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Saffers’ mental health taxed by Covid-19, but there are ways to ...


Saffers’ mental health taxed by Covid-19, but there are ways to cope

Those with anxiety, obsessive compulsive and mood disorders likely to suffer most, experts warn

Senior reporter
Covid-19 is making South Africans anxious and stressed.
Nerve-wracking Covid-19 is making South Africans anxious and stressed.
Image: 123RF/Jozef Polc

South Africans with pre-existing mental health conditions maybe more prone to potential relapses and increased distress as the Covid-19 pandemic tightens its grip on the country.

Mental health experts have warned that the pandemic is likely to most impact those suffering with anxiety, obsessive compulsive and mood  disorders, “seeing that the pandemic implies reduced control over one’s environment on multiple levels”.

“Everyone reacts differently to the outbreak of Covid-19 and it may be extremely stressful for many, especially those who already have a mental health issue, but even those without a predisposing illness feel stressed and anxious during this time – it is completely normal to feel that way considering the situation.

“Fear, panic and anxiety about the coronavirus can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children.

“It’s important that you, the people you care about, and your community learn new ways to cope and manage the stress.

South Africans are becoming increasingly anxious as the number of Covid-19 cases increase.
Taxing times South Africans are becoming increasingly anxious as the number of Covid-19 cases increase.
Image: 123RF/rido

“It’s natural to feel worried and overwhelmed about our safety and wellbeing.

“So if you’re feeling concerned about the coronavirus, you’re not alone.

“Yet, for some of us, this concern can quickly grow into anxiety, even panic. Hearing about shortages of hand sanitiser, people stocking their homes with food, and the number of deaths worldwide only fuels this fire,” said clinical psychologist Dessy Tzoneva.

Counselling psychologist Dr Ingrid Artus warned that the current situation may trigger “circumstantial incidences of general anxiety and panic attacks in particular”.

It’s natural to feel worried and overwhelmed about our safety and wellbeing.
Dessy Tzoneva, clinical psychologist

“This does not only relate to fears of possible infection and the concurrent impact of isolation on individuals and their loved ones, but also with regards to the broader impact on individuals, businesses and communities.”

Artus said the phenomenon of panic buying was usually a response to a situation that is “unpredictable”.

“The hoarding provides a sense of control that helps reduce anxiety levels.”

Another psychologist, Rakhi Beekrum, said South Africans’ traditional ways of coping with anxiety are affected by “social distancing, which means that access to support systems such as socialisation and religious services are now affected”.

“Isolation can lead to loneliness, so using available means to connect mindfully is vital. Social distancing is also not the same as isolation.

“We need to reframe social distancing and change our mindsets to see it as our contribution to containing the spread of the virus in our country.”

Beekrum said to prevent loneliness and depressive episodes, people could reach out and “engage mindfully and responsibly”.

SA Depression and Anxiety Group on how to manage stress and anxiety during this time:

  • Maintain a daily routine as much as possible – get up, get dressed, create a to-do list, etc;
  • Reduce the time you and your family spend watching or listening to media coverage – filter what you are watching, reading and listening to;
  • Don’t have the radio or news channel playing on in the background at home. Learn what you can from respected sources;
  • Only check these sites at specific times of the day. For example at 8am, 1pm and 9pm;
  • Yes, the situation is frightening, it’s frustrating, and you feel out of control;
  • Acknowledge that and allow yourself specific time to sit with those feelings – and then make sure you focus more time on the things you can control and do;
  • Create a list of things to do to keep yourself busy and active – even during social isolation;
  • Make a list that you can stick up on the fridge or in your bedroom, make it public so the whole family can add ideas (such as reading books you haven’t been able to get to for months, gardening, watching your favourite movies, doing something creative like painting, drawing, poetry, listening to your favourite music, trying a new exercise at home, cleaning out the cupboards that you have been avoiding doing for months);
  • When you run out of ideas ask friends and family for ideas. Do small things every day that you enjoy and help lift your mood.

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