How to take care of your Mental Health during the COVID-19 pandemic

As we may be aware, COVID-19, caused by a novel coronavirus, has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, leading to draconian measures to prevent its spread. These include social distancing -- staying at home and limiting contact with others. The uncertainty brought about by the virus, be it in terms of health, your financial situation or even the world as a whole, can have an impact on your mental well-being.

Below, we highlight some of the steps you can take to ensure that you promote mental well-being during this period

There are those typical (normal or natural) immediate reactions that people experience following a threatening situation among them fear, anxiety, denial, preoccupation with the repercussions of the epidemic, intrusive thoughts, feeling not in control, helpless or hopeless, blaming self or others and loneliness in this case due to social isolation. These if allowed to be overwhelming can be draining and we need to prevent or manage them from becoming a mental health and further physical health problem. To guard our mental health, and to ensure the above do not overwhelm us:

  • Develop a positive mindset and take only credible sources of information. Don’t consume too much data and hold strongly on to the information from unreliable sources.
  • Make a conscious choice not to allow the anxiety and all related negative emotions, thoughts and behaviors to consume us but focus more on overcoming the virus.

We have many cases of recovery; it is possible to have hope of managing the virus. This too will pass and we need to come out with better health, resilience, strengthened inner resources of confidence, courage, determination and the resolve to survive the virus. In case you feel overwhelmed, reach out for professional support.

Learn to relax and to convert your energy into other more valuable activities listed below:

  • Read books, listen to audio books, do assignments, do research on different topics of interest to keep your mind active and engaged. Write a journal, take an online course, write letters to each other in the family.
  • Play in-door games, such as board games. You can even create your own games e.g. naming all the things in the house starting with letter S, etc.
  • Do general cleaning, go through old clothes for donation, clean your car, take care of your compound.
  • Gardening for those with the opportunity, trim flowers.
  • Learn a new language - for instance Google Playstore and Applestore have some free foreign language applications.
  • Creative art: draw, coloring, write songs, poems, stories, play, paint or even model things out of clay. You could also play music or compose songs, sing together, do drama, write plays.
  • Carry out simple exercises at home to keep yourself active. Ensure you alternate sitting and walking up and down.
  • Have a spa/massage day in your house (facial cleaning, scrubbing your legs, cleaning your hair, etc.)
  • As a family do the routine house chores and ensure basic hygiene (bathing, brushing teeth etc.) which can be ignored because you are home is done
  • Bake or learn/cook a new recipe. You can also take the time to learn new skills, such as knitting, crocheting, decorations etc.
  • Just rest, take some time away from the phone for those not working from home, take a nap, sleep.
  • Talk to someone in case you feel terrified, empty, hopeless and worthless, or have any other negative emotions.

Take this time to:

  • Rest and just focus on what you can do and have control over. For those of us who with a personality that is sensitive to trauma, be conscious of vicarious trauma caused by witnessing the overwhelming experiences of Covid- 19 and other disasters.
  • Reflect: Reflection will help you to be in the present moment and remain sensitive to the demands and changes brought about by Covid-19 situation.
  • Deeply connect with your inner soul and inner strength and resources to emerge from this situation a more empowered Individual.
  • Re-energize and strengthen the body’s immune system; Eat nutritious food, drink water and limit sugar intake.
  • Connect with family members with care, love, kindness, understanding, patience, compassion and flexibility.
  • Prevent anger, violence or depression by managing frustrations be it with family members or neighbors. An internal locus of control, a solution focused mind set and high frustration tolerance levels will help keep the peace.
  • Stay away from substances that are likely to affect your judgment, reaction time or would cause you to act irrationally, violently or cause brain damage e.g. misuse of prescription drugs, excessive consumption of alcohol, use of illegal and hard drugs.

Dealing with children

Actively listen to them by using the learning principle of moving from known to unknown. Be patient and have an understanding attitude with the children. Children may respond to difficult/unsettling situations in different ways: clinging to caregivers, feeling anxious, withdrawing, feeling angry or agitated, having nightmares, bed-wetting, frequent mood-changes, among others. Some of the tips that you can employ include:

  • Provide facts about what is going on and give clear child-friendly information about how to reduce risk of infection and stay safe in words they can understand. Demonstrate to children and model how they can keep themselves safe (e.g., show them how to effectively and regularly and wash their hands ).
  • Help children find positive ways to express disturbing feelings such as anger, fear and sadness. Respond calmly when their emotions are elevated.
  • Encourage an increased sensitive and caring environment around your child. Children need adults’ love and more dedicated attention during difficult times. It is important for you to manage your emotions so that you can remain calm and listen to your children’s concerns.
  • Keep regular routines and schedules as much as possible or help create new ones in a new environment, including learning, playing and relaxing. If possible, maintain schoolwork, study or other routine activities that don’t endanger them.

Be present and involved in their lives at this time when you can bond more with them.

Dealing with older relatives

Older adults are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 given their limited information sources, weaker immune systems, and the higher COVID-19 mortality rate found in the older population.

Share simple facts about what is going on and give clear information about how to reduce risk of infection in words older people with/without cognitive impairment can understand. Repeat the information whenever necessary.

  • Provide older adults with accurate accessible information and facts about the COVID-19 outbreak, the progression, treatment, and effective strategies to prevent an infection.
  • Maintain regular contact with your older relatives. Call them regularly, and if possible, have physical visits to check on them.
  • Older people might not be familiar with the use of protective devices or prevention methods or refuse to use them. Communicate instructions on how they can use protective devices in a clear, concise, respectful and patient way.
  • Older people tend not to exercise or not know the importance of physical fitness specially when confined to their home. Provide them with simple physical exercises to perform at their home/in quarantine to maintain mobility and reduce boredom.
  • Older people are sometimes very good with their long-term memories and they enjoy relating repeatedly some of their past experiences. Be patient and encourage them to relate their pleasant “stories” by offering a listening ear.

Should you feel overwhelmed, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Counseling Center team listed below, who are on call to listen to any of your concerns and allay any fears you may have.

  • Patrick Obel – +254 721 466526
  • Noel Khayanje – +254 722 964832
  • Lucy Kungu – +254 722 695414
  • Lydia Winda - +254 799 588614

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