Back to phase two: Coping in uncertain times amidst the Covid-19 pandemic

As the Singapore Government announced (4 May) a re-tightening of restrictions to prevent the further spread of Covid-19, many of us might be experiencing a range of emotions, such as annoyance, anger, anxiety, confusion and disappointment. With the possibility of another lockdown (aka circuit breaker) not ruled out, senior clinical psychologist with Cognifyx Infinitum Chad Yip suggests ways that we can compassionately manage these feelings, as Singapore residents return to phase two measures from 8 to 30 May. 

Experiencing this breadth of emotions is perfectly normal as we are human beings who have evolved to feel and respond to emotions. In fact, humans have survived because we have learnt to pay attention to negative emotions like anxiety through evolution, as emotions can warn us of danger and tell us about our needs.

Very often, the emotions themselves are not the problem. Rather, the problem lies in the evaluation, fear, and the need to escape from negative emotions through problematic strategies of emotion control.

Everyone feels anxious at times and everyone feels sad at times but not everyone develops clinical symptoms that impair daily functioning. In a low and healthy dose, emotions like anxiety inform and prepare us for what might come.

In this situation, our elevated level of anxiety is a response to the tightening of measures. It informs us that we have to make the necessary adjustments to our lifestyle again, and this is for a good reason, that is, to prevent the further spread of Covid-19 and to keep you and your loved ones safer.

As humans are creatures of habits and we have gotten used to a more relaxed phase three, it is natural to find ourselves experiencing these varying degrees of different emotions like anxiety, annoyance and disappointment.

Notwithstanding, such emotions can be overly heightened in our modern society as they are usually accompanied by negative thoughts that are often also automatic and unhelpful. As a result, the brain will create negative scenarios as a protective mechanism, and we tend to overreact in an attempt to escape from uncomfortable emotions and engage in seemingly irrational behaviours to maintain a sense of control.

This can be seen in behaviours such as panic buying last year, which resulted in people panicking about panic, anxious of being anxious and fearful of being fearful. Yet, such problematic behaviours do not result in concrete, positive outcomes in terms of keeping everyone safe.

It is therefore important to evaluate your thought processes and any problematic strategy or behaviour that you may foresee yourself engage in.

Ask yourself: Do you catastrophise an emotion? Do you think that your emotions do not make sense? Do you see an emotion as permanent and out of control? Do you attempt to neutralise or eliminate these emotions through problematic strategies or behaviours?

Every cloud has a silver lining. Writes clinical psychologist Chad Yip: “Everyone feels anxious at times and everyone feels sad at times, but not everyone develops clinical symptoms that impair daily functioning. In a low and healthy dose, emotions like anxiety inform and prepare us of what might come.” (Photo by Gabriel Lamza / Unsplash)

Strategies to cope with uncertainty and change

Learn to acknowledge and accept

  1. Acknowledge and accept that these emotions, albeit negative, are normal. It shows that we are humans and have evolved in a way that the purpose or meaning of such feelings is to prepare us for what might come. At the same time, recognise that we all have inner strengths and resources that we tend to overlook in times when we are being hijacked by negative emotions. We have all survived the most difficult Phase One period. We have all learnt through experiences and we are now in a better position to manage this situation.

Alter your perception to regain control

  1. Very often, we are emotionally shaken when things take us by surprise, and this is normal. We cannot change the situation but we can change the way we view and handle the situation. If a circuit breaker were to be re-introduced, what would be most challenging for you? What can you do now to prepare yourself for it in a healthy and solution-focused manner? How can you take better charge of what is to come if you imagine the worst-case scenario? What are some of the ways you have learnt to cope in the past that have worked? Once we start planning in a more purposeful and proactive manner, we regain a greater sense of control helping us grow and become more resilient.

Get used to living in uncertain times

  1. Learn and accept uncertainty as much as our mind always tries to find a solution or an answer to everything. Feelings of uncertainty do not translate into a catastrophe or a negative outcome. It is your attention to your emotions, your interpretation of your emotions and subsequent behaviours that determine your well-being.

Set an intention to deal with your emotions

  1. Be purposeful and proactive and set small progressive goals that could help you to move toward better well-being rather than try to eliminate negative emotions. Once we become more actively engaged in meaningful activities and focus on what matters to us, these emotions would eventually assuage on their own. Conversely, the more we focus on eliminating these emotions or engage in problematic behaviours, the more they intensify.

Engage in coping strategies

  1. Work on understanding your thoughts and emotions and learn coping strategies, such as journaling and learning to be grateful for the little things in life. Activities such as mindful colouring can also help calm and train our brain to pay attention to the present moment, rather than being carried away by negative thoughts.

Keep active physically

  1. Stay physically active by engaging in exercises as they can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and induce positive feelings. Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet, as foods can have a significant impact on moods. Have a good sleep hygiene of between seven and nine hours of quality sleep, as sleep helps to consolidate learning and memory, as well as improve psychological functioning and moods.

Reach out rather than retreat

  1. By and large, we are social beings. To be able to connect with others and with yourself in the right way is very fulfilling, nurturing and it makes us feel human. Use this opportunity to cultivate courtesy, kindness, and understanding for one another instead of focusing on the negative aspects of the situation or engaging in catastrophising thoughts. Studies have shown that when you reach out to others, you experience positive emotions and you benefit as much as those who receive your kindness.

Seek help 

  1. Since the dawn of time, humans have always sought help from those around them. It is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. Seek professional help if you feel that your problems are not going away despite your best efforts.

Chad Yip is a registered clinical psychologist, who provides psychotherapy and psychological assessment and treatment for children, adolescents and adults.

Call these helplines if you need emotional or psychological support

National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868 (8am-12am daily)

Mental Well-being
– Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service
– Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline (6389-2222)
– Samaritans of Singapore (1800-221-4444)
– Silver Ribbon Singapore (6385-3714)

Marital and parenting issues
– Community Psychology Hub’s Online Counselling platform

Violence or abuse
– Big Love Child Protection Specialist Centre (6445-0400)
– HEART @ Fei Yue Child Protection Specialist Centre (6819-9170)
– PAVE Integrated Services for Individual and Family Protection (6555-0390)
– Project StART (6476-1482)
– TRANS SAFE Centre (6449-9088)

Counselling
– TOUCHline (Counselling) – 1800 377 2252

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