Suggestions include maintaining a healthy lifestyle, building a positive mindset, developing a strong mentality and keeping in contact with others.
From left to right: Prof. Liu Mingbo, Prof. Gao Jun and Prof. Ding Yan
The COVID-19 pandemic has exerted an everlasting influence upon people all over the world. Due to the physical restrictions posed by protective measures including social distancing and remote working, the pandemic has put strains on people’s mental health and posed new challenges for people already suffering from mental illness.
On July 10, Fudan University held an online lecture for overseas Chinese students on how to maintain mental well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. Entrusted the Ministry of Education, it was the fifth lecture of the series which was launched along with the eight Fudan medical consultation platforms for Chinese international students in the U.S.
The lecture was moderated by Prof. Ding Yan, deputy director of Fudan Center for Faculty Development, and presented by Prof. Liu Mingbo, director of Fudan Mental Health Education Center, and Prof. Gao Jun, deputy director of Fudan Department of Psychology.
Prof. Liu Mingbo: Evaluating mental status and manage chronic stress
Just as how COVID-19 prevention and control has, to some extent, become normalized practices, students should also learn to manage their mental health as a normalized response to the chronic stress caused by COVID-19, said Prof. Liu Mingbo.
Stress, explained Liu, is a psychological term that refers to the body’s natural defense against challenges or threats that people could not immediately cope with. Usually, it is a feeling of emotional or physical tension that prepares the body to fight or evade danger. Since the virus situation is still quite serious in some countries, the emotional tension brought by COVID-19 has been prolonged.
According to Liu, there are three stages of responses that the body goes through after being stimulated by a stressor: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. The body first perceives the stressor, and then initiates the fight-or-flight response. If the stressor remains, the body will keep resisting it until falling into exhaustion. This could lead to a variety of cognitive, emotional and behavioral changes, including self-abasement, anxiety, fear, depression, tense facial expressions, shaky voice, etc. “If you find yourself suffering symptoms such as irritability, constant emotional ups and downs, insomnia, poor concentration and eating disorders, you need to come up with prompt solutions to your stressors.”
But she pointed out that different people may have different reactions, so it is important to know how to evaluate our mental status. We can decide if a stressor triggers minor, moderate or major responses based on how much our daily lives are affected. Liu added that students with minor response can conduct self-adjustment, but those with major response should turn to professionals for help.
To cope with chronic stress brought by COVID-19, Liu’s recipe is plenty of sleep, well-balanced diets and regular physical exercise. According to her, aerobic activities such as bat-and-ball games and swimming are most effective in lowering risk of diseases in general, particularly cardiovascular diseases. Doing exercise for at least 45 minutes per day and 3-5 times a week will significantly relieve one’s mental burden.
Prof. Gao Jun: Psychological resilience and post-traumatic growth
Instead of concentrating on negative stress, Prof. Gao Jun called on the audience to focus on positive stress. She said that humans’ ability to employ various solutions to crises demonstrated their psychological resilience. What people do when coping with crises is to regain psychological balance by making choices. That’s why, as Gao pointed out, crises always co-exist with opportunities. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, said she.
According to Gao, the first step to increase psychological resilience is to face up to crises, accept the inevitability of psychological imbalance under crises, and take the initiative to restore psychological balance.
People with strong resilience, through learning positive lessons from trauma, will bounce back and achieve post-traumatic growth. Gao said that since the pandemic, some people had appreciated their life more, formed more intimate relationships, found new possibilities in life and developed stronger willpower, which again proved that people’s mental toughness could help them survive crises and come out stronger.
At last, Gao provided two suggestions on improving psychological resilience. First, identify what is right and positive. Gao believed that the students among the audience needed to understand their parents were doing the right thing when expressing their worries, and they needed to make their parents see things in a positive light by talking to them about their plans and feelings. Second, discover small joys in life. By quoting Gandalf’s lines in The Lord of the Rings, “I’ve found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love,” Gao encouraged the students to do things that make them happy and recommended watching images of cute animals. Surely it is one of those things that will cheer most people up.
Editor: Deng Jianguo, Wang Mengqi, Li Yijie