COVID-19: international guidelines for psychological well-being and stress management
The coronavirus has forced almost everyone to stay at home and it is increasingly common to hear this experience of limitation of mobility associated with that of quarantine and isolation. What the psychological repercussions of this pandemic may be is still too early to say, but on the basis of similar past experiences, perhaps it is possible to be prepared and apply some useful tips provided by experts to improve our well-being.
Advertising message The pandemic spread of COVID-19 has forced numerous governments to intervene with particularly restrictive containment measures that fall within the definition of “social distancing”. Social distancing refers to an extremely varied set of actions aimed at reducing contact between individuals, such as the cancellation of mass events, the closure of schools and workplaces (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017 ; European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, 2020). There are some social distancing measures that concern not so much groups, but individuals, which can be categorized into: Isolation, Quarantine, and Limitation of travel (recommendation to stay at home).
To clarify, the first thing to do is to describe these three concepts (European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, 2020):
The three measures, although they share the need for physical distancing, have specific properties that make them clearly different in their characteristics, but also in their impact on everyday life. Suffice it to say that all those who are in quarantine or in isolation are not allowed to leave the house, not even for work needs, health reasons and needs, which are instead granted in cases of travel restrictions. A review of studies (Brooks, et al., 2020) has recently been published on the quarantine experience in the prestigious scientific journal The Lancet, which based on experiences of quarantine and isolation of other diseases (such as Sars, H1N1 flu, Ebola, flu equine and MERS) described its possible psychological risks.
What emerges from this review of studies is that in general people under quarantine tend to report more stressful conditions than those who have not received this restrictive measure, but to emerge in a particularly evident way are emotional problems such as fear and worry to be able to contract the disease or to be able to transmit it to others, but also the anxiety of not being able to carry out important activities such as buying food and basic necessities. Studies have shown that agitation can also be linked to problems of a working, economic or family nature due to the uncertainty of the situation in which we are living. The boredom and loneliness related to the change of lifestyle and long periods spent at home, together with the sudden interruption of everyday life, it could also lead to greater sadness and depressed mood, but also frustration and irritability related to the absence of freedom of movement and the impossibility of being able to carry out the activities to which it is held. To all these problems can also be added sleep difficulties and to carry out daily activities, but also the risk of stigma and social exclusion.
Advertising message As previously mentioned, the problems described in this study refer to the consequences of conditions of real isolation or quarantine. However, there is growing attention from institutions to the effects on the population of the stress generated by this state of crisis (World Health Organization, 2020a). As pointed out by the American Psychological Association (APA, 2020), spending a lot of time at home with limited stimuli and social contacts could still be considered risky for the psychological well-being of individuals. In fact, despite the psychological problems related to the “limitation of travel” (recommendation to stay at home) are not comparable to those experienced in quarantine or in isolation, and although negative global influences for mental health seem to be still under control, the World Health Organization (2020a) has nevertheless expressed concern about the stress levels that this global crisis is generating. For this reason, although there is still no research that can demonstrate the psychological consequences of the mobility restrictions caused by COVID-19, previous studies on stressful experiences and limiting and hostile environmental conditions have allowed numerous entities, organizations, orders and associations. national and international science (Australian Psychological Society, 2020; Berufsverband Österreichischer PsychologInnen, 2020; National Council of Psychologists Order, 2020a; 2020b; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020; European Federation of Psychologists Associations, 2020; Ordem dos Psicólogos Portugueses, 2020), to summarize, with a view to prevention, some tips to be applied to support psychological well-being and mental health during the COVID-19 epidemic. In line with the World Health Organization (2020b) infographic, the main indications for the population are:
The World Health Organization (2020a) has clearly expressed the need to combine the measures of containment of COVID-19 actions to support psychological well-being to help the population cope with the stress generated by this crisis. To be able to adequately prevent and cope with the difficulties that may arise, it is therefore essential to follow the international and Ministry of Health guidelines, relying on the support of psychologists.