As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Barbados, the impact of the pandemic is being felt more deeply every day.
In the days ahead everyone’s work, school or social lives will be changed significantly, and the uncertainty about how long these disruptions will last has caused profound fear and anxiety for many people.
Psychiatrist Dr. Shimi Kang gives some advice about ways to cope with stress and negative emotions, and the importance of staying connected to loved ones while socially distancing.
When asked about the fear and anxiety being caused by COVID-19, Dr. Kang said, ” Anxiety and fear is everywhere. It is natural and normal, and it’s OK to feel scared for sure. But you also have to recognize that if you just stay in that emotion, it reduces our immune system, it makes us more susceptible, and it takes us out of our thinking brain into that reactive brain, which we don’t want to be in right now. We need to be strategic and calm. So fear is going to be normal and we need to experience it but then let it pass and then work towards trying to stay calm.”
She also went on to explain how we would know if our anxiety levels were not normal. She said, ” Our bodies will really help us out here. So when we start to feel anxiety in our body, our heart rate gets going. We feel shaky, nervous, and symptoms of fatigue. Just generally really feeling overwhelmed, and tired or poor concentration. A lot of those are signals that we are probably taking on too much, and it’s time for some self-care. Time to unplug from the topic or the news and really just take care of ourselves. Our body and mind are connected. So when we take care of one, we take care of the other.” Stay aware but do not be consumed by the severity of the COVID-19 and its impact on our society.
Normal, what is normal in these times? There are so many questions in the minds of the people at this time. Should we go outside at all or should we stay inside, and for how long? If I feel like I am catching the flu should I self medicate as I am accustomed to doing, or should I call a doctor? There are also the questions pertaining to livelihoods and the ability to pay bills and rent. Many , many concerns fill our mental spaces at this time, what should we do?
Dr. Kang says that social distancing is actually physical distancing. We need to physically be separate, but we are social beings. We cannot be healthy and strong without social contact. So we do need to look at each other. We need to hear each other’s voices. We need to connect in meaningful ways. We need to have fun together. This is all part of what keeps humans healthy. Thankfully we have technology that can help us do that. If you’re living with a family or loved ones, then it’s time to spend more time interacting with them in meaningful ways. And call your friends and families and to keep up that social connection.
Fear weakens our immune system and can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, and decreased fertility. It can lead to accelerated ageing and even premature death. It can impair formation of long-term memories and cause damage to certain parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus. This can make it even more difficult to regulate fear and can leave a person anxious most of the time. Left unchecked fear can interrupt processes in our brains that allow us to regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues and other information presented to us, reflect before acting, and act ethically. This impacts our thinking and decision-making in negative ways, leaving us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions. All of these effects can leave us unable to act appropriately.
As Barbadians self isolate themselves more and more, they should find ways in which they can make the best use of this time afforded them for their-selves. People who have been incarcerated know how to maximize time spent in state imposed isolation (Jail). Daily exercising, playing of games and the reading of books are the main ways prisoners pass their time. Fortunately unlike the incarcerated, while Barbadians self impose isolation due to COVID-19, they can interact on social media and use the internet to watch movies, documentaries and gather more information on topics that interest them. Gamer’s will surely use this time to indulge in the playing of their favorite video games by themselves or with others online. Artists will take this time to create wonderful works in their respective fields and people can spend more time in their gardens getting closer to nature.
What will you do in your time of isolation?
COVID-19 with all its destruction today, can be the catalyst for a brighter and more humane tomorrow.
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Be safe and walk good.