8 tips for staying mentally fit during the corona pandemic
Have you noticed a change? The corona pandemic has had a profound effect on our mental health. And though the change has been positive for some, it has been decidedly less so for others, with the pandemic heralding economic uncertainty, social isolation and few distractions. At the same time, solidarity and togetherness in society are greater than ever: the lockdown has brought us closer together and lots of people are eager to lend each other a helping hand.
During the corona crisis, we talked to several members of our Life with an Amputation community. Filip Pockele (38), for example, told us how his life as a stay-at-home dad with three young children is busier than ever now that schools are closed. This can have dire consequences, as he has started neglecting his body and his leg amputation, as well as experiencing significant stress because his girlfriend works in the ICU. Serge Verbrugge (48) also works in the ICU, but while he’s working around the clock as a physician, he’s also readying himself for the most difficult decisions he’ll have to make in his career. The rat race is virtually impossible. Still, he has managed to find happiness in the small things and he is satisfied with his body, which he takes very good care of to allow him to continue doing what he loves while wearing an artificial limb. As busy as Serge is, life has gone quiet for single globetrotter Etienne Hauttekeete (70), whose world is now confined to his own backyard. He is afraid of contracting the virus because of his age and therefore avoids any kind of physical contact.
Never waste a good crisis
We asked the experts for their angle on the crisis. It appears that amputees do not deal with the crisis any differently than other people. Filip, Serge and Etienne have each experienced the corona crisis in a completely different way, although they have all had a leg amputation and live their lives with an optimistic attitude. Jaap van der Stel is a lecturer in mental healthcare, who, in a recent interview with Trouw (a Dutch newspaper) explained how many people are able to respond very effectively to new circumstances and can even thrive in them: "Look at all the outbursts of creativity springing up around us!" Never waste a good crisis is a common saying for a reason, as a crisis tends to trigger our resourcefulness and can, in some cases, leave us better off than we were before.
Don't underestimate it
In the same newspaper, psychologist Gijs Coppens does warn us that, although the corona crisis has not sparked a universal wave of depression, we should not underestimate its impact on our mental health. He is particularly concerned about people’s home environment: “The idea of spending every waking moment together is delightful when you’re in love, but most relationships thrive with some degree of distance. Right now, there is hardly any distance at all.”
Fear and uncertainty
Major economic consequences and the fear of contracting the virus, especially for at-risk people like Etienne, can also have a significant impact on mental health, not to mention the social isolation resulting from the measures taken to stem the spread of the virus. Besides, people with a disability, who may be dependent on others, are more prone to suffering from isolation.
Our brain loves being in control
Well-known brain expert prof. Erik Scherder has an anxious predisposition. In the "AntiCoronaDepressionPodcast", he talks about how losing control of a situation can make us feel ill at ease. This is an entirely natural response, because our brain loves being in control. Scientists around the world are now researching the mental effects of the corona crisis, and although no tried & tested findings have emerged from these studies yet, the Trimbos Institute has published the results of a survey. The results showed that a large part of the respondents experienced so-called corona stress, with symptoms of depression, anxiety and sleeping problems being particularly common. It’s time for a solution.
Here’s how to tackle corona stress:
Even though our social lives have taken a beating, it’s important to keep socialising. Call people, go on a socially distanced walk together or organise online drinks.
Are you suffering from anxiety, depression, panic attacks or sleepless nights? Talk to your loved ones or, if you need more help, with a professional. Don’t hesitate to ask your GP for help if you need it.
Exercise is good for you in every possible way. When your heart beats faster, your blood flow will improve and your body will become healthier. Besides, it’s also a way to activate the immune system, which will boost your mental health too.
4. Ignore bad news
People who are constantly preoccupied with negative news will become anxious. It’s fine to stay on top of that’s happening around you, but don’t overdo it. You can easily set limits on how closely you follow the news and your social media.
5. Find distractions
Distractions help. Watch a good movie, read an exciting book or listen to a podcast. Just as with your diet, variation is key: monotony makes us gloomy. Binge-watching, for example, is best avoided!
6. Organise your day
Find a rhythm and stick to it. Get up at the same time every day. Schedule your workdays and make sure to take regular breaks. Importantly, you don’t just need time off from work: try taking a break from the hustle & bustle of living in a jam-packed house or watching hours of TV every day.
7. Challenge yourself
If you’re not working at the moment or don’t have a challenge in life, try setting yourself a goal. Can’t come up with one? Ask someone else to come up with a goal for you. When you push yourself to do something that you don’t feel like, your body will reward you. Get up and clean something, do some garden work or start working on your stamina!
8. Stay healthy
As all amputees know: it’s important to take care of your body. Make sure to maintain a healthy weight. It’s not just a great way to keep your artificial limb healthy, which is especially important for people with an artificial limb, but a healthy lifestyle will also help you stay mentally fit. Eat healthy and get enough sleep and exercise. Try to avoid alcohol and drugs.
Finally, keep your spirits up: human beings are very resilient and most of us will make it through the pandemic just fine.