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The year of 2020 has certainly been an uneasy start to the new decade. Ringing in the new year almost a year ago now, most of us would not have foreseen the major challenges that this year has brought. The Coronavirus pandemic has been the major headliner this year, bringing about a new kind of chaos into our lives.
We have all responded and reacted differently to the pandemic. Any kind of major change can be a stressful time, and the pandemic has certainly brought about change. We find ourselves living with more restrictions, the erosion of our freedoms, feeling more alone or lonely, finding it more difficult to see our friends and loved ones, being unable to travel as freely, having to adjust to working remotely, experiencing fear, uncertainty, and insecurity… the list goes on and on. But the only constant during these times are the constantchanges we are facing.
The pandemic is affecting our psyche. With these changes, we may feel a great impact on our mental health, a psychological reaction to the stresses related to this situation. Whether we are young or old, a great portion of the general population has had their mental health affected by the pandemic.
We all have mental health, just like how we all have physical health. We may not always pay attention to our mental health, or put it to the side, but it is always there. According to the World Health Organisation, good mental health is the ability to cope with the normal stresses of life. Life brings about many stresses, and it is how we deal or cope with the stresses that keeps us moving forward.
Our mental health can be viewed as a continuum, where we range between having good mental health and having a mental health problem or illness. We vary along this continuum throughout our lifetime. It is important to differentiate between a mental health problem and a mental health illness. A mental health illness is one that is diagnosable, that can be treated with the appropriate resources, and typically wherein the symptoms persist for an extended period of time. An example of a mental health illness is depression. Many people have asked about this. Looking at the symptoms of depression, we may realise that we may exhibit some of these at times. But this may not mean that we have depression per say, but perhaps a mental health problem or issue. The bottom line is that having a mental health problem does not necessarily mean that we have a mental health illness.
Depression is something we hear about a lot, especially in relation to the current pandemic. Let us define depression first. Depression is more than just sadness or grief. The symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can involve any of the symptoms outlined below. This can be short-lived or can be longer-term. But for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, the guideline is that one would have to experience at least five of these symptoms nearly every day for at least two weeks and have at least one of the symptoms to be depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure.
Definitions aside, you can see that we all may experience some of these symptoms, but not necessarily be diagnosed with depression. Changes in our lives caused by the pandemic can certainly lead to negative changes in our thoughts, mindset, feelings, emotions, mood, and behaviour. We all would have experienced this at some point over the past year.
It is important to know that you are not alone in how you feel or what you are going through. Having that self-awareness, recognising, and acknowledging the changes you undergo are pivotal in coping with it. Whether it may be to implement a self-care strategy (staying active, taking a step back to breathe, journaling, mindfulness, meditation, to name a few), to reach out for support, or to practice some self-compassion, there are ways to cope with the ever-changing circumstances that may be affecting you emotionally.
The pandemic will not be a situation that is permanent. It will be something we will get through with a healthy mindset. We all have good days and bad days – remember to be compassionate towards yourself when you are having a bad day. Knowing that there is support out there will mean that you are not alone in what you may be going through. These are the things to remember as we welcome in the new year.
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