Relate Mental Health Malaysia revealed last month that mental health costs the national economy a whopping RM14.46 billion – more than 1% of our GDP!
The underlying reason? The stigma surrounding mental health shames afflicted Malaysians into silence, leading to prolonged poor work performance and frequent absent days.
In this time of crisis, let’s speak up about mental health and fight the stigma.
The internet is saturated with content (drawing challenge, anyone?) about how to make the most of your time at home until 14 April.
However, we encourage you to apply the same diligence that you apply to business continuity, taking care of your family and washing your hands to your mental health as well. Malaysians have been self-isolators since 18 March. We find ourselves in this weird new world, and it can feel a little lonely.
The prescription for optimal mental health is supposed to be simple: incorporate quality sleep, a balanced diet and rigorous exercise regime into your daily routine. Add hydration and vitamin supplements.
But how to adapt this formula to accommodate our new homebound reality?
1. Resist tunnel vision, find a broader pespective
As we transition to full-time remote work, one “motivational” message has gone viral. It goes something like this: Nicol David has the same number of hours in a day as you. Work hard or go home.
This message seems superficially inspirational, but there is a more nefarious implication: look how little you’ve accomplished during the MCO, time to panic about how far you’re falling behind.
Certainly, some Malaysians find that focusing on learning new skills or structuring the day around work during this time of crisis fulfils their mental health needs. However, for others it only fuels pressure and anxiety. Like most Asian countries, we live in a productivity-obsessed culture. Many of us feel guilty about taking a break because we worry about falling behind, or out of sync. In crisis mode, it’s easy to develop tunnel vision and only focus on COVID-19’s effects on business.
It’s time to realise that diminished productivity pales in comparison to the ongoing crisis. Overworking during the MCO isn’t going to get things back to normal, it will only lead to burnout. Take this time instead as an opportunity to slow down and broaden your perspective.
2. Practise gratitude
Panic is a luxury that not all Malaysians can afford. People panic-buy at the supermarket or obsess over disrupted work because it gives them a false sense of security and control. Instead, give some thought to those who don’t even have time to spare for trepidation.
Workers on the frontline such as medical staff, essential service providers and supermarket attendants are working around the clock to treat patients, fix vital connectivity and stock supermarket shelves as quickly as they’re depleting. They are not giving in to anxiety but focusing on the job at hand. Working parents who suddenly find themselves juggling full-time jobs at home whilst looking after small children can’t afford to lose themselves to hysteria, not to mention Malaysians who don’t even have the financial resources to panic-buy in bulk.
Instead of stewing in consternation at home, try practising gratitude. Appreciate your privileged position and you might find your COVID-19 blues dissipating.
3. Persevere spiritually
With mosques and other religious centres closed, many Malaysians don’t have a healthy way to channel nervous energy. The pandemic reminds us that sometimes, we cannot control everything. We’re suddenly confronted with our own mortality. If this feels uncomfortable to you, it is important to resolve these feelings.
Pray, meditate, write journals or engage in other creative outlets. Take a deep, cleansing breath. Learn to feel comfortable with uncertainty and find a way to fortify your mind. Even if you’re not religious, listening to spiritual talks on YouTube will help you overcome your apprehension and accept uncertainty in coronavirus times.
4. Unplug from social media
Malaysians’ social media usage is now at an all-time high because entertainment is limited at home, plus we rely on it now more than ever to communicate with our loved ones far and near.
Unfortunately, a 2018 study by Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin revealed that increased social media consumption is associated with stress, anxiety and depression. Rampant scams and false information also affect mental health negatively. A research paper in the Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences revealed that constant stress significantly weakens your immunity. At a time when your body’s immunity is of paramount importance, we urge you to unplug and unwind.
If you’re an extrovert not used to spending so much time at home, you might be feeling isolated during the MCO. Scheduling regular video calls with friends and family will mitigate those feelings.
Befrienders offers 24/7 support for those who would rather speak to someone anonymously. Online counselling at Miasa or BetterHelp is also available for anyone who wants to engage with a professional.
That wraps up how to take care of your mental health during the MCO. Remember, there is still beauty, music and sunshine in times of crisis. We all have deep reservoirs of resilience to draw from that we aren’t aware of. To prevail over COVID-19, it is crucial to remain optimistic, collaborative and calm.
If you are experiencing negative emotions or thoughts, please contact your GP or someone you trust. Also, Relate Mental Health Malaysia is offering discounted mental health services to frontliners until 31 March. Click to find out more or donate.
In response to the recently announced MCO extension, unifi is extending all ongoing support measures to customers until 14 April 2020. Read this statement on the offerings and solutions. To keep up to date with the latest news and developments, follow unifi social media and visit our #stayConnected page for comprehensive coverage on COVID-19 and the MCO.
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