COVID-19 Pandemic Making You Anxious? Ateneo Psychologist Gives Us Advice
On March 11, COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Philippines has since been put under Code Red Sublevel 2 and class suspensions as well as community quarantines have been enforced in Metro Manila for 30 days.
While we take all measures to protect ourselves from the virus, there's also another thing that might be crucial even in a health crisis like the global COVID-19 situation: our mental health. Many of us might be experiencing anxiety or worry over the situation without even realizing how severe these feelings are becoming and how serious their impact is on how we go about our everyday lives and how we respond in times of crises.
We talked to Dr. Karina Galang Fernandez, Executive Director of Ateneo Bulatao Center, about how to manage fear and panic during cases like the COVID-19 pandemic.
How to know if our actions are already signs of panic
Dr. Fernandez points out the familiar, more common expressions of panic like: becoming more hyperactive than usual, being very restless, or doing lots of big movements. However, she also points out, “We have to realize that while these are the common manifestations, we also have to understand that the stress from this and other problematic situations might also manifest in the totally opposite way.” Being more quiet or withdrawn and isolating yourself are also signs to watch out for.
At the end of day, Dr. Fernandez emphasizes that we should observe any significant changes in our usual habits. “Are we noticing changes in their everyday behavior and how they usually respond to different stimuli? We want to watch out for certain changes in behavior and emotional state.”
How to stay level-headed when you’re stuck at home
Given the extended class suspension, community quarantine, and social distancing measures imposed in Metro Manila in response to the community transmission of COVID-19, individuals are highly encouraged to stay at home. Having limited exposure to what has been happening outside our homes aside from what we see or read from media outlets and on the Internet, many may feel helpless or uneasy.
Dr. Fernandez advises that maintaining certain parts of your routines as much as possible will help ease your feelings of restlessness and give you a sense of control in situations we cannot regulate. “What’s good in a way is that students are still required to do work, so we have online assessment and online lectures,” she says. “Trying to still have some semblance of your everyday life is good. Having a sort of routine, a sense of productivity, can really help you contain any sense of panic or distress because your mind is still focused on things you can do and can control.”
How to manage feelings of anxiety or panic
Dr. Fernandez shares a few guidelines on managing our fears and anxieties in times like this:
- Take a breath. Practicing breathing exercises helps us calm down.
- Limit your daily news intake. To avoid being overwhelmed, don’t listen to or read the news all the time. Choose a certain period in the day when you look up news updates instead of constantly refreshing your feeds.
- More importantly, choose where you get your news—refer to media news outlets instead of reading every Viber and Facebook message that comes out that’s not connected to credible sources.
- If you start to feel overwhelmed, shift your attention to something else, like listening to music or watching your favorite YouTubers’ vlogs. Dr. Fernandez advises, “If you like or enjoy a certain hobby, engage in those. It’s really about not drowning yourself with information that would only make your feelings worse.”
- Find a support system. Fernandez says, “If you notice yourself spiraling, call someone, text someone, Messenger someone, because we know that with any kind of stress, talking to someone is helpful.”
How to handle other people’s feelings of anxiety or panic
Managing our own stress is one thing, but in cases like the COVID-19 pandemic, we aren’t the only ones who may be feeling stressed or panicked by the situation. The people close to us—our parents, siblings, friends—may also be under a similar sense of distress.
If any of your family members express feelings of fear or anxiety, Dr. Fernandez’ first advice is to exercise compassion. “We know that empathy can be very, very helpful. Allow them to bring it out. Validate, respect, and empathize with what they are thinking. Share with them the tips mentioned above.”
For younger children, Dr. Fernandez says that affirming the correct actions will help. “For younger children, validate what they’re doing right, like washing their hands and staying at home.”
For our parents, Dr. Fernandez says that, “a lot of patience is important. Contradicting them or raising your voice to them will only agitate them further.”
Instead, maybe having an exchange of ideas with them might help. “Discuss with them, ‘What else pa kaya can we do, mom?’ or ‘How did you handle stress before? What helped you handle them?’ Trying to bring up other stories of when they were able to rise of to adversity or how they managed and remained resilient in the past can also be helpful.”
While empathy is very important (Wouldn’t you want someone else to identify with and validate your concerns as well?), we are not obligated to manage someone else’s distress if we are not in a proper disposition to help. If you feel that you are unable to aid someone else handle their worries, Dr. Fernandez’ advice is to respectfully inform them without being dismissive of their worries. “You can say, ‘I’m hearing your worries about this; I’m also panicking in my own internal state.’ I think rather than brush them off immediately, allow them to say it for a while and echo their thoughts.”
At the end of the day, Dr. Fernandez emphasizes the importance of caring for our mental health, even during a crisis that predominantly affects physical health. For her last piece of advice, Dr. Fernandez says, “By taking care of your mental health, you become more physically resilient; your psychological well-being can affect your physical well-being.”
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"Today, I Won"
I always caught feelings for someone, and hoped so much that one day there could a thing between the two of us. I'm usually the one that makes the effort to buy and/or make cute gifts, chats them every other day, and stays up all night with him.
When I was 16, my childhood crush suddenly came back into my life. We'd constantly send updates to each other, recommend favorite songs and talk even the most random things. He'd even text me as early as 6 to just greet me good morning almost everyday. I hoped so much that when I confessed, he suddenly stopped talking to me.
For short, he ghosted me. Those 6 months I spent talking to him, allotting my time for him, and staying up until 3 am for him - all gone in a simple confession. Although I had a few crushes before him, he's the only one that got me in real pain. It was the kind of pain that I never thought I'd experience. It was the kind of pain that I couldn't believe.
After 7 years (it happened back in 2017), I thought he came back into my life to stay, but I guess he's just one of the guys who distanced. I felt a complete loser that time. But during this quarantine, everything was different. I caught feelings for someone else, but he treated me with the best kindness yet.
It happened at 2 am, May 30, 2020, when I impulsively confessed my feelings through messaging him. After saying my feelings, he responded with genuine and kind words. We both even complimented each other. Although the feelings didn't reciprocate, I still found a connection that can't be replaced with any guy.
To my 16 year old self, here I am, 18 and happy. You may have felt that time was the biggest regret and loss, but I'm here to tell you, we won. Today, I won.
Why our high school barkada is the best?
Remembering our high school years entails quite a lot reminiscing of the things we all been through when we were younger. You’ve experience a lot of new things during those 4 wonderful years and did most of them with the few people you consider your barkada. And through a series of all the lunch breaks you had together, the walks you took on the way home, and taking the same classes, you never thought you’d survive, you have made your life’s greatest friends.
Here are some of the reasons why your high school barkada is the best:
1. You figured out early teenage life together. The transition one have undergone from being a kid to a teenager wasn’t easy. For a moment you are not sure whether you should have played with your friends during recess or you should have just sat down and ate your food because you were too old for games. But whatever it is you chose to do, having friends who were as clueless as you make everything feel easier because you know, deep down, you’d figure things out eventually. You just need good company.
2. They were with you during your “jeje“ days. I bet you have pictures taken with Camera360 and Retrica. You also have pictures edited using Pizap with embarrassing captions and you somehow kept some of them so you could have something to post online during their birthdays.
3. They know all your exes. They will never EVER forget the name of an ex-boyfriend, an ex-fling, an ex-crush, and an almost you had. They will remind you of your every questionable love decision but you’ll just laugh anyway while saying “Past is past”.
4. They never judge you. They have welcomed you to their lives when you thought jelly shoes and checkered polos were the bomb! They were quick to have told your teachers that you were not feeling well so you could go home when you really just needed to poop. You tell them every embarrassing story you have and were fine with it.
5. You can always count on them. From the moment you first fell in love and the moment you first had your heart broken, they were with you. They were with you the moment you lost a parent and at moments when you thought you had nothing. Through every break-up and breakthrough, they were there to be your support system.
6. They are your family. Your high school friend’s family is your own family’s extension. Their parents are like your own. Don’t you feel a little kilig whenever your friend’s parents call you “anak”? And then eventually calling them mama and papa became so natural? I felt that, all the time.
7. They will always be your home. They are your place of refuge and security, the place who offers you their hands when you feel lost and the place you run to when you need saving. No matter how much time and distance separate you, they will be the one’s that you always long for and they are the one’s that you will always return to.
You're gonna bend and break and then at some point in your life, you feel like you don't want to fall in love again.
Not because you're no longer capable of loving but because you're so afraid to get hurt again that you don't want to take a risk anymore. And you're gonna wake up one day and realize that you're not the same person as you were yesterday. The heart aches, heartbreaks, frustration, you'll see, those will transform your whole being into something better.
Honey, move forward. Let go off all the things that are not meant for you. Let go of all the people who hurt you and take you for granted. Don't be stuck feeling miserable.
And don't turn that love into hate when you resent someone for hurting you or for breaking your heart. Just wish them well and let them go. Welcome the possibility of a beautiful love that will come your way. You're worthy of love that you keep on giving to other people. Keep that in mind.
I wish you well and all the happiness. You deserve it.
Here we are — with rough hands entwined, damned hearts at peace, broken souls resting with ease —savoring each passing moment before we part ways...hoping things will turn out to be okay. Here we are — standing still, keeping our earnest desire and ardent passion for each other at bay — hoping the Universe will finally grant us of the day that we no longer have to pretend... that things will no longer have to end.
Here we are — with crooked smiles, lingering touch that will last for a while -- gathering all the remaining courage to set each other free. Wishing for the day that our hearts will no longer have to worry. Here we are letting each other go. Even though we both know that the future is uncertain. Even though we're unsure if our paths will cross once again.