4 ways to cope better in an uncertain environment

A health crisis may seem chaotic. Here’s how to bring some order to your life and work.

On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization reported a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China. The number of coronavirus disease cases has continued to rise, and the WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic on 11 March. Ever since, lives have been changed forever.

Hospital workers are particularly affected. On the front line of a global health crisis and a national state of disaster, nothing is the same – and that widespread culture change can be confusing to navigate.

At a time like this, physical and emotional exhaustion are major risks for all healthcare workers, says Ronel Groenewald, a counselling psychologist at Mediclinic Kimberley. “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.”

Specifically, leading the fight to contain the spread of COVID-19 can lead to:

●      Anxiety, worry and fear

●      Feelings of loneliness

●      Depression

●      Insomnia

●      Paranoia

●      Disruption of normal routines

●      Uncertainty about the future

●      Harmful alcohol and drug use

●      Self-harming behaviour

1. Talk about it

“There is a lot of negativity around right now,” says Dr Tanya Boshoff, a clinical psychologist at Mediclinic Potchefstroom. “It is important to know that we should encourage one another so much more than ever. As a healthcare worker, it is important to discuss what you are feeling with either your colleagues and/or family members.”

2. Eat right

“Chronic stress can suppress the immune system thus hindering the body’s ability to effectively fight off infection and disease,” says Megan Rabie, a dietician at Mediclinic Potchefstroom. “Stay away from junk food. A diet containing optimal quantities of a variety of nutrient-dense food – such as lean protein, unrefined whole carbohydrates, healthy fats, fruit, vegetables and water – is important for protection against disease and providing sustained energy and minimising inflammation.”

3. Move

“It is scientifically proven that exercise helps to reduce anxiety and stress, promotes mental health and reduces the body’s reaction to tiredness,” says Erin Dreyer, a physiotherapist at Mediclinic Paarl. “When exercise is applied correctly in our daily lives, it is also one of the few natural ways to deal with the above-mentioned problems. Exercise can promote better mood and mental health because it facilitates in releasing endorphins – the hormones responsible for lifting one’s mood. Exercise is directly related to feeling elated, less stressed and more hopeful.”

4. Get some sleep

“Sleep is one of the cornerstones of your health and is as vital to your wellbeing as food and water,” says Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, a specialist neuropsychiatrist at the Constantia Sleep Centre at Mediclinic Constantiaberg. “During sleep, your body works to repair and support itself. Sleep helps with healthy brain function, and it works to maintain your physical health by healing and repairing heart and blood vessels.”