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Covid-19 hits body and mind, but here’s how to survive it

After two whole weeks of lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun, the government extends lockdown for another two weeks. Nigerians are reeling from the coronavirus…

After two whole weeks of lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun, the government extends lockdown for another two weeks. Nigerians are reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, in both body and mind, but there’s a way to cope.

The eight men sat around a utility pole in front of a tuckshop in Nyanya, a district of the FCT. Since the stay-at-home directive, followed by the lockdown order—and with no way of going to their daily menial jobs—they sit for hours to drink, smoke and discuss one topic: coronavirus.

One week into the lockdown last Monday, none has bought anything from the tuckshop. The weather is scorching. They have removed their shirts and each twirls his for draughts of hot air.

“Before, by this time, we would have done one round already, but now nobody is after that. Food is the most important thing now,” one of them, Ben, says. They all concur.

“I tell you, when this coronavirus thing finishes, you will hear how many people had their pot of boiling food stolen right off their cooking stove,” another says.

A third man sums up the anguish. “What we were seeing in Nigeria before, we thought it was suffering. Now we are seeing suffering.”

One week into the lockdown on Ogun, Lagos and Abuja, Nigerians are feeling the squeeze—physically, emotionally, economically, psychologically.

What started as an advised “stay at home” has morphed into a mandated lockdown and is tightening the screws on the minds of Nigerians. It is also opening up reasons why Nigerians should not go all gloom-and-doom about it.

“It is important you keep a positive framework throughout this pandemic, because that will determine how your immune system will respond if all at all a time comes when you are exposed to the virus,” says behavioural health specialist Ada Ikeako.

Security forces enforcing coronavirus lockdown in parts of the country

Minding public distress

The numbers associated with coronavirus are moving targets, jumping by the minute around the world. And pervasive round-the-clock coverage brings them to anyone with a smartphone and data service.

By early Tuesday: 1.9 million infected, 343 on in Nigeria; 120,438 dead, 10 of them in Nigeria but also over 456,738 recovered and discharged from hospital, 91 in Nigeria.

Unfortunately, the situation is compounded by fake news, alarming reports and stories as well as videos, and pervasive media coverage that is causing significant emotional distress to many people, says the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria.

“All of the above results in a situation where individuals who are vulnerable may develop mental health problems; while those with existing mental health challenges may experience a worsening of their symptoms.”

Finances were the first signs of physical suffering. The sort of job many Nigerians do is such that requires them to go out every day before they are able to put food on their table. The lockdown turned off that tap. Hours before the lockdown on Abuja, Lagos and Ogun came into effect last week, director-general of the World Health Organisation cautioned that government take into account segments of their population who depend on daily work to make a living.

“One thing is to have a stimulus plan—that would mean suspending taxes until this pandemic is over,” says Ikeako. Income tax, value added taxes, pay as you go tax.

“This is one way the government can cushion the hardship this pandemic is causing to Nigerians.”

There is also talk of stipend—or some form of bailout—to employers who may have to cut pays or layoff staff as the lockdown wipes out their revenue and their ability to pay.

A view of the deserted central business district is pictured on the first day of a 14-day lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lagos, Nigeria March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja – RC22VF961ZXM

“Rushed into it”

The measures still don’t cut into how a Nigerian suddenly is not working and sits daily through the mental anguish of a lockdown.

“One thing is to acknowledge the stress. Don’t try and pretend it is not there, don’t push it aside,” says Ikeako.

Realise you are going through it and you probably didn’t have enough time to prepare for that change. The way you go out, come in, interact with others has changed within a couple of days.

“You have to acknowledge and validate it and give yourself permission to go through any sort of grieving process. Change takes time and it should go through steps but everything has been rushed. Because of the nature of the global health emergency, one hasn’t been able to go through the different stages of change: you have just been pushed into it by this virus.”

It is about an individual taking control of their life, even if they can’t control the virus, she explains.

“There is going to be more stress on relationships because people are now interacting more with each other than they have ever interacted before because many people are not working,” Ikeako explains

“You need to know that that’s what’s happening; it is not that you or your partner is bad, it is just that you are going through a lot of stress.

COVID-19 and Exercise: Staying Active while Socially Distancing. Courtesy: Lark.com

Do it yourself for yourself

The universal precautions have not changed and remain helpful—social distancing, handwashing, stay at home. But Ikeako advise even more personal precautions that relate to behaviour.

  • Plan ahead of time, like a week before—and have a timetable. That timetable should be full of healthy routine.
  • Exercise for 30 minutes—aerobics, brisk walking, skipping, dancing—at least four times a week. Resistance training twice a week is also good. Have plenty of exercise to fill up your day.
  • Check your healthy diet. The immunity you have, if you are exposed to the virus, will determine whether your body is able to mount an immune response to the virus and flush it out of your body system. You have to eat healthy well-balanced meals.
  • It is import to practise meditation. Meditation has been known to reduce stress and boost the immune system as well.
  • Think positive things. Keep a journal where you can write everything that you are grateful for. Have a gratitude diary.
  • Only listen to news about coronavirus twice a day. You don’t have to look at it every minute.
  • Reduce the negative sites you visit. Stop going to site where fake news [pervades]. Go to reputable sites where you get reliable information and you shouldn’t [visit] more than twice a day.
  • You should limit your exposure to sites with negative information and focus on sites that help you deal with how to prevent you from getting the virus and all the people that have recovered from the virus.

The eight men take their positions in front of the tuckshop the next day. One turns on an MP3 player and an old music track blares out. They argue what year the song was released—2007? 2008? The singer?

“Why are you wasting time? See Google here,” prompts the owner of the shop.

No talk about coronavirus

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