With people putting themselves in quarantine to keep safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental and emotional pressures continue to mount up while stuck in lockdown.
To help people understand these issues, Dr. Kirby Chua gave a talk as part of the webinar Keep Your Head Up: A Wellness Guide on How to Cope During the Pandemic. Chua is a Xavier School Batch ‘95 alumnus and a registered psychologist and clinical supervisor who is now based in Singapore leading as the counseling supervisor, director, and coordinator of the Christian counseling-focused Grace Counselling Centre. Chua has trained thousands of counselors and psychologists in both the Philippines and Singapore, as well as authored the book, The Bible’s Secrets to Counseling.
“We expect the psychological effects of these lockdowns to rise higher and higher,” Chua shares as he started his talk. He explains that when it comes to the human mind and human behavior, it all comes down to sowing and reaping. “Even if the biomedical and financial effects are measured, and people are working on it already, the problem is that we haven’t seen the psychological effects yet.” He noted the rise of suicide rates and domestic violence stemming from “anything to do with violating your boundaries at home” now that people are exposed for a long period of time, as well as psychological effects manifesting months afterward.
According to Chua, the first stage of the psychological effects of pandemics that most people are experiencing is the stress reaction. “You have to be aware that you are in an emergency situation. Your mind knows this. Your mind is trying to assess the situation, and the assessment of the situation is usually wrong. You sense a threat and danger, and you enter the Fight, Flight, and Freeze reaction,” he describes this stage, such as the prevalence of the virus causing the fear of going out.
The second stage features the frustration of psychological needs, such as the loss of consistency and control, socio-economic support, and the loss of identity and meaning. When these needs are frustrated, unhealthy automatic thoughts begin popping up, such as self-victimization, magnification, and black-and-white thinking. “When you have these thoughts playing over and over again, just know that these are responses to a frustrated need…These automatic thoughts are all irrational. It’s all wrong. It’s a lie. Why do they keep popping out?” he shares, saying his belief that humans are not supposed to be pessimistic. “We were trained at an early age to have these kinds of reactions.”
These “Fight, Flight, and Freeze” stress reactions are anger, anxiety, and depression. He also explained some warning signs such as behavioral changes, disturbed sleep, mood changes, and addictive behaviors.
Chua suggests in order to cope, one should first deal with the negative thoughts by catching yourself when you think this way and redefine the situation. “All of these is a battle with your mind. The world is, by nature, pessimistic and reinforces your sense of helplessness,” he explains, continuing, “Be careful of all the noise, even in social media, that will deal with your automatic negative thoughts. When a negative thought comes up, try to interpret what happened. You can redefine the situation, convert this to something more constructive [and] positive.” He also talked about the locus of control on acceptance versus change: “Do you just accept it and treat it as a holiday or do you take charge of things?”
Chua shares solutions for viewers to do when experiencing these thoughts and ideas. For those experiencing anger and anxiety, he recommends relaxation techniques. He suggests “energy exchange” – emotional expression, mental organization, and social support – like a need for human interaction, saying, “You need to be in touch with people. The last thing you want to do is isolate yourself [and] close up…Find an avenue to talk about this. Do not bottle up yourself.” An active lifestyle and solution-focused coping are what he recommends to people.
Lastly, he gives a list of “don’ts” for people. He advises not to abuse stereotypes, not to use the incident as an excuse to ruin a life, bottle up feelings, withdraw from society, reinforce fears, and keep blaming others. “Look into yourself first, change the negative thoughts. Pick up the seeds. Identify the needs that are being frustrated. You can more or less prolong the psychological support for the coming lockdowns. You have to satisfy your own psychological needs,” he explains. Concluding his talk, he shares, “A crisis situation is simply an abrupt change in someone’s life which can lead to a negative or positive outcome. A crisis is not always your enemy, it’s not always wrong.”
Following his talk, Chua partook in a Q&A with audience members moderated by CHiNOY TV host Valerie Tan, where he spoke about self-care, maintaining positivity, spirituality and faith, and cabin fever among family members, among other topics.
The Alumni Association of Xavier School (AAXS) and SJCS Alumni Association, in cooperation with CHiNOY TV and FFCAAI, held the webinar Keep Your Head Up: A Wellness Guide on How to Cope During the Pandemic. Chua served as the primary speaker of the night, while CHiNOY TV host Valerie Tan moderated the event and AAXS President Edgar Gatchalian gave opening remarks.
Head over to CHiNOY TV’s Facebook page for the webinar’s replay, including Dr. Chua’s full talk!