Mon | Jul 13, 2020

The psychological effects of COVID-19: How to work through those emotions

Published:Wednesday | May 27, 2020 | 12:11 AMCaryl James Bateman/Contributor

COVID-19 HAS created complete chaos for our external and internal worlds. This pandemic is likely to stir up some strong emotions, particularly for those among us who already struggle with mental illnesses such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety, among others. The stressors experienced from this pandemic may serve to trigger or even exacerbate the symptoms of persons who suffer from mental illness. For others of us who do not have mental-health challenges, the struggle is also very difficult.

How the stress of COVID-19 affects our emotions

While we may not be able to currently identify the words to describe the devastating effects that this has had on our psychological well-being, we may be able to identify the emotions. Below is a list of a few emotions along with their purpose:

Sadness – emotion of loss. The loss of our normal day-to-day activities and livelihood comes with grave sadness.

Anxiety – emotion of worry or fear. There may be uncertainties of what tomorrow will bring; we may experience fearful thoughts of an impending negative outcome.

Anger – emotion used in an attempt to regain control. When we are not earning and others are depending on us to provide for them, we feel like things are out of our control.

Emotions are key to our very existence, but sometimes we struggle to recognise, tolerate or may even blow them out of proportion. This is what psychologists refer to as ‘emotional suffering’. In emotional suffering, we may visit the hospital because we think we are having a heart attack, withdraw from others, eat too much to find comfort, or too little because we have no appetite. We may find ourselves lashing out or acting out of character.

So how do we cope?

Here are some tips that might help:

1. Emotions – you want to be aware of them and acknowledge them, label them “I feel … ”. After labelling, find healthy ways of releasing them: Do some self-talk, speak to someone, cry to get the sadness out, beat up on something – a punching bag, or a pillow, to get the anger out.

2. Create a routine. We humans function better with routines; they help to keep our thoughts and emotions in check. They give us order in times of chaos.

The routine should include: a sleep schedule, mealtimes and exercise.

3. Work on your perspective. Life will always bring us challenges. As difficult as this one is, there is a lesson in it, uncover what this lesson is.

Most important, keep pressing on, planning for future goals, showing thoughtfulness and compassion towards yourself and others, knowing that you will get through this.

Caryl James Bateman, PhD, is senior lecturer/clinical psychologist/eating disorder specialist in the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work, The University of West Indies, Mona. Send feedback to