Malta’s psychologists have the COVID-19 tonic: ‘Stop worrying, make the best of it, this too will pass’

Mental health professionals and social workers say public can stay positive in the face of the coronavirus adversity and help children learn from their experience

Malta’s bodies of psychologists, counsellors and social workers have called for calm across the nation in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak that has led to self-quarantine and business closures.

The Chamber of Psychologists, the Malta Association of Counsellor and the Malta Association of Counselling Professionals have called on the public to be prepared but also assess the situation based on facts.

“Responsible, calm, considerate actions are of the essence right now and it is important to distinguish facts from rumours by only accessing credible sources and keeping things in perspective,” MCP public relations officer Cher Vella Laurenti Engerer said.

The bodies said the public should avoid coronavirus-related news that makes them feel “anxious or distressed” and instead call the national helpline or access www.covid19.gov.mt for any queries and dilemmas they may have, in order to protect their mental health and wellbeing, and avoid unnecessary panic.

“We urge the public to be empathic and compassionate to those possibly infected with the virus, as well as to show solidarity with everyone - especially the vulnerable and elderly - suffering the consequences of this pandemic, most especially the front-line workers who are enduring so much stress to help the rest of us.

“Nobody is to blame here. People who are unwell with the virus have done nothing wrong. Let’s be kind to each other.”

The professional bodies stated that if ever there was a time to simply take life one step at a time, moment to moment it is now: “Stop worrying about tomorrow and think of the now, today, focus on what you have and make the best of it. Take things one small step at a time… this too shall pass. Stay positive, connected and hopeful”.

Engerer also said it was normal at such times for people to feel overwhelmed or sad. “These are normal reactions to an abnormal situation! We recommend people to stay at home as much as possible, in order to prevent further contamination, and further recommend that those in isolation should stay connected with friends and family through social media, video calls and phone. Positive social contact improves wellbeing and resilience and protects against anxiety and depression.

“People are encouraged to also try as much as possible to make meaning out of this time at home by positively reframing the situation: This can be a time of closeness and intimacy with our loved ones. It can be a time we get to read those books or watch those series we have been meaning to. It may be a time we get to bake, play board games, clear out cupboards, do our filing, or use this time to reconnect with what is truly important in life… spending time with our family, eating meals together.”

Engerer said it was important to maintain as much of a normal routine as possible in the house hold: keep sleep routines, eat well, meditate, practice yoga, try to exercise together, stay hydrated, get creative, talk to friends, listen to music, cleanse and treat the body, and try to stay mindful. “Some useful websites are recommended in order to tune into some good mindfulness meditations such as www.headspace.com or www.findingpeaceinafranticworld.com,” she said.

For parents staying home with their children, the professional bodies advised that adults should communicate in an age-appropriate way with their children whilst trying as much as possible to protect their children from the harsh reality of this period: “We must reassure them and encourage them, explaining to them that this is temporary and that normality will resume soon. Whilst educating them about basic hygiene, it’s important to be mindful not to overwhelm them with our own concerns: stay informed but without giving them too much detail which may cause unnecessary stress and anxiety.”

Engerer also said it was important to be exemplary role models for our children, making this the ideal time to teach our children how to behave in the face of stress and adversity, whilst also using this time to be present with them through play, cooking, art and crafts.

“It is important to continue to offer children a routine and to balance duties, study and work with leisure activities and play. Care-givers should plan out the agenda for the day and help children follow through with a timetable rather than leaving them idle for long periods of time.”

Engerer added that this was a time for social responsibility.

“We need to move from thinking about ‘I’ to thinking about ‘we”’ to develop a sense of shared collective and social identity. We need to cooperate, co-ordinate, support each-other, and ensure the neediest get the greatest help. We can all make a big difference with small gestures. We need to ask “how do we get through it together? Rather than ‘how can I survive?’ If one is feeling helpless they should know that they have the power to make a big difference by setting an example to others, by being altruistic and staying indoors to prevent others from getting unwell.”

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