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Joaquim Chaves Saúde | Dr. António Fonte - Better Mental Health during the pandemic



Joaquim Chaves Saúde | Dr. António Fonte - Better Mental Health during the pandemic

On May 3, the state of calamity was declared in Portugal. Home isolation became a civic duty and maintaining exceptional measures led to people living in exceptional and unusual circumstances.

Aside from what is prohibited, there is what is permitted, according to a transitionplan that establishes different measures for eachphase. Therefore, we have entered a process where restrictions are being lifted gradually – with the ensuing opportunities, risks and threats – and, to guarantee our safety, the government has announced it will not hesitate to take “a step back”.

What are our expectations, what lies ahead? What will the end of confinement bring? Another crisis? Or a chance to change?

Doubt, fearanduncertaintyare a constant presence these days and, in different ways for each person, they cause stress,anxiety,distress and insecurity. There’s a feeling, an idea, or even the knowledge and experience, that life is worse. Today it’s scarcity; what will it be tomorrow?

The best way to manage these emotions, feelings and experiences is to recognise and accept them as natural –adaptation reactions– and therefore create the conditions for each of us to mitigate the ways in which we suffer, consciously seeking the best path to feel safe and confident again, both in the present and the future.

We must take into account that, in most cases, anxiety, sadness, stress, frustration and despair, for example, are reactive and proportional on the same level as tragedy, loss, grief, isolation and uncertainty, both in terms of health and wellbeing, as well as in the work, economic and financial domains. These are consequences of a state of prolonged stress, and it would be hasty and incorrect to consider them pathologies.

However, people with pre-existing psychiatric or specific conditions, such as anxiety and/or depression, severe obsessive symptoms, psychotic conditions, addictive behaviour – whether with alcohol or unlawful substances – suicidal behaviour and impulse control disorders, may warrant closer specialised clinical observation and/or require adjustment of medication.

Crises –issue,act of separation,decisive moment– are also opportunities to establish the right path, the steps to be taken.

From confinement, other conditions emerge to reorganise roles and tasks in the family, for example.

In our daily life, we share the feeling of loneliness, fears, concerns, challenges and threats, but also hopes. Therefore, this creates a possible, and even crucial, path to make us capable of starting over and behaving in a more responsible manner, focused on reality and solidarity.

Suggestions to consider and think about:

  • Social connection provides a sense of security;

  • Apprehension, fear and sadness are natural emotions. They guarantee our survival and foster social cohesion;

  • The worst prognosis, imagined or foretold, does not have to come true;

  • To those who feel sad, don’t say “don’t be sad”;

  • Days seem greyer. Fatigue, uncertainty, insecurity, apprehension, concern and, sometimes, despair emerge. Recognising these, “facing them head-on”, is one way to dispel suffering and ensure that this world of emotions that appear today will not necessarily become a serious problem tomorrow;

  • Amidst concern and despair, we must be mindful of what we say to ourselves. We must be aware that there are times when we blame and punish ourselves for situations that are unpredictable and not dependent on our will, our own steps, which sometimes even leads us to disregard our abilities and qualities, feeling incapable or unworthy of what situations demand of us. Speaking clearly and concisely is the best route;

  • Giving in to our “nightmares” about today and the future, is a way of venting, brainstorming. Those “nightmares” stop us from living with confidence and also inhibit ideas that are needed to guide us with caution and wisdom in these troubled times. Even if, at first, it may be unpleasant and difficult, the exercise of trusting, banishing “nightmares”, is healthy and a good way to start feeling safer;

  • However, there will always be times when we create ways to sabotage a healthier and sounder path. We blame ourselves, oppress ourselves, worry and even abase ourselves due to other people’s mistakes, denying and neglecting ourselves on various levels, such as completely “forgetting” schedules and commitments, even our daily hygiene;

  • It is important to be bold, prepared, programming and listing the different stages of our day, tasks that must be performed, both at home and in the social and professional spheres, writing them down on a phone or paper. We need to believe in our strength and ability to reinvent ourselves as people;

  • Giving in to anger, fury and rage seems to give us a sense of control, even creating the illusion that we can identify the “real and only culprit” of our evil;

  • Caution! This way we are creating a “scapegoat”, a sham, that represses and obstructs our world of feelings. This way, anxiety, sadness and despair,for example, remain confined until they erupt without restraint or control. The illusion compromises compassion;

  • Managing and airing this world of emotions is to spread the curtains, open the windows wide, look at the sky and let the sunshine in.

Dr.António Fonte - Psychiatrist 

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