Life on the front line of a national disaster is tough – and not just for you.

Ever since the first cases of coronavirus disease were reported at the beginning of the year, the world has been glued to every update of the outbreak. As COVID-19 has spread, it has caused widespread confusion and uncertainty.

In this environment, home and hospitals can become hotbeds of tension and stress. This is not ideal but very normal, says Ronel Groenewald, a counselling psychologist at Mediclinic Kimberley. After all, the entire health system is under immense stress and pressure, she explains. “It is only natural to feel you will be infected at some stage, and to be scared as a result.”

But this can be managed effectively – if you know what to expect, and what to do about it.

What does that stress reaction look or feel like? “Physical and emotional exhaustion is the biggest risk for all healthcare workers,” she says. “They are pushing themselves beyond their normal capacity. This leads to feelings of isolation, which are exacerbated by social distancing and not being able to be with their families.”

“The outbreak of COVID-19 caused massive amounts of fear and anxiety in every person on the planet,” Groenewald says. It would be unreasonable to expect that you’d be immune to this stress – allow yourself to feel, and be kind to those around you as well. “This very fear and anxiety can be overwhelming and can lead to strong emotions.”

Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:

●      Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones

●      Changes in sleep or eating patterns

●      Difficulty sleeping or concentrating

●      Worsening of chronic health problems

●      Worsening of mental health conditions

●      Increased use of alcohol and drugs

“Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations,” she explains. “How you respond to this outbreak will depend on your background, the things that make you different from other people and the specific community you live in. Healthcare workers and first responders, because of their proximity to this crisis, will react more strongly than most.”

Recognising when something is wrong is the first step to getting the help you need. If you are concerned that you are not managing your stress optimally, here’s how to ask for help:

●      Call a close friend or loved one to talk about how you feel

●      Get in touch with a trustworthy member of the community, such as a minister

●      Contact your employee assistance programme for counselling

●      Call your GP and ask for a referral to a mental health professional

●      Contact SADAG

SADAG Helplines providing free telephonic counselling, information, referrals and resources seven days a week, 24 hours a day – call 0800 21 22 23, 0800 70 80 90 or 0800 456 789 or the Suicide Helpline 0800 567 567

Remember, says Groenewald, you are not alone. We are all in this together and this too will pass.