by Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Tajudin Md Ninggal ,
Professor of Counselling Psychology, Cluster of Education and Social Sciences;
Licensed Professional Counsellor

Flying cars, silver suits, and nutrient pills for breakfast, lunch and dinner – these were probably some of the most iconic scenarios of the future for most people. Then came the year 2020 which started off optimistically enough until 25 January, when a mysterious virus landed on our shores together with travellers from China arriving via Singapore following the outbreak of COVID-19 in Hubei, China. It took only a few weeks to see reports on this outbreak in every state in Malaysia and the number increased exponentially by day. The majority of Malaysians were stunned when the government enforced the first movement control order (MCO) on 18 March. The first two weeks were especially hard for most Malaysians who had never experienced such a situation in their lifetime. Many were overwhelmed trying to adjust to the sudden new situation and, at the same time, stay calm and positive.

As Malaysians hunkered down, so too did the rest of the world. And as infection and death rates soared, global economic engines came to a grinding halt, forcing businesses to shutter and employers to axe jobs to survive. The toll – not just economic but also psychological – has been exact, as we have become all too aware. Insecurity precipitated by the pandemic, the risks to one’s health and financial wellbeing, and the austere measures introduced to halt the spread of the virus – these have given multitudes ample reason to respond more strongly to stress, fear, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and other mental health concerns.

Still, we might be slightly relieved to know that, as the movement control order (MCO) enters its fourth phase in June, people are becoming more accustomed to the “new normal” involving social distancing, mask wearing, and frequent hand washing and sanitising. Concomitantly, we expect to see an improvement in mental health cases. Even so, we need to ensure that we maintain if not increase our mental and psychological resilience by cultivating coping skills. Journaling on a daily, weekly, or as-needed basis is a great tool for coping with anxiety. Meditation is another way to help us regulate our emotions, reduce worrying thoughts, and bring about a feeling of balance, calm and focus. Apps to help you practise meditation are aplenty, as are apps that teach other anxiety-relieving and relaxation techniques including progressive muscle relaxation.

Journaling on a daily, weekly, or as-needed basis is a great tool for coping with anxiety.

If you are still experiencing a decline in mental health despite your best efforts to cope, or if your coping strategies are not working to improve your mood, then seeking professional support should be the next logical step. You may try to speak to a trusted physician about what you are going through; or you may reach out to a local mental health professional. If some of them are limiting their face-to-face contact with patients or clients at this time, then you may try to obtain online counselling or therapy. Talking to a licensed mental health professional like a counsellor via phone, video chat, or messaging could help improve your mental health and reduce your stress level. Exploring your thoughts and feelings with a professional counsellor, a non-judgemental person by vocation, can make you feel less alone and more able to deal with your issues or problems in a productive way.