The mental cost of 2020, and how to counteract It

Lifecare explores the impact on mental health caused by this year’s global pandemic and economic crisis, and how we can restore the balance.

Surges in stress, anxiety, depression, addictive behaviour, self-harm and substance abuse are among a long list of effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the global population. Trusted public health authorities including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have labelled mental health as internationally “languishing”, while also acknowledging that they – and we – must place a strong focus on counteracting the significant psychological adversity we have experienced in 2020.

What we’ve been through

“We have definitely seen a rise in clients seeking help for their mental health as a direct impact of COVID-19,” explains Dr. Sravani Behara, Medical Director and Specialist Psychiatrist at LifeWorks Holistic Counselling Centre, a Lifecare partner.

“As social beings, we rely on our social support system, and the lack of physical contact with friends, family and colleagues which has been enforced on us has led to adverse consequences on our mental health. We have been faced with new realities – working from home, homeschooling – and the demands and adjustments these have brought, alongside anxiety over our health, employment, finances and the threat of our loved ones contracting a potentially fatal virus.”

What this has caused

Increased exposure to an almost exclusively negative and alarming news media has also heightened feelings of suffocation, isolation and lack of control, which Dr. Behara confirms has led to a whole host of behaviours linked to acute anxiety, irrational worry, and chronic stress.

“As mental health professionals, we are seeing elevated levels of stress, anxiety, panic, and depressive disorders. The depressed cognition of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness, increased suicidal ideation, mood fluctuations, irritability and increased anger, persistent worrying thoughts, feelings of guilt, difficulty focusing, cynicism and disturbed sleep – these have all been exacerbated among depressed and other pre existing mood disorders,” she explains.

“We have also seen a rise in illness anxiety or hypochondriasis (a person’s misinterpretation of minor or normal body sensations as serious disease despite reassurance by medical professionals that they don’t have an illness), and we are seeing more post traumatic stress disorder triggered by the pandemic, which will only increase in the future.”

How we restore calm

The safest practices available to us to limit the spread of infection include: social distancing, effective hand hygiene and wearing face masks. Practicing mindfulness, physical activity and distracting ourselves by engaging in activities we enjoy are all ways we can effectively reduce stress and achieve a calmer state of mind.

“Deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation exercises would help in relieving anxiety, decreasing nervousness and alleviating stress,” explains Dr. Behara. “Physical activity like running, jumping, walking, jogging, dancing will shake off negative feelings, while engaging yourself with cooking, gardening, listening to music, reading books, watching comedy, laughing, drawing… these will all calm and distract your mind.”

It is vital to reach out and seek professional help if you feel your own, or a loved one’s, mental health is suffering.

Lifecare International works with LifeWorks Mental Health & Counselling as well as offering a wide range of support services as part of our Cura Corporate services. For more information: Click here

Dr. Sravani Behara, Medical Director and Specialist Psychiatrist at LifeWorks Holistic Counselling Centre