Mental health as important as immune system: Health, financial hacks to beat pandemic stress
Sekaya Prescribing Nature Advocates
Sekaya/Released
Mental health as important as immune system: Health, financial hacks to beat pandemic stress
Ratziel San Juan (Philstar.com) - June 17, 2020 - 12:17pm

MANILA, Philippines — The world may feel like it’s coming to an end but experts are here to tell everyone that it’s not.

Doctors are reminding us that the resulting ills of a society ravaged by novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are a valid source of stress that deserve our equal attention.

Related: Coping in quarantine: Lockdown as a literal anti-anxiety pill to swallow

Doctor Gia Sison, mental health advocate and head of the Makati Medical Center’s Women’s Wellness Center, said that we all need to watch our own mental health as much as our immunity during these times.

“Mental health must be part of the response against COVID-19 as depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are likely to occur parallel to the pandemic... We’ve been dealing with stress forever. And we have to do something about it before it gravely affects our thoughts, feelings, behaviors and your relationship with those who matter most,” the occupational medicine professional told Philstar.com and other media during the PRUwise webinar “Understanding Mental Health and Financial Stress” webinar last week.

Among the mental health concerns discussed include behavioral changes, heightened emotions, extra triggers, extra anxiousness, agitation, anger, isolation, loneliness and burnout.

Practical side of mental health

Understanding the economic burden left by COVID-19, Sison shared some financial management tips to help ease the burden for affected Filipinos.

“Who is vulnerable in terms of financial stress? Everyone. No one is exempted because I think even in a pandemic, no one is exempted in terms of anxiety that it has brought us,” she shared, citing the American Psychological Association.

Here’s the doctor’s advice on financial and mental health care:

  • Make one financial decision at a time: “You have to take it one day at a time. In terms of financial decisions, you don’t really have to plan everything because it will overwhelm all of us. So plan it one at a time."
  • Track your spending: “That’s very important. Nothing is too small.”
  • Identify your stressors: “And make a plan on how to deal with it. So at least the stress may be there but it gets lessened when we all have a plan about it.”
  • Know what you can control: “Is the stressor something within my control? If you can control it, then act on it. If you cannot control it but you can control your thoughts and reactions then that’s the time we apply emotion-oriented approaches. But if it’s something that you can’t control like what happened during COVID, then acceptance measures should come in.”
  • Be wary about mind traps: “Is my reaction actually helping me or harming me more?... Please be wary, extra wary about mind traps. And when in this question, always practice self-compassion.”
  • Practice an attitude of gratitude: “This is not disregarding others’ feelings. But it just says that practicing something to be thankful for each day can actually help us cope more. So you might want to make a journal of the things you’re thankful for. Again, nothing is too simple.”

Mental health management

Doctor RJ Naguit, chairperson and founder of Youth for Mental Health Coalition Incorporated, likewise shared tips on mental health management during the webinar.

The goal, Naguit says, is increasing our capacity to cope by increasing our resilience, while decreasing our exposure to negative stressors.

  • Follow daily routines: “One of the things that we usually advise for our patients is to maintain some sense of routines because if there’s one thing that we actually aim to understand about the work-from-home setup, there’s actually a blurred line between work and rest... That’s why it’s important that we still maintain daily routines so that we can have some form of self-control."
  • Trying new activities: “And of course, sometimes routines might be boring that’s why we might need to introduce some new activities that we can incorporate in our day-to-day schedule."
  • Maintain social connections: “Right now, we’re in the state that we’re actually physically isolated from each other. And I think more than ever, this is the time to actually maintain social connections. So there are a lot of ways on how we can maintain social connections even though that we’re online. I know of different people who actually tried group exercises online and there are also people [who hold] cooking lessons online, So it’s actually very nice of how creative people can be in terms of utilizing social media.”
  • Exercise self-care: “Self-care is actually a very important concept that we need to understand. So take note that self-care is not selfish. But at the same time, we also need to recognize that each person has their own way in terms of coping with their mental health concerns. That’s why we always try to advise people to actually reflect on the things that work for them before [and then we try to apply these] right now given the current context. And if they are helpful for them, then we continue those coping strategies.”

“In terms of promoting self-care, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. So it’s always individualized. And that is similar to how we actually handle mental health patients because one intervention that might work for one person might not necessarily work for another person,” Naguit advised.

Healthier ways to cope

Nutrition expert and doctor Deanna Minich, in an earlier, separate webinar, expounded on healthier coping strategies with her talk on why "Healthy Food is Happy Food."

“Stress can get in our way of eating healthy as increased cortisol and changes in hormones can alter our cravings. Most of the time, stress eating often leads to eating low-nutrient foods... We know this will only lead to unhealthy eating habits that will result in adverse effects on your body in the future but various studies have shown that healthier foods can actually affect our mood," Minich explained during a webinar organized by Sekaya.

Produced by Unilab’s natural products company, Synnovate Pharma Corp., Sekaya is a brand that’s committed to prescribing nature by doing scientific research to develop pharma-grade health products such as food supplements and botanic infusions – all of which are from plant-based ingredients that have long been backed by tradition and undergone exacting measures to ensure purity and potency. With a mission to educate and help Filipinos come up with informed decisions about the food they consume, Sekaya underlines that there's no better source of immune system boosters than natural foods.

According to Minich, eating fruits and vegetables instead is associated with well-being, evoking feelings of curiosity, happiness, creativity, satisfaction, motivation, positivity and vitality.

She recommended creating a personal diet tracker to cover every food that represents each color of the rainbow to provide a well-rounded diet.

The following is the “science of eating a rainbow,” based on Minich’s presentation.

  • Red foods (Inflammation): High in antioxidants (e.g. vitamin C)and red-food carotenoids (e.g. astaxanthin and lycopene) to help with reducing inflammation and modulating the immune system.
  • Orange Foods (Reproductive Health): Abundant in carotenoids, endocrine-regulating activities and may play a role in fertility through the support of processes such as ovulation.
  • Yellow Foods (Digestion): Rich in fibers to support a complex microbiome and assist in maintaining gastrointestinal health through gastric mobility and/or digestive secretions.
  • Green Foods (Cardiovascular Health): High in a variety of nutrients for cardiovascular health, such as vitamin K, folate, magnesium, potassium, and dietary nitrates.
  • Blue-Purple Foods (Cognition): Polyphenol-rich foods to assist with learning, memory and mood, including flavonoids, procyanidins, flavonols, phenolic acids

RELATED: Fight COVID-19: Nutrient-rich food that should be on your grocery list

COVID-19 DR. GIA SISON MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEM NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
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