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Learn to cope with lockdown stress

Uncertainty, anger and frustration seemed to be synonym with the lockdown, also in Kimberley.

Carol Schonegevel, a clinical psychologist, has been working in Kimberley for the past 20 years.

Noordkaap asked her about coping with emotional stress during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“People’s feelings and experiences seem to be much more intense during the pandemic, and it takes a toll on everyone, young and old,” Schonegevel says.

During the pandemic, she says, people realise to a greater extent that they cannot control everything as there is so much uncertainty.

“We don’t know the rules and governments don’t know the rules either. When they act, they don’t always do things which we agree with. Know that in this context, anxiety is normal. Anger and frustration at our circumstances are normal. We have all lost things, and we are all making sacrifices.”

Stressors

Obvious stressors include poverty, the overall economic impact, death toll, suffering caused by sickness and ill health, worrying about the health of loved ones who have comorbidities and the horror of saying good-bye to a loved one at a hospital door, and not being allowed to be with them in their last days.

Domestic violence and the physical abuse of children appears to have tripled, with women having little recourse to safe places, and children even less.

Marital tension has been experienced by many. Because people are forced together, there are no longer the “buffer zones” of amongst other, socialising and work.

“But,” she says, “many couples have reported improved communication and a better understanding of one another.”

Fighting between siblings and intergenerational conflict is also seen in some homes as people do not get a break from one another.

Teenagers struggle as they have a developmental need to be with their friends and are naturally pulling away slightly from their parents.

Homeschooling is not easy and in some cases no learning takes place as many people do not have adequate access to technology.

How to sustain mental health

Maintain daily routines with waking up, eating and going to sleep. Walking around in pajamas does little to make us feel productive and healthy in the long term.

The ongoing, constant exposure to news and statistics from all over the world make many people extremely anxious. Set limits on the amount of time reading the news.

Actively shelve worries and anxiety to experience daily comforts such as joy and family time.

Examine unhealthy coping strategies which include using alcohol or other drugs to escape, eating for comfort, using caffeine, sugar or nicotine to get us through the day, mindlessly binge-watching TV series and the compulsive use of social media or electronic games to numb our thoughts and dull our emotions. Acknowledge these behaviours honestly to start working on eliminating it and finding healthy, satisfying alternatives.

Learn how to consciously relax yourself and find the ways best for you, such as exercise, controlled breathing, relaxation through meditation, reading, entertainment, art, hobbies and more. Research has shown that when we become absorbed in an activity different from our usual daily activities, our minds can be refreshed and restored.

Working from home brings new challenges as people working from home are spending more time working and attending virtual meetings than before. Tertiary students find that taking notes on lectures and studying is taking more time than before. Create clear boundaries between work and leisure time, and step away from desks regularly to stretch, go for a walk outside or play with a pet. Meals should be eaten far away from desks, and during these breaks allow yourself to think about anything other than work, and enjoy the moment of relaxation and pleasure.

Many elderly people have found that they now have too much time on their hands, and are isolated from family and friends. Engage in activities which are meaningful and find ways to continue to do these.

Teenagers should be allowed to use their phones to communicate with friends in their free time, but should also be part of the family.

“In the life during a pandemic the importance of kindness cannot be overstated,” she says. “Some certainties remain and we need to hold on to it. Even if our certainty is simply that no matter what happens, we will deal with it, we need to hold on to this. We need to go easy on ourselves: the pandemic is unprecedented in our modern world, and we’re all just doing the best we can,” Schonegevel concludes.

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