Targeted lockdown: From distress to de-stress


  • Focus
  • Sunday, 18 Oct 2020

Uncertain times: Many children and adolescents are distraught by online learning and isolation from schools, teachers and peers.

IN facing the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Malaysian government has adopted a targeted lockdown approach – Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Sabah are back under the conditional movement control order (CMCO) restrictions until Oct 27 (Oct 26 for Sabah). After weeks of respite, it is a reminder we are not done yet with the global pandemic.

Malaysia is considered a leader in the battle against Nipah, SARS and Covid-19 so far. We effectively flattened the curve in the second wave of the virus with a united response by the government, frontliners and public. Though the local situation remains better than most parts of the world, there is significant emotional distress arising from health, economic and social impacts of the pandemic.

Emotional distress

The pandemic has caused manifold stressors for all segments of society – working adults are worried about job insecurity and unemployment; youth are concerned about future education and livelihoods; and, children and adolescents are distraught by online learning and isolation from schools, teachers and peers. It is younger people who often have to bear the brunt of this crisis more while confronting their own distress along with that of their parents.

Given the unpredictable nature of Covid-19, there is a growing sense of uncertainty, disillusionment and detachment in all walks of life. Some degree of stress is unavoidable and inevitable, perhaps even healthy, in facing this unprecedented crisis. It may help bolster safety and precaution against the virus, but how can we prevent our stress from becoming unmanageable?

Self-Defense: de-stress

If stress escalates to distress, there is a higher risk of long term mental health conditions. This calls for a "self-defense" strategy to help overcome emotional distress given the mental health infrastructure was already stretched even prior to the crisis.

Here are eight practicable de-stress steps for you cope with uncertainty amidst the pandemic:

Emotional check-in: Find time for regularly assessing how your mind and body feels during the lockdown. Sit in with your discomforting feelings – this can help control your anxiety instead of sweeping it under the rug. Encourage your family members, particularly children, to share what they are going through. We may not be able to escape stress entirely, but we can prevent it from spiralling further amidst the pandemic.

Maintaining a routine: Allow working from home the same structure as office – ensure routines, transitions and breaks. Know when to "log on" and "log off" when there is no demarcation between work and home in working from home. This affects children even more in the absence of a school routine. We can avoid risks of both missing deadlines and facing burnout by following a routine during the lockdown.

Social Interactions: Maintain human connections with your colleagues, family and friends notwithstanding physical distancing and movement restrictions during the lockdown. If technology enables working and studying remotely, it can also hep you remain socially connected to near and loved ones during the CMCO. Find time to connect with your long-lost friends or children to contact their outstation cousins. At home, spend more quality time with your family members. We must not forget our interconnectedness, which is even more so important for supporting each other amidst this crisis.

Meaningful activities: Though life has been disrupted by the pandemic, find activities that give you a renewed sense of purpose. Meaningful activities focused on relationships, philanthropy and hobbies can help improve motivation and spirit during the lockdown. Malaysia is a compassionate nation with hundreds of community initiatives to help those less fortunate than us in this crisis. Perhaps you and your children can volunteer online to make a difference – help yourself and others at the same time.

Think creatively: If we can manage the stress arising from the pandemic, it may be an opportunity for us to think out of the box on how to live life differently – and better. Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad recently called for monetising our hobbies to improve livelihoods. We may heed the advice of Tun – a lifelong pioneer of change – to see how we can make ourselves more competent and marketable for future resilience against crisis.

Improving lifestyle: Ensure a healthy lifestyle while working from home – better food, exercise and sleep. Wholesome nutrition with fruits, vegetables and proteins improves mental health, exercise releases endorphins positively affecting moods positively, and good sleep enhances concentration, productivity and happiness. Adults and children may lose track of lifestyle staying indoors, but there is an opportunity for taking better care of ourselves, away from the hustle and bustle of regular life.

News detox: Avoid information overload on the pandemic that may increase your anxiety. We live in a 24-hour news cycle on television and social media overflowing with negative reports on virus-related deaths and losses. Though responsible citizens must remain aware of the pandemic status, health advisories and movement restrictions announced by the government, there is a choice for us to limit our news intake to minimise emotional distress.

(Self) Compassion: Finally, grow more compassion for yourself and others – manage expectations, allow flexibility and show kindness. Recognise each of us are going through various forms of pandemic-related stressors and we may not be able to be our normal selves like other times. This requires more understanding than ever in dealing with ourselves and those around us – colleagues, family, friends and even strangers.

The Chinese word for "crisis" is composed of two letters – "danger" and "opportunity". If we can adopt emotional self-defence to transform our lockdown distress to de-stress, we will not only be able to survive the crisis but also come out stronger. There is an opportunity for us not to be missed in this pandemic to lead a more resilient life with greater meaning, compassion and interconnectedness.

Arman Rashid made a mid-career switch from political analysis to mental health based on a conviction that “world peace needs mental peace”. He is project manager of HumanKind Buddy Bear, Malaysia’s only child-dedicated helpline during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Call these helplines if you need emotional or psychological support during the pandemic.Call these helplines if you need emotional or psychological support during the pandemic.

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