How To Cope With Stress And Anxiety During Covid-19 According To Hong Kong Mental Health Experts
Feelings of anxiety and stress have become a common occurrence in the days of the coronavirus. While continuing to remain vigilant on things like hygiene – including washing your hands with soap for 20 seconds or more and wearing face-masks to maintain your physical health – it’s also incredibly important to check-in with your mental health and general wellbeing too.
Putting things into perspective, high levels of stress and anxiety do take a toll on your immune system and body. The World Health Organisation has already made a public service announcement on the matter, releasing five tips to cope with stress during this period of time:
- Pause. Breath. Reflect
- Keep to a healthy routine
- Connect with others
- Be kind to yourself and others
- Reach out for help if you need it
We speak to psychologist Dr. Hannah Reidy from Mind Hong Kong and mental health advocate Aaron Stadlin-Robbie, founder of Talking Mental, on how to manage and cope with feelings of stress and anxiety.
Why are we feeling stressed and anxious during this period of time?
There appears to be a number of reasons as to why people are becoming more anxious and stressed. As a species, humans don’t like to feel like they’re not in control and don’t like to not know what’s going on.
“There was a lot of information, we weren’t sure what was right and what was wrong. There was the worry about people becoming infected or others becoming infected, people who lived with their relationships were vulnerable and those who were separated from their relationships were worrying about their loved ones. There was a general health anxiety” says Dr. Hannah Reidy.
After that initial worry, when we became more used to living with the pandemic, there was also the worrying about the future. Things like “worrying about jobs, and the economy, worrying about finances, and there’s a lot of anxiety in a loss of routine as well” says Dr Reidy.
Feelings of being socially isolated from everyone can also lead to feelings of loneliness. Humans are social creatures and not being able to see friends and family or losing physical contact with other can slowly begin to weigh on you.
How important is it to take care of your mental health during this time?
Taking care of your mental health at any point in time is incredibly important. Our mental state is fragile, and when outlets like going to the gym, going out with friends to eat and socialise are restricted, everything can be magnified.
“Everyone has mental health issues; it just depends on where on the spectrum you are. If you’re at the lower end, and you’re getting stressed, now all of a sudden, a family member gets sick, and you get sick, these situations just all add on to it. Everyone’s mental health is being tested” says Aaron Stadlin-Robbie.
For those in Hong Kong who are feeling anxious, are there some easy tips to be aware of that may help?
Dr Reidy explains that it is important to “remind yourself that this will past and there are things we can do to help it. Acknowledge it and notice how it’s feeling in your body; (things like) if you’re feeling shaky or your heart is beating more than normal. And then, it’s really helpful to take a break from social media and traditional media as well. We are in a world where there is so much information and often that information can be anxiety provoking. And when we’re feeling anxious, we tend to look for information that will make us even more anxious.”
Focus on yourself and treat yourself well, from managing your diet like preparing healthy meals, taking breaks and exercising. It’s important to find what works for you when it comes to relieving feelings of anxiety – whether it is to relax or doing something energising it’s different for everyone. “Bring your mind into the present, rather than thinking about the past or future. This can be meditation or breathing work. There’s active mindfulness like going for a walk or engaging in hikes” says Dr Reidy.
Aaron, whose podcast Talking Mental openly discusses mental health says “for me, what I did with my mental health, was controlling what I could control. Eating healthier, working out outdoors and at home and I’ve gotten a lot fitter. Sign up to some meal plans. I turn to a lot of comedy podcasts, because that’s what helped me.” It’s about doing things that bring you joy and taking the time to savour the feeling.
“Control what you can. Do what makes you happy. Because when you are low and anxious it’s easy to spiral. It begins to snowball. Get your support system in place. Who are your friends? How can you do fun things together? Have a hike or go play a video game, be creative” says Aaron. The takeaway is that it’s better to be dealing with things as a unit, then bearing it alone.