We are in our second year of a pandemic that has paralyzed our nation. A surreal experience that none of us believed would happen, nevertheless continue to change our lives in every way imaginable two years later. We know that humans need connectedness, security and safety and autonomy over their lives- all of which were hindered over night. We have seen record levels of anxiety, OCD, depression and distress- mostly in those who already felt lower, manageable levels of these symptoms. Then we also have all of those individuals who did not struggle with psychological distress but for the first time began to experience the anxiety that comes with uncertainty and grief that comes with loss…loss of safety, loss of friends and family, and loss of certainty about the future.
Here in Malaysia, we further share a repeated trauma; the repeated but unpredictable tightening of restrictions with the MCO. Even though we share this same experience, one of the pandemic’s biggest casualties is our sense of connectedness and social support. Many are trapped at home, unable to access the outlets they once had- school, work, seeing friends and family whenever one wanted to. We are worrying about our jobs, finances- our loved ones jobs and finances. All of us had dreams and goals, like returning from university to a promising first job or taking a gap year to travel and see the world or meet someone new and start a family.
In an instant, everything that held the promise and hope of the futures planned was replaced with uncertainty..and then to top it off, we couldn’t do the things that made us feel sane, and grounded like seeing friends, going to the gym, or a favorite spot that gave us the perspective that things..will..work..out.
So here we are, in another MCO. We share this uncertainty and worry, but what can we do about it?
Evaluate new surroundings. Did you have to move home in the pandemic? Especially as an adult, moving back into the family home is an entirely different experience than the home you left. Consider the boundaries and communication of style between yourself and your family. Living at home, when you cannot leave home due to the MCO can be a huge source of distress to those with poor boundaries in the family, unhealthy communication or difficult and triggering dynamics within family members. Have a talk with family members and try to be genuine and honest about your feelings and needs during this time. Avoid hiding away in your room, avoidance only breeds more anxiety.
Evaluate physical surroundings: Is your desk and/or workspace in your living room? bedroom? We had the ability to drive home and separate ourselves from work after a long day. That drive naturally created boundaries between work and personal lives and gave us time to decompress over the transition. Consider moving your workspace to an area that you can separate from at the end of the day. Put away your laptop. Choose a time to stop checking emails.
Check the temperature of your relationship: Are you finding more tension in your marriage? Finding that old or previously insignificant issues now feel alarming? As a couples therapist, I have found a dramatic increase in new clients that are tried of spending prolonged periods of time with someone that they have unresolved issues with or poor communication with. Spending a large quantity of time does not equal increase intimacy or connection. Be clear with your partner about the space and privacy you need, about your own needs during this time and how to support each other’s needs. Also- although it might sound counter intuitive, carve out time to spend quality time having a “date night” or doing something you both enjoy. Sparking that connection reminds you that your partner is your teammate. Lastly, it is ok to seek couples therapy. Many couples come to therapy to work on communication, intimacy and improving satisfaction in their relationship overall. There does not need to be a “huge problem.” In fact- don’t wait till there is.
Stay connected: get creative, organize game and craft nights over zoom; create a book club; join an online dance class. The world has adjusted quickly to move online and if you can think of it, there is probably an online version of it.
What are your coping skills? Perhaps you were a daily gym goer or you spent hours outside each day. Look for ways to create new coping skills which can lead to new hobbies and interests you may not have considered before. To get you started, we know 20 minutes of movement and spending time outside has a significant impact on mood.
Lastly, it is ok to seek a psychologist. If you have been feeling down, overwhelmed, stressed and/or anxious, we are here to help. You do not have to have a diagnosis, you will not be judged. You do not have to have a “mental health problem” to seek help. Psychologists like myself help you manage your stress, set appropriate boundaries and create healthy habits to feel more like you. Allow yourself to create time for yourself.