MANILA, Philippines — Looser quarantine restrictions, new COVID-19 pills and rising number of vaccinated people may be tell-tale signs that the pandemic is about to end.
But even if it does, according to a psychologist, the anxiety it brought may last a lifetime.
In the Philippines, about 4.5 million Filipinos suffer from depression or any mental health-related issues, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. There are at least 3.6 million Filipinos battling mental health issues amid the pandemic, the Department of Health (DOH) reported last May.
Dr. Honey Carandang of Mindfulness, Love and Compassion Institute for Psychological Services calls these mental health issues as “collective anxiety.”
“During this pandemic, there’s so much loses, so much grief, we’re experiencing this collective grief, anxiety and so much uncertainty,” Carandang said during the recent virtual launch of BYS Philippines’ Break Your Stigma, an advocacy platform for mental health awareness and support.
Will anxiety acquired during the pandemic last for a lifetime? According to Carandang: “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
“The pandemic is an outer stimulus that stimulates the anxiety but the anxiety comes from inside, so if you don’t sort it out, if you don’t talk about it, listen to it and deal with it, you can have it for the rest of your life,” she warned.
“If you hide it and think that after the pandemic you don’t have it anymore, then you’re taking a very big chance of having it for the rest of your life.”
To prevent pandemic anxiety from becoming permanent, which could entail a lifetime of panic attacks, Carandang advised to do the following:
Face your emotion
“If you’re afraid, you’re angry and you deny it, put it at the back of your mind, it controls and affects everything you do. But if you own it, you’re honest about it, you put it in front of you, you name it, you call it what it is, you face it, therefore, you have more power over it. It is behind you, it has no power over you. So that’s the basic thing that we can do about mental health concerns. Look at it, face it, label it, call it a name, bring it out and so you handle it and you don’t let it handle you. Because mental health concerns have a way of handling you if you don’t handle it. That’s why it’s very important that we’re talking about it now,” she explained.
“Uncertainty comes because we thought it’s going to end, but it’s still here more than one and a half years since it started and there’s still uncertainty. That uncertainty leads to anxiety. So many people are anxious. Sometimes, I say that it’s normal to be anxious in these abnormal times. It’s not anything to be ashamed of.”
This, said the psychologist, is the primary and most basic way to treat mental health.
“If you take care of yourself, you are labeled as being selfish. And usually, especially women, we’re always conditioned to take care of others before we take care of ourselves and I think we should reverse that because I don’t think that we could take care of others if we can’t first take care of ourselves in all ways – beauty, health, good feelings inside… The real mental health way is to take care of yourself first so you could sustain taking care of others.”
Taking care of your mental health would not require so much budget or even so much time, the doctor assured.
“I’ve met mothers who are not very busy because they have their own work at home and now they are teachers to their children who are studying at home and they are doing household chores and everything else. But it’s not impossible — have at least 10 to 15 minutes of sacred time.”
Filipino moms, she said, find it hard to accept that they have to rest because in the local culture, rest is a moral talk. As such, Carandang enumerated the following as ways moms could have a guilt-free “me time”:
- Wash your face and/or hands.
- Take a mindful shower — Feel the soap smoothing your skin or every drop of the shower in your bath.
- 10 minutes before or after your children sleep, have a sacred time — listen to music, draw, sing, read an inspirational — do this regularly to change the quality of your day.
- Do a mindful walk or meditate in between tasks. These are not taking time from your children because as Carandang said, it is not good for kids if they don’t learn to respect your time and you’re always there just to give their needs.
“Taking care of self is essential and a basic human need — because all your pain, biases, issues will come out because you’re projecting your pain to others,” the psychologist explained.
Cook, draw, dance — take breaks because your energy is eroded.
“And when your energy is eroded, don’t go on and on because you will burn out. That’s the beginning of burn out,” Carandang said.
How do you know that you need to take a break? “Listen to your body. The body speaks the truth. The body is your truth teller,” she said, naming palpitations, shallow breathing, and feeling very tired as symptoms that one needs a break “before you collapse.”
“Know when your energy is low — accept and re-energize,” she advised.
“It’s important to express creativity from within and take it out to the world — because once repressed, the events and people around you feel more powerful than you. You feel powerless because you feel like people depend on you and they are more powerful than you.”
Like play, doing something creative like singing or writing, can empower yourself and reverse the dynamic of being overpowered, which is why Carandang described being creative as “an antidote to depression.”
Listen and support each other
During the pandemic, since there is a lot of helplessness and hopelessness, people are forced to face their feelings. They’re forced to talk about what’s happening with them. They can no longer contain it, said Carandang.
Hence, according to her, “it’s important to listen, accompany each other, so whatever you’re going through would be easier to handle because you’re not alone.”
Reach out as soon as you’re having suicidal thoughts
“Not necessarily right away to a professional, but it could be a friend or a relative, anybody, just don’t keep it inside your chest,” Carandang recommended.
“Don’t hold it inside you because it’s going to affect you not only mentally but also physically. It can mentally and physically kill.”
Each day, an average of six Filipinos turn to suicide, said DOH, while a 2015 WHO school-based survey revealed that 17% of high school students from 13 to 15 years old said they have attempted suicide at least once.
Seek professional help if:
- You cannot function anymore — cannot sleep, exercise or do anything — this might be a sign of depression.
- Having palpitations, not breathing easily or you’re always nervous — this is your body’s way of saying that you’re experiencing something that you should locate.
- Having extreme anxiety — hopelessness, helplessness, overpowered by events, overwhelmed, traumatized, sad, feeling like you’re no good, self-loathing, feeling like you’re not enough, pulling yourself down, being negative about everything
- When you experience something you can’t handle anymore.
- If you’ve exhausted everything that’s around you and the anxiety is still there.
- If a person needs help but doesn’t want to seek help: Look for the person closest to that person or the people he or she trusts. You can also try soft or gentle ways like writing a note.
“So the most important thing is during the pandemic, know that the pandemic triggers something inside you. It’s not outside, the outer stimulus is the pandemic but the anxiety comes from inside us,” Carandang enthused.
“So, we have to deal with what’s inside us and sort it out — the way out is in… Face yourself and the truth inside you.”
If you or someone you know needs assistance, contact the National Center for Mental Health Crisis Hotline at +63 917 899 8727 and 7989 8727.
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