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Pandemic May Elevate Stress Levels, Warn Experts

Picture via Anadolu Agency

KUALA LUMPUR, April 2 (Bernama) – The public’s anxiety levels are probably rising due to fears of contracting COVID-19 and uncertainties over how long the Movement Control Order (MCO) will be in force.

Individuals may have different reasons for their anxiety. Workers are worried whether they will have a job to go back to when the situation returns to normal, employers are worried about the loss of revenue and how to sustain their businesses, and healthcare employees are overworked and feeling stressed due to the increase in patient load, said occupational health consultant Dr Shawaludin Husin

He said financial concerns can often be a critical cause for stress, anxiety and even mental problems, particularly in the case of those who have dependents and have loans or debts to repay.

Concurring that the COVID-19 pandemic will have an impact on anxiety levels, UM Specialist Centre senior consultant psychiatrist Associate Prof Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari said this is why it is crucial for people to conform with the MCO rules in order to stem the spread of the disease.

To put it simply, when people get infected, their families and friends are affected too.

“When the number of patients increase, it means more work for our healthcare workers who will face emotional, mental and physical burnout due to the extra workload and long working hours,” he told Bernama.

As for those who are already suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder and generalised anxiety disorder, their symptoms may worsen during the pandemic period, he added.




Dr Muhammad Muhsin, who is also a lecturer at the Department of Psychological Medicine at Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Medicine, said while it is normal for people to feel anxious about the pandemic, it is another thing altogether if they cannot sleep and focus on their daily routine activities, as well as lose their appetite and want to be alone.

“These are signs of extreme anxiety and the person experiencing such symptoms must see a doctor immediately,” he said, adding that individuals who feel overly anxious should make it a point to talk to others or pour out their feelings to a counsellor.

Confronted with the necessity to restrict their outdoor movements and practice social distancing, many Malaysians are complaining of boredom and loneliness on social media. Can the MCO (March 18-April 14) have an impact on mental health?

Said Dr Muhammad Muhsin:  “People must look at the positive side of the MCO. It’s for their own good as it will help to curb the spread of COVID-19. But being social beings and used to moving around freely, people can develop anxious feelings if they don’t understand why it (MCO) is being enforced.”

He urged people to overcome their boredom and relieve stress by keeping themselves occupied with enjoyable activities such as skyping with their loved ones and friends, and engaging in healthy pursuits like physical workouts.

Dr Shawaludin said the stress threshold levels of people differ from individual to individual.

“Some people have the ability to manage well even if they are stressed and can continue to perform their duties and attain their goals but those who have no control over stress may face emotional, behavioural and health problems. Such people will always seem angry, hot-tempered and will not want to socialise… (over time) they may develop headaches, hypertension, diabetes and other illnesses,”  he explained.




Dr Shawaludin, meanwhile, said the comprehensive RM250 billion ‘Prihatin Rakyat’ Economic Stimulus Package announced by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 would help to ease the stress faced by the people.

The initiatives, beginning April 1, include allowing Employees Provident Fund members to withdraw RM500 a month from their savings for up to a year and a six-month automatic moratorium on the payment on loans taken by individuals and small- and medium-sized businesses.

Giving some tips on how to relieve stress during this period, Dr Shawaludin said people should try to limit their exposure to news or television programmes about COVID-19 as repeatedly reading or hearing about any unpleasant issue can have a detrimental effect on one’s emotional state.

“It’s better for you to switch your attention to fun-filled activities like doing light exercises and playing indoor games with your families,” he said, adding that to ensure physical and mental well-being, people should also eat a healthy diet and get sufficient rest and sleep and avoid consumption of alcohol.

The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, meanwhile, has set up a special helpline – Talian Kasih – to provide counselling and psychological support to those who are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and MCO.

Those in need of help can contact the Talian Kasih hotline at 15999 or WhatsApp 019-2615999. The hotline is available 24 hours. It is manned by 528 counsellors under the Board of Counsellors of Malaysia and the Social Welfare Department.


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