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Staying sane and centered in the time of COVID-19

/ 08:29 AM March 22, 2020

“How do you do it Minguita? I mean, just reading all the updates make me already feel and imagine I have the symptoms”.   

This was a message sent to me in one of my many viber groups this morning.  It is a very real problem nowadays.  Last night I had to counsel someone who had a post-nasal drip and started to get light wheezing after she read the news of looting, holdups and planned robberies that turned out to be fake news.  She calmed down when I reminded her that she and family need to just follow the basic rules of the quarantine as stated in the government guidelines in order to stay safe.  I also assured her that her post -nasal drip and occasional light wheezing were not signs of COVID. She has emotionally induced asthma; something more and more people are experiencing lately due to all the anxiety and stress brought about by this pandemic.

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And so I would like to share some of the advice I gave my friends on how to keep sane and calm and centered during this worldwide crisis.

1. Remember that more than 80% of COVID-19 cases are mild. Deaths occur in around 2.3% and mostly in people above 70, especially in those who have other underlying  illnesses like hypertension and diabetes. In Korea, where testing is more vigorous, this death rate is less than 1%.  Just take care that our parents really stay home and eat properly and keep healthy habits.  Our local death statistics, which are higher, are misleading and stem from the fact that we are not testing those with mild symptoms due to the lack of testing kits.

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2. Try to take a break from social media. A lot of the stress being experienced by many is because we are all glued to all things COVID-19. And social media is full of misinformation that can cause useless anxiety.

3. Choose the viber or WhatsApp groups that you will engage and take seriously. Otherwise you will just become a nervous wreck; not just because of the panic they strike in your heart but also because of all the false news that they spread and which you wish to correct all the time.  If in doubt of any new and panic causing info, check it first with the reliable, credible sources.

4. Keep the important numbers on hand, such as the nearest hospital, DOH hotline, at least one reliable doctor you can call, your Barangay hotline, the PNP hotline to report crimes, and food delivery numbers.  These are the basic number you need to survive.

5. Stop looking at the numbers of COVID-19 patients if they are causing you stress. There’s nothing you can do about it anyway.

5. Avoid large family gatherings first, but try to keep bonded by Skype or face time. You can even have shared meals remotely. We plan to have our regular Sunday family lunches this way. We may be apart, but we will try to eat at the same time and chat like we were together.  Our mother is 84 years old, and my husband and I are physicians still exposed to patients.  We don’t want to take the risk of infecting her or any of our family.

6. Do things you like to do while at home.  I intend to play the piano and cook more. These are two things I love to do but can’t do on a regular basis due to my hectic work schedule.  I might not even have this luxury soon once reservists have to man PGH. So I will do as much as I can today.

7. Think of people who may be suffering right now; an elderly or sick friend, a super anxious friend, someone who may be lonely and quarantined alone; and send them a loving message to make them know they are not alone.. If you can help in feeding programs for the marginalized without breaking the rules of social distancing, then do so.   There are many people who really need our help; and thinking about them will prevent any self-obsession.

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8. And finally, meditate, do deep breathing exercises through your nose; pray regularly, and know that God is in charge. 

There are positive changes happening amidst all this turmoil and suffering.   Some of us see them already while others don’t.  But surely we see that people are kinder to each other.  Our people have again realized the importance of our healthcare workers who are the front liners in this world war.  This is a far cry from the dangerous “smart shaming” and “expert bashing”  we painfully witnessed in the recent past.   Our country is rediscovering its true soul; something we had started to lose because rudeness and hate and anger had become vogue; propagated further by irresponsible trolls.  Nowadays, these same trolls have largely kept quiet; and those who have tried to foment anger and hatred amidst the pandemic, were pummeled with the wrath of outraged netizens.

The best, and perhaps the only way we can get through this crisis and emerge a better people and nation, is by thinking of others.  It’s the miracle of the “multiplication of the loaves” that we have to live and practice, both literally and figuratively; where food was enough to feed all, but where the miracle had to start with people willing to share what they had with  those who had none. 

After we get through this together, in the right way, then we will see a better world.  But we need to stay sane and centered first.

Dr. Ma. Dominga ‘Minguita” Padilla is a Clinical Associate Professor at the Philippine General Hospital-UPCM; an active consultant at the St. Luke’s Medical Center, Global City; and the Founder and President of the Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines.

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