Covid-19: A Mental Health Opportunity


Social media is full of reports on how to maintain your mental health during the uncertainty of Covid-19. The sudden change in routine and not being able to or not feeling safe to leave the house can make us feel isolated, disconnected, confused, and hopeless. This is exacerbated by anxieties, and at times grief, about our health, finances, and future, and those of our loved ones. However, Covid-19 may not only have risks and negative effects on our mental health. 

Covid-19 can be an opportunity for our mental health.

Staying in our homes is confrontational... Staying in our homes is confrontational: We are forced to face issues that we have been able to avoid. These can be personal challenges, relationship challenges or unresolved issues from the past. Staying indoors reduces our options for distraction and leaves us alone with our loved ones, and importantly: alone with our thoughts. It often removes our well-practiced coping strategies, like going for a run or meeting friends for drinks, and forces us to figure out new ways of dealing with the distressing emotions we are experiencing. This confrontation can drive us to our knees or become an opportunity for growth.  In many ways, this is similar to what happens in therapy... We pluck up the courage to face our overwhelming fear and pain and work through our traumas. We find healthier coping strategies and we build new brain pathways that will enhance our wellbeing. The first step to this is always confrontational, distressing, and confusing. Working through pain is hard. Covid-19 limits our distractors and avoidance options. Covid-19 limits our ability to keep ourselves busy with other things. Covid-19 gives us the opportunity to start this process.

So how can we make the best of this opportunity? Just because we have time or cannot engage in our usual distraction tasks does not mean that we cannot be creative in finding new ways to avoid our emotional challenges. After all, we have probably spent years perfecting this avoidance mechanism. It takes deliberate effort to set aside time and face what we are struggling with. Here are some ideas on how to make this process easier:


1. Set a time and a time limit. Schedule in time – working from home comes with many challenges, including juggling a lot of new routines. Just because we are at home does not mean it feels like we have more time. Besides, leaving this process for when we feel like it may not work if we have a habitual avoidance mechanism. So schedule this in like a meeting. Importantly, add a time limit. This is useful especially if you are not used to deep-diving into your internal world like this. If you are worried you may feel overwhelmed, schedule in shorter sessions and stick to that time. This gets you used to dipping in and out, and will build your comfort and confidence in dealing with your struggles.

2. Use something tangible. Our thoughts can be easily distracted. Making them more tangible can make it easier for us to stay on track. A simple method for this is to write them down. Transferring them to paper has the added benefit of being able to go back to them, recognize patterns, and dive deeper into our exploration. Start with smaller issues – don’t jump right to those that trigger the most intense feelings.  3. Choose a system and follow it. Do you want to sit with one particular issue and explore this fully? Do you want to go down the free association route and see what other memories come up for you? Making this decision beforehand can help you feel more control of the process, especially when feelings get intense. Whichever you choose, keep in mind, it is all about your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and behaviours. Write down everything you associate with your challenge and sit with these realisations and experiences for a while.  4. Focus on your feelings and physical sensations. We often neglect these either because we have learned to avoid negative feelings or because we find them too overwhelming. We have even more so often learned to ignore our physical sensations in favour of “getting things done” or “cheering up”. In this process, we want to be aware of our feelings and see what sensations come up for us in our bodies as we experience them. How do we know we are feeling a certain way?


5. Do not try to find a solution.This process is one of gentle exploration. If the challenge were so easy to solve and “get over”, then you would have done that already. This isn’t about finding a solution for a problem. This is about facing our feelings and allowing ourselves to embrace every part of our struggle. Importantly, this is about letting ourselves be honest and tolerating our distress without shying away from it. This will help us begin to process our trauma or challenge.


6.Get help when you need it. Facing our challenges can be emotional. This is not something we need to do on our own. Reach out to your loved ones for support when needed. Talk about the process with people you trust. Facing our struggles is the first step toward working through and resolving them. However, some challenges can be very complex and deep-rooted, and there are many tools you may need to collect along the way. If you find yourself struggling or stuck, reach out to mental health professionals who can offer you well-evidenced techniques and provide qualified guidance on this path for lasting improvements to your wellbeing.


Covid-19 is a stressful time as it can trigger anxieties related to our basic needs and survival. Often these anxieties are enhanced because of prior negative experiences we have had. By taking us out of our usual coping mechanisms, Covid-19 can shake up the status quo: It can be the chance we need to address unresolved challenges and build healthier, more resilient coping and emotion regulation.  


You can make use of your stay-at-home situation to benefit your mental health and come out of these stressful times of Covid-19 with new awareness, strengths, and growth. If you would like to embark on this journey and work through unresolved issues with professional guidance and support, please get in touch on e.terrighena@mind-balance.org. An opportunity becomes an opportunity when we take it.

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Dr Esslin Terrighena - Psychologist in Hong Kong

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