, as you work towards your 1,000 burning hours to reach that state of flow in your newly acquired skill.



7. Practice gratitude and pay attention to the positive things in life.

Experiments showed that our brains are wired to pay more attention to adverse events, like this growing pandemic than positive ones. We call that ‘negativity bias’ – it’s our lizard brain putting us in a panic so we go into self-preservation mode. Luckily, our brain is also neuroplastic and can change continuously throughout our life, which means we can train our brains to cultivate gratitude - the habit of paying attention to and recalling the good things in life to reprogram our brains positively – instead of worry. Keeping up a simple practice like a gratitude journal does wonders for our mental health and wellbeing, and is proven to help lower blood pressure, anxiety, depression, improve immune functions, and even facilitate better sleep. 



8. Know that this too shall pass.

We need to remember that everything in life is impermanent and the only thing constant in life is change. While the COVID-19 outbreak may seem bad, we have gone through worse and have come out the other side. Just like the Ebola, SARS, and MERS outbreaks, this will eventually stabilize and come to an end. Sooner or later, we will subsequently find a cure for the disease and life will continue. If anything, we will become more mindful of washing our hands and practicing better hygiene when outdoors now. —KR


Stay safe, and stay happy Philippines!