Keeping mentally healthy during an infodemic

  • Letters
  • Tuesday, 11 Feb 2020

ON Jan 30,2020, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus (nCoV) outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

The virus infects the respiratory tract, causing pneumonia, and since the outbreak, several cities in central China’s Hubei Province have been put on lockdown. International meetings have been put on hold, and people have cancelled travel plans to many Asian destinations. The public have also been advised to avoid crowded places and to stay at home.

Outbreaks of novel virus infections among humans are always of public health concern. Being unaware of the risk from these outbreaks, including how they spread among people, the severity of the resulting illness, and the medical or other measures available to control their impact (for example, vaccines or treatment medications) creates unwanted anxiety and stress.

Apart from practising good hand hygiene and avoiding crowded places, let’s take a step back by reducing news browsing.

China has mentioned “an epidemic of too much information”. The WHO situation report on the novel coronavirus released on Feb 2 says, “The 2019-nCoV outbreak and response has been accompanied by a massive ‘infodemic’ – an over-abundance of information, some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it”.

You will most likely feel anxious or panic when you receive excessive information, and depending on your personality, you may be overly sensitive about your health concerns. These emotions could escalate into frustration and anger, and you may want to vent your feelings through social media. The worst case scenario is stigmatising individuals with a common cold or flu when you are in crowded places.

What can we do during an outbreak to take care of our mental well-being?

Stop browsing unverified information and access reliable sources only. And stop sharing unreliable or unverified information, especially on social media.

If you plan to stay at home or for those who are in home quarantine, you should do what you enjoy, such as reading, watching movies, cooking or learning a new skill online. These activities should keep you occupied and help to relieve mental stress.

Exercising has also been proven to help improve mental well-being. Just because you are indoors, it doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. Doing gentle physical exercises and stretches like yoga and tai chi can be beneficial for those who want to keep it slow. Those who like to sweat could run on a tread mill (if you have one) or do aerobics.

If exercise is not your cup of tea, you could try a dance routine. Studies have shown that dancing boosts mental health by lifting

the mood and easing anxiety and depression. It helps to sharpen

the mind, increases aerobic power and strength, and builds social bonds. So put on those dancing shoes.

There will be times when you will be feeling emotionally down. Do not isolate yourself, as it’s always best to talk about your emotions with someone you trust. Connect with those who may be experiencing anxiety or stress and share reliable information.

Stay positive, practise healthy eating habits, have sufficient sleep and renew your spirit through meditation or prayer.


Senior Public Health Physician

Health Ministry

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