Written by Sara Amhaz – Mental Health and Clinical Psychologist at Makhzoumi Foundation:
In times of crisis, most of us feel highly overwhelmed. For people without mental disabilities, this overwhelming feeling translates into high levels of stress, high irritability, worrisome thoughts, etc. Individuals start to worry about their business, income, jobs, health. Families start to worry about each other. Students start to worry about their future. Needless to say, it is a highly imbalanced phase that feels like a wave that is just not coming down.
I’ve heard a lot of comments on the phone such as “did you and your partner start fighting yet?”, as though it is an expected outcome or a necessary direction. Other comments I’ve heard “Are your parents getting on your nerves yet?”, “Your children must be driving you crazy at home”, all questions to which the answer is you usually a silent nod, with an underlying hidden scream saying YESSSS!! Funnily enough, the most expected, yet least mentioned comment was “I’m bored.”.
Most feel irritable, anxious, agitated, but not bored. And usually, the idea of being confined to one space, seeing the same faces daily, with nowhere to go and nobody else to see causes some sort of tension. For some, the confinement is more dangerous because, prior to the crisis, going out was an escape; an escape from toxic relationships, an escape from constant arguments, an escape from abuse. For others, the confinement is a trigger for all the latter. What about the people who had mental health disabilities prior to the crisis? Symptoms can easily exacerbate and cause friction within the household for both the impaired and their contiguous relationships. It could be really hard for individuals and their loved ones to be able to establish good communication and rapport in times where everyone involved is feeling distressed. Therefore, let’s discuss ways that can be used to deal with each separate disability, individually and with each other.
Negative thoughts. Constant, repetitive, negative thoughts that keep worsening and that make us feel hopeless and drained. A “This is the end of the world” theme that has taken up most of our brain space. Very low energy to do anything. What is the point of doing anything anyway? What is the point of living? As I am writing these thoughts and symptoms, I can already feel a sudden shift in mood and a drop in motivation. But here is the thing; we keep underestimating the power of our mind. The mind controls everything! The thoughts that our minds generate are exactly the drivers of our behaviors, whether indoors or outdoors. So I am going to give a small exercise for depressive individuals to do on a daily basis so that you can train your mind and regain control of it. YOU are the authority of yourself. Your mind should be a part of YOU and not the other way around. So here we go:
This is an exercise that is derived from Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy:
Step 1: Describe your negative thought (state the thought as it is)
i.e “This is the end of the world”
“ What is the point in doing anything”
“ I am going to lose my job”
Step 2: Give evidence that supports this thought
i.e “The whole world is affected and people are dying”
“ If I do anything it won’t matter anyway since I am locked up in this room”
“ I have been sitting at home for 10 days”
Step 3: Give evidence that doesn’t support this thought
i.e “Scientists are developing a cure, some people are healing, children are not getting infected as frequently, etc.”
“ The lockdown is temporary, so it will matter once I get out”
“ Everyone has been sitting at home for 10 days”
Step 4: Give the alternative positive thought
i.e “This is only a phase”
“ I should take advantage and do something because it will matter once I get out”
“ I will have my job back once this phase is over because we are all in this together”
For some people who have depression, step 3 and 4 can be difficult to find, but what I can suggest is to group them into one big step that asks to find anything that goes against the initial negative thought, to think of anything positive that might negate that negative thought (even you don’t truly believe in it yet). The idea is that this will train your mind to generate more positive options rather than negative ones.
Also, avoid social media (due to the constant inflow of information and our tendency to retain negative information in a depressive state) unless it is to get in touch with your loved ones; read a book (that can help with “imaginary” behavioral activation and escape), and engage in physical activity (many YouTube channels are dedicated to providing videos for at-home exercises including sports, yoga, etc.) or meditate. Even, organize your space and change your home to add or remove things that can make you feel more comfortable. You feel a sense of achievement after having engaged in any of these activities and this could be favorable to your general wellbeing and you would be taking an active role in fighting and decreasing your depressive symptoms.
Play games. These can include online, computer, PlayStation, mobile, iPad, and board games. Online and board games could especially be beneficial as they can decrease social isolation and allow for more communication and engagement with others.
Keeping yourself busy is important. Again, these are coping strategies in times of crisis. Work together. Help each other out. Be more understanding of each other. Communicate. Discuss your problems and worries with each other. Be kind to one another. In the case that you feel that things are getting out of control, contact your nearest physician or get in touch with a therapist on an online platform.
In Part 2, we will be discussing How to Help and Be Helped During the Covid-19 Crisis: Anxiety
Until then, stay safe, indoors, and wash your hands at all times (don’t get too comfortable in your isolation though!