• Madani Sahari

Maintaining mental health

It seems the jury is still out on how long the movement control order (MCO) will last. While the number of new cases over the last few days is indicating a flattening of the curve, I suppose we won’t be surprised with a decision to continue with another extension.

While we don’t have to argue about the importance of prioritising the “breaking of the chain” of the outbreak, the great pondering now is how we swim through the murky future that lies ahead.

I have to admit, as the head of a government agency that has made connected mobility its central focus for the past couple of years, the restriction of mobility we face now has put us in a quandary. While we have had to put brakes on our physical mobility – it is the mobility of our industry that will be our key focus in the next few weeks and months.

Speaking of pondering - the semi-solitude, when mixed with our restricted mobility has certainly taken away certain aspects of our lives that we have taken for granted in the past.

Emotionally, humans are shaped by our daily experiences. Our movements from place to place and different surroundings stimulate our senses and brings in different emotional inputs. For example - your morning meeting at the office brings you hope, your visit to the project site gives you happiness, anxiety fills you as you wait to meet your boss at the waiting area, and that weekend outing with the family keeps you motivated for the next cycle ahead.

Even though technology has given us means to continue working from home, it does not replace that void that can only be filled by real spaces.

When we sit between four walls and work from home for weeks on end, it is much easier for our minds to wander and slip into situations that risk our mental health. Such care for this health aspect is very important in these times – it is equally an invisible enemy that can affect our future livelihood.

Reports suggest that a long quarantine is linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with symptoms ranging from fear and anxiety, changing sleep and eating patterns, a worsening of chronic health problems.

It is therefore important for us to take measures to stay in control. Stick to your routines as much as possible, stay connected to friends and family, and embrace the problems you may face the same way we should always face them – take things positively, one step at a time and seek help when you need it.

The WHO also suggests that long quarantines impact children and the elderly as well, as they too face an enormous disruption to their lives.

For children, an invisible thing that takes away their daily routines may be hard to comprehend, and the sense of structure and stimulation provided by the school environment may cause harm to their well being. Things can get even more confusing when parents are working from home but seem to pay little attention to their children.

The elderly, on the other hand, are told every day that they are statistical risks of the outbreak. The fear and anxiety of being the high-risk group makes them require emotional support from their loved ones.

While we take care of our mental health, we should also care for the emotions of those we love too.

One thing is certain – we all know and believe that this pandemic will be over sooner or later. However, while we focus on surviving this physically and financially, we must also get through this mentally.

There is a bigger agenda that we will all be called for once this is over – we will have to get back on our feet, and continue on the agendas we set before the outbreak forced us into isolation. Let us ensure that the lessons learned from the COVID-19 make us physically, technologically, and also mentally stronger.

The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii).

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