The 6Cs

By Dr Rachel Ting

To cope with the current pandemic situation, clinical psychologists like us always fall back on a multi-facet bio-psycho-social-spiritual framework to draw some implications. I would skip the public health approach to prevention in a time like this as we are well-informed about the scientific fact of this COVID-19. Psychologically, we are not "prepared" for this kind of outbreak even though we are physically still healthy. With MCO being implemented, we are shaken off-balance, and that resembles a psychological crisis.

For academic staff, we all have to convert our curriculum online suddenly and change our academic calendar in the last minute fashion, which requires flexibility and creativity. For professional staff, we are asked to take care of the students while managing and coordinating the academic platform, which requires tremendous effort. With so many uncertainties about future actions from the government and trajectory of virus control, we are left to find resources to cope with piling anxiety.

From the stress appraisal theory, when the situation is "ambiguous," it creates even more stressors for the recipient, as innate human need is to "control". With increased work demands, how do we keep sane during all the chaos? Clinical psychologists would suggest a few Cs:

  1. Create what is Controllable. For example, create your timetable during MCO, create a new moodle page, create a meal to comfort yourself, create a poem to memorise your day, create a collage for your family photos, etc. When mobility is retrained, we could be surprised to see our creativity and innovation kick. Embrace your creativity. For example, use artistic forms to express your emotions and anxiety, control your breathing, and observe how the air flows through your body without judgment.
  2. Change what is Changeable. Accept what is unchangeable. For example, we can't control MCO, but we can accept it by making meaning of it-- "we are home to flatten the curve", or "we are home to reduce workloads for the frontliners". What we can change is our attitude and mentality towards the pandemic. For example, certain spiritual belief systems will help us to reframe suffering into a disguised blessing-- "the earth has become cleaner and greener without a populated city", "the animals and plants are finally back to their balance of ecology". Reframing our cognition is something we do all the time, as we could to make lemonade out of lemons. Positive psychology - virtue like helping others (altruism) could also be born out of a crisis like this, and it would be helpful to channel our energy into something constructive to society and marginalised people.
  3. Compartmentalise your work vs home. Trying to find balance by working from home is difficult, as the physical boundary between work and home/leisure is blurred by the shared space. Suggest compartmentalising your work/study space from your rest space. Also have someone accountable to your time table, by reminding you to have regular mealtime, and leisure time. Turning off those unessential stimuli (e.g. disaster news) would be helpful if you are already overstimulated and overwhelmed.
  4. Care for yourself first. For those who are in the helping professions, it is paramount for us to take care of yourself before we tend to others. Self-care comes in many forms. Introverts like to read books and enjoy being alone. Extroverts need to be charged in social life and would probably suffer the most during MCO. Hence utilising social media platforms to connect will be very important to be recharged. Self-care also needs to be planned with intention. It should be holistic in approach, which covers activities that will bring physical comfort, or psychological safety,  or social support, or spiritual fulfilment. The key here is to acknowledge that we are human beings with limitations. Without self-care, we would be burnt out soon like a car running without gas. It could be dangerous to those around you, not only yourselves.
  5. Celebrate every living day as a grace. Looking at the global crisis, we could remind ourselves to be grateful that we are still alive today, with good companionship. There is always something worth celebrating every day. Research shows that gratitude is the way to keep realistic optimism, which will boost our resilience. Count your blessings from the past to the present. Give yourselves little rewards for every milestone achieved. Don't save the best to last, but enjoy the present moment.
  6. Connect deeper with those who mean so much to you. There are two significant kinds of relational connections--the strong-ties bond (family and friends) and weak-ties bond (acquaintances and professionals). When we talk about social support, we need both to keep our balance. Many of my friends start to connect deeper with their friends and families in time of mobile restrictions but also find that those "strangers" from weak-ties could also be reconnected through social media again. If you have any unfinished business (e.g. conflicts/grudges) with anyone in your life, take the chance to seek or extend forgiveness. Reconcile and reconnect. Life is too short for everyone.