Managing Mental Health During Lockdown
As we gradually move up the lockdown stages and return to the office, the possibility of coming into contact with the global pandemic, which until now, has only existed just outside our front doors, becomes alarmingly real. Illnesses generally spread quickly in any office environment. However, when the symptoms of COVID-19 look so similar to the common cold or flu virus, anxiety around getting sick during SA’s flu season is at an all-time high. Although the majority of infections have recovered, the rate of infection is still staggering enough to raise hackles. We look at how you can manage your mental health during a pandemic.
How Does The Stress Around COVID-19 Affect You?
Mental and emotional stress can take its toll on the body as much as physical stress. If you find yourself feeling drained, even after a good night’s rest, don’t panic. If this is your only symptom, it’s highly unlikely to be the virus itself, but rather your mind begging for a break. Take care of your mental health during lockdown by doing some light exercise or a creative activity that relaxes you. If you’re working from home, remember to take regular breaks and maintain a healthy work-life balance within your home space.
Change in sleeping habits
Whether you’re getting too much sleep or not enough, stress could be the cause. Some people feel overwhelmed and exhausted even after a full night’s sleep, while others struggle to get to sleep at all. Stress can either exhaust you or put you on high alert. If you’re struggling to stay awake, rather than reaching for yet another cup of coffee, do some light exercises or go for a walk. If you’re having a hard time falling asleep or relax, try a brief guided meditation video or podcast, or progressive muscle relaxation techniques. Should these sleep problems persist, speak to your doctor.
Change in eating habits
Research shows that stress can affect our appetites, causing some people to comfort eat or lose their appetite almost completely. What we put on our plates (and how much of it) can have a great impact on your mental health. If you’re the type to reach for the snack draw when the going gets tough, be mindful of what is causing your stress. Try to stick to healthier alternatives where possible, while keeping the less healthy options out of reach or out of your home entirely. If you find you’re under-eating, regulate your meals and stick to nutritious, easy-to-digest foods.
Stress can put throw your gastrointestinal system out of order as well as your emotions. Meanwhile, an unbalanced gut biome can exacerbate mental health issues – so the cycle seems never-ending. Anxiety can be the cause behind indigestion, heartburn, diarrhoea, or constipation. While relaxation techniques can go a long way in alleviating the mental aspect, it’s just as important (not more so) to maintain a healthy diet and cutting back on sugar and alcohol.
Mysterious body aches and pains
Stress and anxiety lower your pain threshold. From headaches and neck pain to soreness in your muscles and spasms of pain that don’t seem to have a medical cause. You can keep much of these pains at bay with regular, gentle exercise, a healthy diet and a full night’s sleep. A hot bath or heated pad can also help to relax tense muscles. In severe cases, however, you may have to see your doctor about muscle relaxants.
Will My Health Insurance Cover Mental Health?
Although some medical aid schemes do offer basic cover for anti-depressants and potentially an initial psychotherapy session (if referred by an approved GP), the South African government and health schemes in general still have a lot of catching up to do. These medical aids have recognised that not meeting this need can lead to an increase in the cost of covering general medical conditions by up to 600%. A number of medical schemes are coming around and honouring the Prescribed Medical Benefits that would cover a 21-day hospital-based treatment, but there is still a massive disparity in treatment between urban and rural areas.
This is one of the things you should query with your insurance provider when applying for medical aid or health insurance or renewing your policy. It could spare your mind in the midst of recent, rising stressors. Remember that lockdown is temporary and life will slowly get back to normal.
If you’re struggling to manage your mental health during lockdown, don’t be afraid to get help. Try these resources:
South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG):
Suicide Helpline: 0800 567567