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The generalised anxiety brought about by the pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health and why it should be integrated into our overall wellness regimes

“There is this generalised psychological distress and anxiety that is quite palpable as a result of the pandemic,” says Dr Rene Samaniego, psychiatrist and psychotherapist at Makati Medical Center, past president of the Philippine Psychiatric Association and currently the Secretary for Education and training of the Asian Federation of Psychiatric Associations. “We can’t ignore it as our lives have been completely turned around and disrupted. We are grieving the loss of our former lives. We are all essentially in grief now and it’s very complicated as with it comes a lot of uncertainty.” The words of Samaniego resonate with many as the pandemic has put a spotlight on the importance of mental health. Isolation, lockdown, restriction of movement, economic and financial losses have all culminated in a sort of global anxiety. “All of these things can have adverse effects on our mental and emotional wellbeing. This is what we would refer to as the ‘psychological sequelae of the pandemic’ which may persist for years even after it ends,” he adds.

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Pre-pandemic, many have found a certain shame in admitting seeking help for mental health therapy, often left to those who were perceived as “weak” or “crazy”. However, it has become more evident that taking care of our sanity and emotions is an important factor of our overall health. “The formal definition of health by the World Health Organization is that it is a state of complete physical, social and mental wellbeing,” explains Samaniego. “It is an important factor on how we deal with our lives.”

He also reminds us that external factors or stressors are not always the cause of some of the most common mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. There are also internal factors.

“Depression can also be biological, meaning that one important reason why a person can get depressed is because of a certain biochemical imbalance that happens in the brain. This is not a sign of weakness but something we can address scientifically,” he says. “There’s a whole slew of patients who come to us in the clinics—from the overly psychotic to the, what we call the ‘worried well individuals’, referring to those who are not necessarily ill with a formal psychiatric condition but rather overly and unnecessarily worried or anxious about life, in general.”

The looming question is, when does it go from just a bad day and the regular blues to something you need to seek help for? “We usually look at how the symptoms are getting in the way of one’s life. For example, how are they affecting your functionality? Because we all get sad, we all get anxious, we all get stressed, we all get angry, right? But how are all these symptoms interfering with the quality of your life,” Samaniego answers.

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He advises that the best way to start is by checking in on yourself. “Check in with your feelings and thoughts, cultivate a greater awareness of your inner state and be more connected with your body. It’s not uncommon that mental health issues can directly manifest with physical symptoms such as difficulty in sleeping, palpitations and the like.”

This idea is echoed by Sanaiyah Gurnamal, a Life Designer, wellbeing coach, Thetahealer and co-founder of The Third Eye Wellness Center. “Think of mind, body and energy as connected, such that each aspect of us affects the other. If our mind is disturbed, we can work on our physical body by eating a good nutritious diet and exercising, which will have a positive effect on the mind. Juicing, cleansing or detox to jumpstart the body are also ways to uplift mind-body-energy,” Gurnamal suggests.

Taking care of our mental health does not always have to be automatically clinical but can and should be integrated as part of our overall everyday wellness routines. Third Wave therapies such as meditation and other alternative practices should be embraced and welcomed if that is what suits you best. “We can also go to an acupuncturist to release blocks on the energy meridians for energy to flow freely in the body, making us energised and rejuvenated. We can meditate to calm the mind, for a positive effect on the body via the nervous system. We can do yoga to balance our chakras in our energy body for emotional stability and physical wellbeing. If one aspect is out of balance, then work on another aspect to find the alignment again. Balance is key in mind-body-energy,” adds Gurnamal. 

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Like Samaniego, Gurnamal highlights the deep connection between the physical and emotional aspects of mental health. “Keep in mind, that every time our body feels or experiences stress, we release hormones that affect our physical body in negative ways, so we do want to minimise stress daily. Long-term stress causes many different diseases, so it is very important to keep it at bay to keep our physical bodies healthy and free from disease.”

She also suggests going to a healer or a wellbeing coach on a more regular basis to ensure that you are in the peak mental and emotional form, and to avoid smaller issues from snowballing into bigger and more overwhelming ones. “A wellbeing coach will help you stay on top of your goals and vision, while helping you resolve any issues or blocks that are getting in the way. The option is really yours, to see someone when you feel you need it or to make it part of your wellbeing regimen,” she says.

Ultimately, self-awareness is the key. Cultivating a relationship with oneself and learning to recognise and accept our emotions and worries is essential to processing them and managing them properly. “Most importantly, find time for yourself,” Gurnamal says about the most accessible step towards positive mental health. “As human beings, we crave connection. Sometimes we think that connection must come with others, but the truth is, it is our relationship with ourselves which is the bond that must never be broken. We must stay connected to ourselves by creating and enjoying our ‘me time’. When we have a healthy relationship with ourselves, we will have healthy relationships with others.”

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