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Covid-19: Fear implications on mental health

AS we all know, the 2019 global outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19 originated from Wuhan, China and crossed borders to other countries, including Tanzania.

The pandemic has swept across the globe, causing communities to take drastic measures to protect themselves. Everyday people are stocking up on their household necessities as they continue to social distance themselves. Others are worrying about their jobs, and whether or not they will retain an income.

Most students are learning from home, a place that has become a refuge and a trap. Fear of catching the coronavirus is real and present, and therefore intruding every part of our lives.

Due to the immeasurable impacts this pandemic could have on global and economic health, changing the world we know it, scholars at Peking University in China explain that the coronavirus “could result in mental hazards that exceed the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic itself”.

There is no doubt that this large-scale, unprecedented pandemic affecting in some way nearly every person around the world could wreak havoc on the mental health of all those impacted. At this point, when it is unclear how events will unfold, fear and anxieties of the outbreak’s implications run especially high for all people living under the pandemic.

We fear for our children’s future, we fear for our families, we fear for our financial future, we fear for our safety. Many of us are consumed right now by uncertainty and constantly changing news surrounding the Covid-19. We are troubled by fear.

Some may admit that they are terrified and dreadful, while others feel somewhat courageous enough to confront life issues. But courage is not the absence of fear. Fear is a human reality of life. Ask yourself, do I experience sudden fear and panic posed by the Covid-19 pandemic?

Do I go about life feeling insecure or uncertain? It is worth noting that most of the fear we carry around in our hearts, heads and bodies serves no useful, helpful, or adaptive purpose, and it can be harmful. It wounds our egos and self-confidence, which is not always a bad thing.

Yet, if we carry this kind of fear around for long, its impact becomes considerably more profound. It can alter the normal functioning of our bodies. For example our breathing, stress responses, digestion and who knows what else. Gradually, it changes how we see ourselves, live in the world.

It is clear that to surrender our lives to a world shaped or governed by fear is to risk losing ourselves and the world too. When the brain is on stress hormones, seeing perspective, out-of-the –box thinking, and creativity may be temporarily unavoidable to us, impairing our abilities to solve problems and make decisions.

Furthermore, fear, anxiety, and stress also change our perceptions so that we interpret ambiguous situations negatively and expect the worst. For instance, when you are overwhelmed by fear of dying from coronavirus, the fact that the chance of that is only 1 per cent will hardly be soothing.

The only number that the anxious mind will gladly accept is a 100 per cent guarantee, which no one ever can provide. What can you do if you are prone to fear and anxiety? There are still things you can do to achieve greater piece of mind under the pandemic:

• Believe that God is always our source of protection, strength, and peace during unknown and difficult times. Thus, focus should not be on fear and uncertainty.

Whatever circumstances, God asks us to trust Him through all situations. We are called to hope and trust in Him no matter what is happening in our communities. And He can be trusted during this pandemic, He is Sovereign over the world and individual life;

• Limit your consumption of news. Find the sources that you trust, and dismiss everything else. Learn to choose the right information that hold true, and avoid false information about Covid-19 syndrome.

• Take care of yourself and others. Take all precautions regarding Covid-19 as provided by Government and other relevant agencies. Care for your health and the health of others.

• Let your thoughts be and let them go. Remind yourself that, in trying to protect you, anxiety and fear tell you a lot of lies, and therefore you don’t always need to pay attention. You can’t choose your thoughts just like you can’t choose today’s playlist on your favourite television channel, but if the song is not so great, you can lower the volume and go to do something else.

This means that, avoid tracking information about the pandemic every hour and day. There are other important things you can do. Fear not. As other diseases passed, coronavirus’s disease will also pass. Let us stand together in solidarity in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

We must also mitigate the risks of our medical workers-the people on the front lines, fighting every day to save the lives of those infected. Necessary actions must be taken to ensure that they are adequately protected from infection and well rested with adequate amounts of social support.

Being sensitive to their needs and stepping in to help will make an enormous impact on their mental health, which in turn will provide a psychological intervention that can increase their perseverance.

@ Dr Mlyuka is the Executive Director of Tanzania Marriage and Child Care Foundation

...The Kilimanjaro Twins, revolutions and Granpa

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Author: Rev Enock Mlyuka

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