Take care of your mental health

By: Richelle Duque Björvang

With our current situation, people have primarily been worried about their physical health. We check up on each other to see how we are doing and our gut reaction is to report our current physical situation. Do I have cough? Colds? Fever? Diarrhea? Any respiratory problems? But there is another important thing that we need to keep in check – our mental health.

Our present condition, where the situation is changing constantly, can make it hard to hold your ground. There is very little time to react before another change happens again. This is especially true for those of us who have friends or family in risk groups or who are part of frontline medical services. It becomes overwhelming for the psyche. This might exacerbate the already anxious people into even more anxiety. Or those who have never experienced panic attacks before might be feeling it now. Panic attacks are, in most people, characterized by the sudden onset of several of the following symptoms: fast heartbeat, uneasiness in breathing, increased sweating, having chills, numbness or tingling sensation in hands and feet, feeling of impending doom.

For international students who are far from home, this may be even more challenging. You hear news from back home, worried about how they are doing and feel even more helpless living far away. Your home country may be enforcing strict rules on controlling the pandemic while Sweden is encouraging social distancing. The disparity on how each country handles the pandemic may get stressful, frustrating and confusing. 

Working from home may also bring about different feelings. You may feel isolated and trapped involuntarily. Unlike the escape room where you just need to figure out codes and puzzles to get you out, you mostly need to figure out ways on how to cope with staying in. Some have made their homes as their sanctuary from work, making this paradigm shift of bringing work to your home difficult. Some may be elated to be spending more time with their families or flatmates. For others, it may also put strain on relationships as the normal routines are broken. For single person households, lack of physical interaction with anyone may be hard. 

Some may see this situation as the much-needed break from the grinds of daily work. It will give more time to deal with desktop backlogs such as analyzing data, writing manuscripts, and reading the latest articles. On the other hand, some may see this as an irritating interruption which may cause delay on performing experiments, thereby failing to achieve their deliverables in time. Some may feel unsupported and vulnerable if they don’t share the same views as their bosses and are pushed to do things they feel they should not do.

This uncertainty for the future may also bring financial insecurity, wondering what the economic consequences will be and how it will affect your career. There are so many worries and concerns and most of which we don’t have an answer to. We are left with our own thoughts and speculations, which may go to the worst-case scenario.

Did you just nod to concur in some or even all of the concerns above? You are not alone.

When all of these feelings become too much to handle, try to do some grounding techniques. This may help you go back to the present and refocus on what is currently happening. Check your five senses. Identify something you see and describe it to yourself. Touch something nearby and illustrate how it feels. Listen carefully to your surroundings and locate where it is coming from. Breathe in and breathe out. If there are little bites or drinks nearby, savor the taste. Try to notice the details that you do not normally pay attention to.

Listen to your body. Some symptoms you are feeling might be psychosomatic, brought about by stress and anxiety. It may come at times when you think everything is okay and least expect it or it may come with certain triggers. Whenever or whatever it may be, pause, listen and acknowledge what your body is telling you. 

It is great that we are living in an age where technology allows us to communicate with each other despite being in far away places. Have lunch or fika online with your friends and families. If you feel that information can be overwhelming, you can also do some digital detox. Personally, I have used writing as an outlet for my emotions and thoughts. I also try to still have a routine as if I am going to work. I still have the alarm at my usual time, do my morning habits and ‘go to work’ (which coincidentally is now just 5 steps away) and end work a certain time. This helps me differentiate work from home. I identify certain areas I associate with work and other areas with relaxation. But an important thing to keep in mind is that each person copes differently. There is no wrong or right way. Just find something that works for you. 

Remember to be kind to others and especially to yourself. Let us respect and support each other in this extraordinary situation and offer each other a helping hand. Check up on each other to ensure that everyone is safe and healthy.

KI also offers several services to help students and staff cope in situations like this. For telephone counselling for both work and private matters, you can call 0200-21 63 00. KI Student Health Care (https://education.ki.se/individual-services) and Previa (https://staff.ki.se/previa-occupational-health-service) offers individual services and KI Health promotion is also offering live streaming of gym classes such as Qi gong, Thursday groove, and functional yoga (https://staff.ki.se/health-promotion)

Take care of yourselves. Stay healthy – physically and mentally!

Banner image: adapted from image by mohamed Hassan from pixabay

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