Corona makes us feel a lack of control – how can we maintain our mental health?
This exceptional spring has caused great psychological stress to many of us. Juho Mertanen, psychologist at Mieli Mental Health Finland, encourages people to focus on the things they can control.
“How are you?” asks Juho Mertanen, psychologist and mental health promotion expert from Mieli Mental Health Finland. He has just finished a training seminar with an audience of more than two hundred, and now it’s time for this phone interview. The topic of the interview is the same as the seminar: what kinds of impacts may these exceptional times have on our mental health and what can we do about it.
“This is a unique time in world history with abnormal circumstances, and we may find ourselves reacting in strange ways. Try to be understanding and compassionate with yourself,” he says.
Mertanen has also struggled to learn to be more forgiving with himself, as he has not been able to cope with every aspect of his life as he normally would. He has had to prioritise matters.
“This situation requires patience, letting go and adapting,” he says.
”Feeling in control of our lives builds security and is a core psychological need.”
We all react to crises in our own way. According to Mertanen, the most common symptoms are negative thinking and physical reactions, like aches and pains, sleep disorders and indigestion. Some may feel wound up and constantly ready to react, while others may become absent-minded, forgetful and find it hard to focus. It may be difficult to maintain social contact with family and friends if you or they have become very impatient or irritable during the crisis.
It’s important to pause where you are to listen to how you feel and recognise any changes in yourself and your mental resources. This is not always easy.
“Often the stress builds up slowly, almost imperceptibly. Often we don’t realise we’re the one who’s irritable, and blame others instead. Keeping a diary, looking at old photos or talking to someone can help you compare your current mental state to what it was before,” Mertanen suggests.
The corona pandemic has also raised worries about income, health and the wellbeing of our families, resulting in a sense of losing control. This is no small thing: feeling in control of our lives builds security and is a core psychological need. The good news is that we can work on it.
“Even though we cannot control our circumstances, we can change the way we react to them and how we behave. That’s why it’s important to find things that have not changed with the corona crisis. They can help us regain our sense of control instead of obsessing over things we can do nothing about,” he explains.
According to Mertanen, one such controllable thing is our daily schedule which can make our days feel predictable and safe. Self-care, a healthy diet and exercise are also things that we can do for ourselves. However, there’s nothing we can do about the global panic while staying at home. Mertanen recommends people restrict the time they spend reading the news and let themselves take a break.
”How am I feeling right now?
What do I want and need right now?”
He also mentions mindfulness skills which can help calm the body and mind. For example, the Mieli Mental Health Finland website features relaxation exercises (in Finnish) that can help you reflect on your mental state: how am I feeling right now? What do I want and need right now?
“Studies have also shown that maintaining social contact is important for mental health. For many, talking about things helps us clarify our thinking and stop worrying. I suggest you try to think about ways of keeping in touch that are possible in this situation, and to take advantage of them.”
Previous life crises or challenging times can also provide valuable lessons. The things that carried us through crises in the past will probably help us now as well, says Mertanen.
Thinking about past challenges can also help us remember that all crises are temporary.
So when should you enlist professional help with your mental state? For that, Mertanen has a guideline that he has also shared in his training:
“If you find yourself wondering whether you should talk to someone, then you probably should. The sooner you ask for help, whether through a chat service, occupational health or any other way, the easier it will be to help you.”
This spring more people have needed help coping than usual. For example, the crisis hotline of Mieli has had a nearly 50% increase in incoming calls in January-April from the same time last year, and a 33% increase in answered calls.
The crisis may also lead to important realisations and provide an opportunity to think about your personal life values.
“Once we no longer have to spend all of our mental resources on surviving from day to day, these exceptional times can also lead us to discover wisdom within ourselves that can help us in the future.”
Where can you find support and someone to talk to?
- Your own occupational health doctor or nurse can refer you to an occupational psychologist
Phone and chat services:
- The Mieli Mental Health Finland crisis hotline, 09 2525 0113, open 24h, normal phone charges apply
- National mental health advice: helpline 020391920, weekdays 10am–3pm (8.35 cents/call + 16.69 cents/min), chat service also available
- Women’s Line, 0800 02400, weekdays 4pm–8pm
This is a listing of helplines in Finland (in Finnish)