Managing stress in a COVID environment

As the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the entire planet, people started to adapt to the changes, embracing a “new normal” way of dealing with every day life. These adjustments create stress to everyone on varying degrees.

According to Lorizza Mae Posadas-Gacott, registered guidance counselor and an officer of the Philippine Mental Health Association Inc. (PMHAI) Palawan Chapter, the pandemic is not just a threat to health but also a financial burden to everyone.

There are lots of things that can be seen as a source of stress at this time which depends on the perception and interpretation of someone going through a particular situation, Gacott said.

“Kasi hindi lang threat to health ang nangyayari sa atin, meron din tayong pinagdadaanan na threat to finances, nagkaroon na nga tayo not just health crisis but also economic crisis. At the same time, meron pa na wave ngayon, itong mental health cases, problems na nagiging epekto rin ng pandemic,” she said.

Gacott said that stress comes out if the demand is higher than the ability of an individual to cope and if the resources are insufficient to cope in a particular situation.

“Halimbawa, ikaw ay staying at home, ‘yong mga nag-aaral sa bahay o nagta-trabaho sa bahay. May mga tao na for them, okay lang na naka-stay sa house kasi they have the resources. However, mayroon din na mga taong nasa sitwasyon na kung saan nahihirapan sila mag-cope dahil walang resources, doon pumapasok ang stress,” she stated.

It is normal to feel stress

Due to movement restrictions to contain the spread of the virus in the workplace, many of the businesses and even government agencies implemented the work from home (WFH) set up to limit the number of employees inside office premises.

This set up could also bring stress to some workers as it is considered new to others and breaks the routine that most employees were used to do.

“Maaaring masabi natin na oo, bago kasi ito sa atin. Marami sa atin na workers ang nasanay na may routine, gigising nang maaga, kakain, magpi-prepare, bibiyahe papuntang trabaho pero ngayon marami ang naka-work from home. Nawawala ‘yong boundary between work and home duties and responsibilities kaya na-i-stress din. Hindi rin natin maiwasan syempre dahil hindi tayo lahat naka-program na magtrabaho pagdating sa bahay,” she said.

Like work from home set-up, anything new to an individual would become stressful if he or she could not adjust to it, she said. Due to differences in perception, perceiving the weight of stress also differs.

“For example, may isang sitwasyon, bago natin ma-perceive na stressful ‘yon, papasok muna natin na ina-analyze muna natin kung ang isang bagay na ito ay kaya ko o hindi. Kapag hindi natin kaya, doon tayo na-i-stress. Kapag kaya natin, mababa lang ang level ng stress. May pagkakataon na parang minamaliit ng iba ang stress na nararamdaman ng iba. Ang explanation diyan ay magkaiba kasi sila ng hugot,” she said.

“Iyong past and ‘yong experience, ‘yong way of thinking ng taong nakararanas ng stress ay maaaring iba sa pinagdaraanan at sa perception din ng taong nanghuhusga. Magkaiba sila, sometimes we really cannot control the reaction of other people. Nakakatulong itong pag-educate ng tao na it’s normal to feel stressed, lahat tayo na-i-stress, it’s normal na maranasan ‘yon,” she added.

Focus on what you can control

Gacott explained that stress is classified into short-term and long-term, the latter type of which, is the unhealthy one as it could affect the physical and mental health of someone going through it.

“Ang masamang uri ng stress ay ‘yong long-term kasi in the long run, habang nandiyan lang ‘yong stress at hindi siya nawawala, puwedeng bumigay ang ating physical body or if not, ang ating mental health. Iyon ang maaari maging epekto, sa pisikal and at the same time, sa ating kaisipan. Sa kaisipan naman na madalas na issues na nag-i-stem from experiencing stress, maaaring nagkakaroon tayo ng anxiety, minsan adjustment problem or kung hindi maagapan ay pwede mauwi sa depression,” she said.

As it is not all the time that anyone could engage a professional mental health practitioner, self-awareness must remain for every individual on their reaction and response to the stress they are going through.

There are things that an individual can and cannot controll especially at this time of pandemic. She advised that it is better to focus on things that can be controlled and let go of those uncontrollable.

“For example, meron kang online quiz sa susunod na araw, kung kontrolado mo ang oras sa pagri-review mo, maaaring maglaan ka ng oras talaga for review para sa iyong exam. Kung hindi mo siya kontrolado like ‘yong mga bagay na nangyayari sa paligid ngayon, kunwari ‘yong patuloy na pagtaas ng COVID cases sa iba’t ibang parte ng lugar natin, that’s out of your control,” she said.

“Since it’s out of your control, ang pinakamagagawa mo ay i-let go mo siya at mag-focus ka sa mga bagay na kaya mo kontrolin. May dalawang pinagpipilian diyan, very basic siya, focus on what you can control and let go of anything that you cannot control, between holding on and letting go,” she added.

If you cannot control a certain situation, thing, event , or a person, it is better to let them go.

Stress makes people look for immediate relief

An individual who is going through stress is looking for immediate relief or satisfaction that sometimes gets from purchasing an item or checking out from online stores. She explained that it is because self-control lowers during stress.

“Mas mababa ang self-control natin kapag stress tayo kaya marami ang napapabili. Kasi at times, kapag stressed tayo, naghahanap tayo ng immediate relief, immediate happiness, satisfaction. Masarap kasi ang feeling kapag meron kang something new pero kaya lang syempre kapag sinabi mo na impulsive na ‘yong pamimili, wala na ‘yong self-control, kung ano makita mo, add to cart agad, bili agad kasi you are longing for that feeling na meron kang something new,” she said.

Others find immediate relief and comfort through drinking alcohol, but Gacott reminded that this must be taken in moderation.

“When you take those things in moderation, wala naman masama kasi it’s normal. Kapag masaya, umiinom ka. Kapag may celebration, umiinom ka, kapag stress ay umiinom ka. Ang alak ay kakambal na ng buhay ng maraming tao, titingnan mo lang kapag sobra na, doon siya nagiging hindi okay. Mayroon iilan na kapag sobrang stress at hindi kaya i-handle logically ang situation, nagri-resort sila sa behavior na pansamantalang makakapagbigay ng comfort and relaxation sa kanila,” she said.

“Dahil shortcut ito, kunwari when I drink, I feel good. When I drink, I can rest. Since ito ang makapagbibigay sa akin ng mabilisan na relief from what ever I am experiencing or whatever I am feeling now, doon sila magri-resort. However, titingnan mo ulit kasi these things must be taken in moderation, kahit anong sobra ay hindi maganda,” she added.

Need for mental health intervention

Gacott said she encounters an average of five to seven individuals who need mental health intervention per week.

“I guess mababa pa ito, tingin ko mas marami pa kasi ito ay personal experience ko lang, sa akin lang nagko-contact. Paano ‘yong iba na hindi nagko-contact at saka napakaliit nito kumpara sa general population. Siguro for sure marami pa ang nangangailangan. Maaaring hindi nila alam kung papaano, nahihiya sila o baka wala silang alam na may mental health professionals pala na maaaring makatulong sa kanila,” she said.

Students who are going through some instances which they think is in need of mental health intervention may reach through their guidance counselors in schools or universities. Those adults who are not working and worrying about paying professionals may reach an online psychological support community such as SHARE, a helpline project launched by the College of Arts and Humanities of the Palawan State University in 2020.

This helpline wants to help in protecting mental health and lessening the difficulties that locals are facing in a time of pandemic. Those serious cases with hallucinations or abusive actions that could hurt others must be consulted to a psychiatrist.

Self-care

Gacott also gave some points to note to handle stress such as taking proactive actions to concerns, time-management, and even letting go of things that cannot be controlled.

“Kailangan meron kang baon para sa sarili mo, self-care activities mo. Ano ‘yong mga bagay na nakakatulong sa’yo personal para at least mabawasan o mapagaan ang buhay mo? Halimbawa kung ikaw ay na-i-stress sa init ng panahon, maging proactive ka. Magdala ka ng payong, kung ikaw ay madalas mainitan, uhawin ka, nadi-dehydrate ka, ang solusyon diyan ay magbaon ka ng tubig,” she said.

“Taking proactive actions to your concerns, time-management kung napi-pressure ka i-manage ang time at doon sa holding on and letting go of the things that you can and cannot control. Iyon ang lagi kong sinasabi sa mga taong nagtatanong sa akin,” she said.

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