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Coping Mechanism during Pandemic in Malaysia

The article below appeared in the October 10  issue of Health with Perdana, a regular column in The Star by Perdana University faculty members. This week’s article is contributed by Dr. Sangeeta Kaur Singh, Senior Lecturer, Epidemiology and Public Health Medicine, at the Perdana University-Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Mr. Randeep Singh Sidhu .

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, like most nations, we have experienced several nationwide movement restriction orders over the last 14 months. Such preventive measures are in place to ensure population health safety. However, with such actions, many unhealthy lingering or associated issues are now slowly coming to light. Some of the problems may revolve around the loss of income, decreased livelihoods, and degradation of the quality of life, be it reported or undocumented. Indeed, living in unprecedented times of uncertainty has induced fear and anxiety among Malaysians and immensely affected the population’s psychological health. Under the circumstances mentioned above, it is customary to worry because humans are accustomed to processing stressors. Fortunately, there are healthier alternatives to effectively cope with uncertainties other than worrying about what the future holds.

One of the most effective and recommended coping mechanisms amid the COVID-19 pandemic is to seek positive social support. Seeking social support means being around friends, families and other individuals in times of crisis to acquire a broader perspective about any adverse events one is experiencing. Multiple studies have highlighted that positive social support plays a significant role in enhancing resilience, a vital psychological component that helps prevent the development of psychological and health complications.

Seeking social support is deemed one of the most effective coping mechanisms because it encompasses a wide variety of channels based on our needs and situations. Essentially, social support helps affirm one’s worth, share positive regards and validate one’s feelings. Moreover, it makes it easier for individuals to obtain information or advice that might help them go through hardships by resource sharing, either non-material or financial means.

The first method, which is most likely to be the most straightforward and most accessible to anyone, is having a quality conversation or seeking consultation from family members and friends. Such communication can occur via social media messaging, video calling or face-to-face interactions (taking into account physical distancing). Through simple interactions like these, stronger bonds and meaningful relationships can be built and will act as a reminder that you were never alone. As the saying goes,” no man is an island”.

The second way of seeking social support is reaching out to non-profit organizations (NGOs) and social communities. Amidst the pandemic, Malaysians started the “White Flag Campaign” movement whereby families suffering from economic crisis and famine are to wave a white flag so that good samaritan can reach out to them. As a result of such a supportive collective and embracing community, we have seen the movement garnered massive attention and direct the necessary resources such as daily essentials and food aid to lessen the burden of struggling families. Such an approach signifies that Malaysians are ever-ready to aid people in need and even live in the spirit of “Taking care of one’s own”. Additionally, there is plenty of mental health assistance and resources available such as Befrienders Malaysia- an emotional support helpline from which an individual can receive emotional support whenever it’s needed within Malaysia. Facilities such as these help people reduce anxiety and not be overwhelmed when problems arise.

Spending time on meaningful activities or hobbies, such as learning a new skill, is also one of the coping mechanisms that fellow Malaysians could use to deal with negative feelings during pandemic times. There is a hobby out there for everyone, and the only thing that matters is choosing the right hobby for you, provided that it is enjoyable. It is essential to bring positive energy and excitement to what might seem to be a monotonous life- step out of your comfort zone, and incorporate positivity into your life! Considerable evidence has shown that making these said changes helps people take their minds off stress-inducing thoughts and live in the present moment, which helps boost your resilience and cope with pandemic stress effectively. Furthermore, with the help of social media, it is relatively easy to connect with people who share similar interests or hobbies. This will benefit people who are cooped up at home with minimal human interaction by gradually bringing back interpersonal skills through networking and increasing a sense of belonging in one’s community.

Besides the practical coping mechanisms that an individual and/or organizations can reach out to in times of distress, another more self-focused strategy one could use is prioritizing physical health. It is of the utmost importance that we keep our physical health in check because it carries over into other aspects of our lives. Without good health, we will face difficulties in sustaining everything else well. There are three main areas that we should focus on to ensure good health. The first is to cultivate good sleeping habits as sleep is linked to many brain functions such as concentration and cognitive mechanisms, which are vital components of how we view ourselves and assess our experiences and the world. A good night’s sleep acts as a mood regulator to provide us with a clearer mind so that we can think more rationally and perceive what’s happening around us with a clear vision as we navigate through the harsh obstacles of the pandemic. To maintain a good quality of sleep, practice a consistent sleep schedule to have a regulated sleep-wake cycle and prevent sleep issues such as insomnia. It is also crucial to ensure your bedroom is dark because melatonin (the sleep hormone) is better produced in such an environment due to the absence of light and contributes to deep-sleep conditions.

It is a commonly known fact that what you eat shows how important it is for us to have a healthy and balanced diet as it nurtures our body with essentials of micro and macronutrients to keep our immune systems healthy. Although with frequent reminders to encourage us to incorporate fruits and vegetables into our daily diet, many bat an eye over its importance. Fruits and vegetables are the primary sources of multivitamins, which can help support our body functions and prevent us from significant health issues and disease. Therefore, it is highly recommended that we increase the consumption of healthy foods, including but not limited to fruits and vegetables, to prepare ourselves for daily energy intake and build up antibodies to ward off harmful bacteria and germs.

We all face the daily challenges of a modern world, and now we are living with additional burdens through this pandemic. More reasons why we have to maintain said methods at all times. The benefits weighed in are more remarkable if we combine the aforementioned coping strategies to keep us healthy physically and psychologically. Despite having to be at odds’ end with the pandemic – always remember that no one is on this journey alone; together, we can push it through past COVID-19! If you would like to explore tailored avenues in coping during the pandemic, come and join us at the Perdana International Conference schedule on 16-18th November 2021.

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