Stressed from the MCO? Scream it all out

One breathing technique to calm your mind is to stand up and raise your arms as you take a deep breath, then exhale while bringing your arms down slowly. — Photos: Filepic

I bumped into a work acquaintance – a psychiatrist – last week while shopping for groceries.

“Business booming?” I enquired.

“Yes,” came his muffled reply through his face mask, “but my clinic is closed – all consultations are via video conferencing.

“Too many people need help to overcome their mental health crisis right now.”

This Covid-19 pandemic has shaken our sense of security and made life uncertain.

Feelings of despair, helplessness and anxiety are adding to our stress, which is normal.

When the Government imposed the first phase of the movement control order (MCO), most people assumed two weeks would go by in a jiffy.

They tried to adhere to certain routines and found solace in experimenting with new things or indulging in their hobbies.

But as the second and third phases were declared, a number of my friends started to lose that glimmer of hope.

Not knowing what tomorrow brings, they have lost interest in many things, including exercising, and are starting to display classic signs of anxiety – feeling restless, nervous, angry and constantly fatigued despite not doing much, among others.

When everything around you spells doom and gloom, it’s hard to get moving.

One reader shared that he has stopped watching and reading news, even the feel-good ones, because it makes him depressed.

While he’s watching movies, there’s a running sentence at the top of the screen to remind people to stay home, wash hands and practice social distancing.

Between TV programmes, there are always public service announcements or advertorials about Covid-19.

There’s a constant reminder of the pandemic everywhere, in everything.

Even during casual conversations, it gets mentioned at least once.

“How can I lift up my spirits?

“I keep looking at the clock ticking, hoping the days will go by quicker, but then again, I don’t know whether I will still have a job once the MCO is lifted,” the business development manager and father of two laments.

Keeping self-motivated is indeed hard and we always need a cheerleading buddy to spur us on.

When it comes to exercise, two is always better than one. Technology may have made communication easier, but it’s not the same when your buddy is not standing next to you.

Still, physical activity, even in small amounts, and relaxation techniques, can be valuable tools to help you remain calm and continue to protect your overall well-being during this time.

Even watching TV can be stressful as there are frequent reminders of the pandemic during and in between shows.Even watching TV can be stressful as there are frequent reminders of the pandemic during and in between shows.

Try screaming

In my last column, I mentioned that crying is one way to release your anguish and feel better.

Today, I’m going to suggest that you scream and shout to let go of bottled-up emotions, just like and Britney Spears sang, “I wanna scream and shout and let it all out...”

Put on the song and groove to it, while screaming out the lyrics.

That’s one reason why cranking up the volume while hearing your favourite song pumps you up with energy.

The euphoria remains for a while afterwards and you feel much more relaxed. Just don’t do it after midnight.

Like the famous painting The Scream by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, sometimes the best release of tension comes from letting out a scream.

Essentially, this painting is autobiographical – an expressionistic construction based on Munch’s actual experience of a scream piercing through nature while on a walk, after his two companions (seen in the background of the painting) had left him.

Fitting the fact that the sound must have been heard at a time when his mind was in an abnormal state, Munch renders it in a style, which, if pushed to extremes, can destroy human integrity.

Munch himself referred to this work as his “soul painting”, revealing his own anxiety and inner turmoil.

And through this expression, he may have actually been onto something 21st century sports fans already do, and many psychologists support.

Screaming to reduce stress is not limited to sports fans or to those participating in professional therapy either.

Apparently, many universities and colleges across Canada and the United States have encouraged students to let out a primal scream to help relieve the stress of final exams.

The screaming helps them feel better, even if only temporarily.

And unlike yelling at someone in anger or frustration when one has lost control of their emotions, the primal scream is a controlled, planned activity.

If you notice, all martial artists yell or grunt when they throw a kick or punch.

It apparently makes their technique accurate, faster and stronger, besides helping to control their breathing and tightening their core muscles.

Screaming, grunting or yelling changes your body chemistry.

It triggers your brain to release adrenaline, increases your heart rate and blood flow, as well as enables you to release tension and anxiety.

The result: you get a psychological boost.

So go ahead, punch or kick your pillow or punching bag (hey, your arms and legs are getting a bit of workout here!), and let out a few screams.

Breathe in, breathe out For relaxation, there are many breathing techniques out there to help calm your mind.

The easiest is to take full, slow breaths through your nose and exhale out slowly, using your nose or mouth.

If you find things spiralling out of control, lie down and do this.

Or else, stand up; take a full breath while raising your hands to the ceiling and exhale slowly as you bring your arms down.

At this point, how long you inhale or exhale does not matter, but try to exhale for a longer period than your inhalation.

In addition to taking deep breaths, you can try another simple relaxation technique called the 4-7-8, which is a natural tranquilliser for the nervous system.

Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a count of four.

Hold your breath for a count of seven.

And exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound, to a count of eight.

This is one breath cycle. Repeat the cycle a few times until you feel more relaxed.

Some of my insomniac students have fallen asleep while doing this in bed!

All martial artists yell or grunt when they throw a kick or punch to focus their aim, strength and energy.All martial artists yell or grunt when they throw a kick or punch to focus their aim, strength and energy.

Call your name

Lastly, you can also try this method below.

It is an excerpt from Indian spiritual leader Osho’s The Book of Secrets, which advises to do nothing and stop thinking when you feel anxious, but be alert.

“Bokuju, a Zen master lived alone in a cave, but during the day, or even in the night, he would sometimes say loudly, ‘Bokuju’ – his own name, and then he would say, ‘Yes sir, I am here’.

“And no one else was there. Then his disciples used to ask him, ‘Why are you calling “Bokuju”, your own name, and then saying, “Yes sir, I am here”?’

“He said: ‘Whenever I get into thinking, I have to remember to be alert, and so I call my own name, Bokuju.

“‘The moment I call Bokuju, and I say, “Yes sir, I am here”, the thinking, the anxiety disappears.’

“Then, in his last days, for two or three years, he never called Bokuju and never had to reply, ‘Yes sir, I am here’.

“The disciples asked, ‘Master, now you never do this?’

“So he said, ‘But now Bokuju is always there and there is no need to call him.

“‘Before, I used to miss him. Sometimes the anxiety would take me, cloud me all over and Bokuju was not there. So I had to remember “Bokuju” and the anxiety would disappear...’”

Try calling your name when you’re overwhelmed with anxiety. See if it makes a difference.

For those struggling with emotional breakdowns due to the MCO, call the 24-hour Talian Kasih helpline at 15999 or WhatsApp 019-261 5999 to seek help and emotional support.

The hotline was set up as part of the Women, Family and Communi-ty Development Ministry’s initiative to provide psychological support for people struggling to cope with the crisis.

Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul. For more information, email The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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