Podcast: Dealing with stress during lockdown
After days of city-wide lockdown in Shanghai due to COVID-19, anxiety gradually set in. Life is already full of uncertainty and concerns, but a lockdown could make things even worse.
"It's not easy to let go, especially when you have children and elderly relatives to care for," said Chen Jianhua, therapist and associate chief physician at the Shanghai Mental Health Center.
"You may be concerned about a variety of issues, including jobs, payments, mortgages, schooling for children and medications for the elderly.
"All of those worries, anxiety, and even a little bit of depression, are normal," he added.
Chen shared his thoughts with Shanghai Daily on how to deal with anxiety and stress during a lockdown. "Find something to cheer yourself up, practice relaxation exercises and live a regular life. Self-care can save lives," he insisted.
Q: With the "stay-at-home" policy, anxiety is in the air. One of our common worries is how to successfully order fresh produce.
A: There are numerous uncertainties in our lives. During lockdowns, people are anxious about PCR test results, food supplies, and are eager to head out after being locked in for days. So, anxiety, worries, and even depression are normal. It has to be handled properly or else some people will blame themselves for their vulnerability; others will suppress negative ideas, which eventually lead to more issues.
The first step is to acknowledge and accept them. Avoid being swept away by emotions, which will inevitably lead to irrational behavior. Observe and assess the situation.
Don't worry too much if the unpleasant thoughts happen just once. Seek help if needed. Talking to friends or family can help relieve burdens and stress. Sing a song, try those stress balls ... let those tears out. Don't be embarrassed by your emotions.
If you've tried everything and it hasn't worked, seek professional help. Shanghai has a mental health hotline (962525), run by the Shanghai Mental Health Center. It has 300 professionals working 24 hours.
Q: How does the hotline work? How can I prepare to make the calls?
A: You do not have to prepare a draft before calling. We have experts to listen and teach. Sometimes, just saying what's on your mind and expressing your sentiments is helpful. We are there to support, listen and care.
Q: SMHC professor Xie Bin once said that "having something to look forward to" and "letting go" is important to stay sane, especially during a lockdown. What do you make of it?
A: We all have something to look forward to, something we have always wanted to do but never had the time or energy for it. Lockdown could be the moment to get things done. Watch a movie or TV drama, play video games, or spend some quality time with your family.
Q: But it may entail additional responsibilities for some people. They have to care for children and the elderly, while keeping up with pandemic news, which can be stressful and distressing. Any advice for them?
A: You either do something with enthusiasm or resentment. It takes wisdom and technique to make adjustments, an art of life... It is not easy, but always worth trying.
As for information, it really depends. Some people like to stay informed and keep up with the latest news. If you're feeling upset or anxious, get away from social media and do something nourishing for yourself.
It's hard to let go, especially when you have kids or elderly relatives. You may be concerned about your work, bills, mortgage, children's education, and medications for the elderly. Think about what practical things you can do to tackle the feeling of helplessness.
Q: How does regular life help with a mental adjustment?
A: People need to respect the circadian rhythm. Staying up late for a long time will affect your mental and physical health. Living a regular life can also boost immunity. Regulate your bedtime schedule. Bask in the sun, if possible, and exercise regularly at home. Try not to stay up late and then sleep in the next morning.
Q: What can one do if anxiety or panic attacks recur?
A: There are about a dozen ways to relax. The most convenient way is to adjust the rhythm of breathing. Find a comfortable place to sit and try to relax your mind. Breathe in slowly through your nose. Feel how your lungs are filled with oxygen. Hold your breath for 2-3 seconds, and then breathe out with your mouth. Do it twice or thrice in a minute, and 3-4 minutes for the whole session. It can help you de-stress and relax.
Another way is to feel the contrast between the intensity and relaxation of muscles. Clench your fists with force, holding your forearm close to your upper arm. Gradually relax your hands and put them down. Feel what it's like to be intense, and what it's like to relax. And then, relax each muscle one by one, from head to toe. It's also a good way to adjust and unwind.
Regular workouts are also helpful. If possible, jog or walk quickly in the community compound, or try some proper workouts at home. You can also bask in the sun, listen to music, read a newspaper or book, or simply enjoy the food. If it is a severe panic attack, call the hotline for help.
Q: The muscle relaxing exercise sounds like meditation.
A: Yes, those who have practiced yoga may be aware of it. As with chores, if you can calm down and focus on the task at hand, getting everything done in small chunks can help alleviate tension. Relax simply by altering your breathing and even your body.
Q: How can art therapy help?
A: Find something you truly enjoy doing.For example, calligraphy, painting, or photography. Dithering can be reduced by all these things. Because when you're doing something you're interested in, you can become completely engrossed and thus get carried away from your agitated feelings.
Q: Are there any mental health approaches abroad that we can learn from?
A: Online and remote services such as teletherapy have replaced face-to-face therapy in Western countries. People should be guided by correct scientific facts rather than disregard or overreact to their emotions. SMHC has been working on it for years.