Coping with the mental stress of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated tremendous anxiety, fear, apprehension, and uncertainty among individuals in the Saint Lucian society, the region, and the wider world. The World Health Organization has acknowledged the important role mental health plays in achieving global development goals. Mental health has also been included among the sustainable development goals.

The National Competitiveness and Productivity Council (NCPC) took a closer look at the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of Saint Lucians and on national productivity. Three local experts spoke on the impact of the pandemic, the ensuing protocols, and the coping skills individuals can employ to combat the mental and financial impact associated with COVID-19.

Patrick Fearon, Mental Health Counselor, with the Employee Assistance Programme of the Public Service said with many people losing their jobs and the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring has the cumulative effect of creating ‘mental health fallouts.’

“People have difficulty coping, people have difficulty resolving, people are having more problems with domestic situations, family situations and we can understand why this is so because COVID-19 has brought about a lot of new factors into our lives. Unpleasant factors and they all came crashing down,” he said.

With the added pressure of homeschooling, dwindling household incomes and social distancing, the counselor stated that ‘people are wondering what in the world is happening,’ as the scamper to understand their rapidly changing reality.

“I recommend that people develop the spiritual aspect of their lives because COVID is not here to stay and we have got to keep our eyes focused on God.”

Cynthia Alexander who is an Executive Coach and Facilitator is of the view that the mental stress brought about by this pandemic can be combated by focusing on one’s spiritual and inner strengths. She explained that some persons are experiencing what is called emotional labour.

“Emotional labour is similar to physical labour so it’s when you are actually stressing your body or fatiguing your body on a constant basis, on a daily basis. Emotional labour is really about suppressing your feelings. You are actually putting a facade on. You’re smiling when in fact you are feeling quite stressed yourself and the term was normally related to people in the caring professions like social workers, nurses, carers, policemen, firemen, where they had to deal with incidences and then they had to quickly snap out of it and suppress that feeling instead of expressing it. Now what I am finding out it’s now akin to the service industry because you have people coming in fearful and they are angry. There are a lot of different emotions that are being expressed now.”

She added that individuals can maintain or increase their level of productivity if they view the current situation as less daunting while embracing opportunities to build their resilience.

“When you say, ‘Oh that person is really resilient,’ we think oh yeah they can bounce back. But I don’t believe we should be bouncing back because when you bounce back you bounce back to the old ways of thinking and the old practices and where you used to be. I prefer to believe that resilience is about bouncing forward because when you bounce forward it means that you are having to learn a whole new set of skills and also a different mindset so that you are more adaptable and able and flexible to manage constant change.”

Cosmetologist and Personal Development Trainer, Cecilia Fitz, advises persons to tap into their inner selves and creativity to visualize themselves post-COVID while building meaningful and productive relationships with others.

“Begin to think of ways you can help yourself. If you find yourself in a situation of fear don’t be afraid to ask for help. We have people all around us who are more than willing and able to give support.”

She also offered some practical advice on how to make the dollar stretch through better planning and conservation techniques. She said her freezer has now become her best friend.

“Perishables account for a very large portion of my grocery bill. So what I began to do was to preserve more food. If I buy spring onions, I save the roots and plant them, so that I can harvest them, or I will cook an entire bag of beans and freeze the balance. I find that saves me a lot on my gas bill.”

The Mental Health Counselor also encourages persons to think more positively during the pandemic by focusing on hope rather than gravitating to rumors and myths on how bad tomorrow might be.

“Remember some of the basics. Look out for others, treat others as we would like to be treated. There is no need to stigmatize persons adding more pain or stress or distress into their lives.”

Individuals are encouraged to seek help if they feel overwhelmed during this COVID-19 pandemic while using this period to reset, rethink and innovate to build their personal resilience and mental strength.