Features  |  Health  

Staying sane and healthy despite harsh realities of recession

By Geraldine Akutu   |   05 February 2017   |   3:24 am  

Citizens contemplating the times PHOTO: AYODELE ADENIRAN

After the initial shock at the debilitating effects of the economic recession, it is only prudent that Nigerians start thinking of how to grapple with the situation, so that their wellbeing is not unduly affected. Towards this end, people can reinforce their ‘shock-absorber’ by taking certain steps that are capable of cushioning the devastating consequences of the situation, thereby forestalling possible psychical, mental and physical breakdown.

Analysing the situation, a counselling psychologist, Tiwalade Soriyan of Olakunle Soriyan Company and Truce Works Ltd., said: “The real challenge with recession is the fear of the unknown. It’s not just about inflation, skyrocketing prices and gloomy economy, but the sense of uncertainty, not knowing what tomorrow holds. As such, fear overwhelms the mind, alerting the nervous system, which makes the body primed for a fight or flight response. This translates to what is referred to as stress and you see the manifestation in people’s physiology— how they become unstable, incoherent in speech/ thoughts, racing heartbeats, which, of course, results in different forms of neurosis and psychosomatic illnesses, such as high blood pressure and insomnia, among others.

“And to deal with the stress, some people resort to coping mechanisms, which further worsen their mental and physical health. They take up dysfunctional habits, addictions and abuse of substances, such as excessive drinking, flirtations, gambling and the like. Suicidal tendencies also become very common.”

How can the situation be managed?
Soriyan believes it has become imperative for today’s man or woman to come to terms with the reality, to be aware of his/her limitation and know that downturns are an indispensable aspect of life. “Challenges and changes are normal,” she explained. “There are times you have things in abundance, and there are also times you experience lack. So, the best coping strategy is to be flexible and not insist that things must be done as usual. One must avoid making the mistake of believing that he/she has become less valuable as a person, on the basis of what he/she has or doesn’t have.

“To deal objectively with a period of recession, Nigerians must also learn to identify their priorities and distinguish them from luxuries. Priorities are things that are needed for normal functioning, while luxuries are things that are desired, but can be done without. Another point of concern is the self-esteem. If people attach their self-worth to items and things they indulge in, then there is bound to be trouble.

“If people are also overly concerned about others’ opinions, then they would be in a mess emotionally. It is important to teach children about the economic situation in the country and its implications for the family choices and expenditures. If they are carried along, they will adjust appropriately. The same goes for workplace decisions. Expenses that don’t positively impact on the bottom-line must be cut down. Being economical exemplifies discretion.”

In addition, she said it is important to work with budgets, as the fear of uncertainty heightens with lack of planning. Realistic budgets accommodate real needs and make people adjust better to changes. More importantly, periods of recession avail people of the opportunity to get in touch with their creative ingenuity, which leads to emergence of productive ideas that transform individual lives and even industries.

“It is equally important that people be optimistic. Negative thinking and self-doubt won’t make life any better. Above all, people should know that life, even in the rosiest of situations, is not in their control. So, putting one’s trust in God helps to diffuse tensions and give the needed inner peace for a healthy mental state during such challenging periods,” Soriyan advised.

Adebowale Ayobade, a sociology lecturer at the University Of Lagos, felt concerned that Nigeria and its citizens have to go through the hard time in the first place. She said: “This is a country blessed with natural and human resources, yet living in serious poverty. You will observe that there is no more middle class in Nigeria. It is either you are rich or poor. Public servants are not being paid. There is so much wretchedness. The minimum wage is so small and is hardly enough for workers and their families. Workers are pauperised, and because of all this, there will be an increase in crime rate. People have already taken to a lot of social vices, such as robbery and kidnapping, among others.

“I think the way forward is for workers’ salaries to be increased, and they should be paid as at when due. This is the time to cut our coat according to the size of our cloth. I strongly advise Nigerians to cut down on excesses and avoid wastes. This is not the time for frivolities. Government should be sensitive to the plight of the people, and cut the cost of governance. The money could be put to better use. Nigerian government should take a cue from Tanzanian president who is doing a good job of cutting costs.”

Dr. Olayinka Atilola, a Child and adolescent Psychiatrist at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, is of the opinion that mental and emotional disorder is as a result of psychological challenges that people face from time to time.

“During the time of economic recession, businesses are down, expectations are hardly met and financial obligations are falling short,” he explained. “That in itself will constitute a psycho-social situation for people, which may become a bit widespread. This means that the incident of mental and emotional disorders will be on the increase during economic meltdown.”

Atilola said the ongoing economic recession poses a mental health risk, as it portends a significant risk for increase in mental health condition.
“During this period, people tend to take more risks. We have seen instances, where people take financial risks to escape the impact of the economic recession. I have seen at least two or three cases of such. There have also been two cases of attempted suicide, a depressive illness, which, for instance, was as a result of participation in the popular MMM scheme, which may normally be as a result of desperation that comes with the recession pushing people to take more financial risk in an attempt to mitigate it.

“I advise people to moderate their expectations. They need to understand that there are seasons, when the economy is good and the not-so-good season as well. If you consider the history of economic recession globally, it never lasts for too long. The recession will be over and the time of boom will come again. So, people need to encourage themselves and understand that this is a situation they must adapt to without seeing it as a dead end. This is the time to spend more time with families, exercise, avoid reckless spending, and pick a new hobby. People can also divert extra time or extra energy to productive areas that improve mental health and wear a positive attitude, while waiting for the situation to change,” Atilola advised.

On her part, Esta Morenikeji, a fitness instructor and founder of ZONEFITNESS NG, said stressing over a bad situation won’t make the bad situation go away or get better.

“And being angry and bitter will not do any good either. As it is now, you and I have no control over the price of crude oil or foreign exchange rate. But we do have control over how we respond to these challenges, just as we have control over our personal needs.

“So, rather than stress over what we cannot control, we can use the same energy to find creative ways to reduce our personal needs. We can also reduce financial stress by taking a critical look at how we spend our money. Is everything you are currently spending money on necessary? If no, cut down or eliminate the unimportant,” she said.

The fitness expert is of the opinion that in this recession exercise is strongly advised. “There is no better time to make exercise your friend than now,” she advised. “Exercise will not only give you the energy and strength to deal with everyday stress, but it will also keep your medical bills low. Exercise is good medicine. There are numerous physiological, psychological, and metabolic benefits the individual stands to gain from regular participation in exercise. Being physically fit can reduce your risks of diseases and improve your health and wellbeing.

“As a people, we need to survive this economic crisis. We must stay sane and healthy, so that when this season is over, we will be alive and well to enjoy the good times. People can also take up the practice of yoga, which is a mind-body exercise. It improves flexibility, strength and calms the mind (breathing and meditation).”



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