How to deal with negative emotions during the epidemic

July 12, 2022 06:00
Photo: AP

Hong Kong people were exhausted after fighting the epidemic for more than two years. They were tired of panic buying food and anti-epidemic materials. They worried about the suspension of business, work and study, or being sent to the quarantine centre after contracting the virus. All of these have greatly increased their psychological burden. When people are bombarded by negative news with the death toll hitting new highs every day, their emotions are inevitably overwhelmed.

The 24-hour emotional support hotline of the Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong has received a significant increase in the number of cases related to the epidemic. In the first two months of this year alone, there were 272 cases, which is equivalent to 40% of the 655 cases in last year. Hong Kong people are enduring emotional disturbance, various emotional problems will emerge over time, which increase suicidal tendency. The Suicide Prevention Early Warning System developed by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of the University of Hong Kong gave a warning in late March this year as the average of the past 7 days’ estimates for suicide exceeded the "extremely high" level.

Negative emotions will bring psychological trauma, and may also cause disease and endanger health. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), when an individual suffers excessive stress for a long time, it will affect one’s life and lead to long-term release of stress hormone. In addition to weakening the immune system and hindering the production of T cells, it is more likely to induce various diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma and stroke, and even damage to intestines and stomach, immune system and nervous system. Another study points out that chronic emotional distress is more likely to induce different types of cancer. The United States has ranked emotional stress as a major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death: cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.

In fact, short-term negative emotions can be relieved through rest, exercise, talking to someone, or applying stress relief tools available in the market. Examples like using bright colors, music, or positive words of encouragement as tools for emotion therapy. In addition, laughter not only enlightens others, but also radiates positive energy. For this purpose, two Form 4 students in Hong Kong designed an application called Laughter Catcher 2.0 which allows users to use Laughter Yoga to relieve stress and strengthen the relationship with their family and friends. The application has just won the silver medal and special recognition at this year's International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva. The application’s emotion recogniser can read the user's emotion through artificial intelligence in the cloud and assess the degree of happiness by measuring against a happiness index. The accumulated happiness points can be donated to non-profit organisations as charitable points. The application can also send text messages to encourage users to communicate more. This kind of application is specially designed for relieving stress, when you use them in a timely manner, it will ease your negative emotions and reduce stress.

However, when negative emotion continues to accumulate and cannot be reduced, it is necessary to seek professional assistance. If you are concerned about the high costs, there are emotional support platforms in Hong Kong developed by voluntary groups. For example, in 2019, a research team of Baptist University has launched a three-year online Cognitive Behavioral Intervention Program for Hong Kong People With Depression (CANDO) with funding from the Innovation and Technology Fund For Better Living under the Innovation and Technology Bureau. The CANDO allows emotionally troubled people to learn different stress relieving skills through watching case demonstration videos, or interviewing with a clinical psychologist to ease their emotional problems. The Mental Health Association of Hong Kong has also introduced Hong Kong's first free mobile application for dealing with emotional and mental distress, Counseline@MHAHK. The application provides emotional tests, online counseling, mental health information and resources to the general public, so that people can understand their mental health status, while professional social workers provide online counselling services to those in need.

There are always setbacks in our lives, which will lead to negative emotions. As long as we face them positively and seek help in time, we can avoid depression. At the same time, the public should be more caring and tolerant, especially during the epidemic when everyone can lend a helping hand to those in need.

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong