Thought leadership by Dr Dominique Stott, Chief Medical Officer at Liberty.
It’s been a bittersweet week. While COVID-19 and the national lockdown threaten the lives and livelihoods of many, it was nonetheless a proud moment when our President took such decisive action on Monday the 23rd of March, less than three weeks after the first case was reported on the 5th of March. We have learnt the lessons from our global neighbours and acted swiftly and dramatically to protect the lives of millions of South Africans.
And while we all prepare to willingly do our collective duty to protect each other, and defeat this virus, we will do so separated from our neighbours, family, friends and communities. It is important during this time to protect our emotional and mental well-being. Knowing what to expect can equip us to support both ourselves and others who may be more vulnerable during this time.
It’s normal to have heightened anxiety during this time
There are many South Africans who live with anxiety disorders. These are often characterised by a fear of being out of control, an inability to tolerate uncertainty, and worrying about the unknown. At a time like this when so much is beyond our control, it’s important to minimise additional uncertainty in our personal lives.
If you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, or any other mental illness, it is important to check in with your health providers to understand how they will be making themselves available to you during the coming weeks. They may have home programmes and WhatsApp groups to support patients and help them manage the aspects of these disorders that are exacerbated by isolating, uncertainty and disruption to routine.
Feeling lonely and alone is to be expected
We are, by nature, social beings. We need time with others, as well as the physical comfort of a hug, a hand held or a reassuring squeeze of our shoulder. Even those who appreciate more time alone are likely to struggle. During this time keep regular contact with friends, family members, and co-workers. Speak to them, check in on them and share how you are feeling. Facetime them, set up family video calls, perhaps share a ‘virtual lunch’. Plan to do this and make time to connect beyond social media channels and apps.
Don’t be afraid to let family and friends know what you are going through, ask them for support and call on them if you feel that your anxiety is becoming unmanageable.
Prioritise your emotional and physical well-being so that you can be there for others
Now, more than ever before each of us needs to be emotionally robust so that we are able to support others in our circle who may be struggling with their physical or emotional wellbeing. Particularly because we will have to find innovative ways to assist. Here are some of the ways you can manage and help others manage daily amidst uncertainty:
1. Maintain a routine.
We are creatures of habit and routines give us comfort and create a sense of security. Balance this with some variety and ensure that you are taking mental breaks if you are working from home. Routines create a sense of structure and control over our environment, which is important to balance the loss of control over many aspects of our lives during this time.
2. Avoid additional stress by continuing to manage your finances responsibly
Financial challenges are a reality for many during this time, with many sectors and companies severely challenged by the lockdown. If you own a small business, investigate how you can participate in the relief options available. If you have been affected by job losses or salary cuts speak to your financial services providers and enter into arrangements with them to maintain your credit rating and ensure that your policies remain active.
3. Prioritise your financial obligations
During this time it’s critical to maintain your medical scheme contributions, life insurance and income protection and disability premiums. If this is challenging speak to your financial adviser and understand how you can better structure your portfolio. There may be flexibility on suspending some payments, for a period of time until you recover financially.
4. Eat well, get some sun and find ways to exercise
Nourishing food, 30 minutes of sunlight a day and keeping hydrated are going to be essential to maintaining our physical and mental well-being. Exercise at home where possible, even if it’s through doing routine tasks such as housework or gardening.
5. Set up regular newsfeeds from reputable sources and balance this with other activities
During this time it will be important to stay informed and aware of news updates. Choose the channels for this information carefully and defer to organisations such as WHO, NICD and Universities who will have properly researched and vetted the information they publish.
6. Stay socially aware within boundaries
Set up regular updates via social or news feeds and balance this with other activities. While some of the news may be good, we are likely to experience more bad news before the curve of infection begins to flatten.
Maintaining contact with the outside world using only the information on social media and news sites can be dangerous; as it removes the context of reality checks and often distorts our sense of reality, resulting in more anxiety, rather than less.
And finally, laughter may still be one of the best medicines available.
Liberty Group Limited is an Insurer and an Authorised Financial Services Provider (FAIS nr 2409).