Mental health: how to help yourself and others during the pandemic

You can’t pour from an empty cup. Yet, in these difficult times, many people in Hong Kong and around the world are trying to get through each day feeling drained and disheartened. They’re stressed, anxious, fearful, depressed, isolated and more. Over the course of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has affected different people in unimaginable ways.

There’s the parent who’s juggling work and online learning, often in a small space. The breadwinner who has lost their job. The family whose children study abroad and now cannot return home. The people who have lost loved ones overseas. The immune compromised and their caregivers concerned for their safety. The pregnant woman separated from her partner, unable to have her partner present in the delivery room or craving the support of extended family. The elderly person cut off from their friends and family. The frontliner health workers who step up to serve others while fearful for themselves and their loved ones. And more.

Add to this the usual pressures of daily life in our frenzied, stressed-out city, it’s no wonder mental health in Hong Kong is now at an all-time low.

Certainty: why do we crave it?

One of the greatest fears we, as human beings, face is fear of the unknown. Most people are uncomfortable with uncertainty. This is natural. We’ll go to great lengths to create a sense of certainty, stability and security in our day-to-day world. Be that through work, family, friends, socialising, daily routines – even starting our day with our favourite brand of coffee, curled up on our favourite chair! Having structure, nourishing routines and a framework of support is necessary for most of us, for our mental and physical wellbeing.

So, what happens when your life’s certainties become uncertain?

When unexpected life events happen – those that really shake our reality like the loss of a loved one, a job, an accident or life shock – we are faced with a fundamental truth. Life is uncertain. Life is unpredictable. There is suffering. Some things happen that are outside of our control. Often, this is when people turn to spiritual traditions, teachers or healers to make sense of what has happened, or to come to some sense of peace with it. When answers or meaning can no longer be found in our usual day-to-day paradigm.

The pandemic has heightened uncertainty on a global level – from travel to world economy, varying restrictions and responses.  Directly and personally, we’ve all been impacted in a myriad of ways. Planning for anything future-based remains precarious.

Alongside these very real changes to our daily lives, perhaps the pandemic has also revealed the background of uncertainty that has existed all along. It’s an overwhelming truth for most of us to experience, to live. Recognising the impact of these conditions can hopefully allow us to be gentle with ourselves as we navigate this.

Fear: the importance of dealing with uncertainty

Recent developments in neuroscience indicate that – in times of uncertainty – your brain enters a hypervigilant state. This initiates a cascade of neuroendocrine, neuroenergetic and emotional stress responses.

The cycle continues when uncertainty is prolonged and cannot be resolved. Your brain requires extra energy; your body experiences continued stress. When acute stress responses become chronic, this can lead to further conditions: depression, cognitive dysfunction, high blood pressure and more. This is why it’s important to find ways to deal with uncertainty and manage our fear.

Mental health and Covid-19: How to cope

Amid all the uncertainties, there are ways to take back some control. Being kind to your mind, focussing on what you can do and what you can change, on a day to day basis is more important than ever before. And most importantly, reminding yourself that we’re all in this together. We can all support each other to get through this together.

After all, community and connection are at the core of self-care and mental wellbeing, as proven by eight decades of Harvard research. Social connections, quality relationships, a strong support network: these are vital for better emotional and mental health.

We know that many are shut off from their support network. We also know that mental health care services are currently overwhelmed and there’s less access to resources.

Mental health support at IMI

If you would like some support from a trained counsellor or psychotherapist, please contact us here. For those on low-income, we are currently offering a number of pro-bono psychotherapy and counselling sessions.

We also offer free Monday mindfulness classes at IMI. You can find more recommended resources to support your mental health.

About Carole Bradshaw

Carole is IMI’s Director and Core Process Psychotherapist. She integrates early developmental psychology with mindfulness and awareness practice in her psychotherapy sessions. Prior to this Carole has over a decade of teaching experience in mindfulness and yoga. Before discovering the health and wellness professions, she held leadership roles in the corporate and public sectors and understands the challenges that people face in an increasingly demanding and pressured world.

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