Mental well-being in the age of Covid-19

Nothing feels normal anymore.

We are on forced lockdown, holed up in our homes, worried about loved ones living under a different roof. We are physically isolating ourselves. Some of us are experiencing disappointment and sadness for having to miss milestones such as birthdays, weddings, and graduations. Many are facing the harsh and unexpected reality of unemployment and financial hardship.

Parents with young children at home are under unprecedented and unsustainable pressure. With schools and day-cares closed during the pandemic, many parents are trying to do the impossible by working while schooling and supervising their children at the same time.

Children too are going through a rough time. Children, especially younger ones, in the absence of structure and routine, may experience anxiety and behavioural problems.

Victims of domestic violence are now closed in all day with their abuser, and children from families with dysfunctional dynamics do not find the respite and safety net provided by their school.

Covid-19 has awakened feelings of fear, helplessness and hopelessness, all crippling to mental health. These are compounded by social isolation, the loss of any semblance of structure and routine, and uncertainty.

The irresponsible actions of a few who blatantly ignore and defy the recommendations of the health authorities and the precepts of common sense are further heightening the anxiety of many who fear for their own safety and that of their loved ones. The threat of a second wave is also very worrying to many.

These circumstances, especially if protracted, can easily fray the mental health and emotional resilience of most. We need to be vigilant for the signs that we are no longer coping, and that our anxieties are turning dark and dangerous, in which case we should not hesitate to reach out. We should also avoid increasing habits that will only make things worse, like smoking, drug use and drinking.

Here are a few ideas that can help us cope with the situation. It may not be possible to take on all these ideas, but even taking on a couple of them will help.

Establish a schedule. Our days and nights, weekdays and weekends are now blended, and many people, especially those working from home find themselves working more hours. One way to fight back to is establish a schedule that strictly separates work from family time and me-time and creates structure and routine.

Exercise can improve your physical health and gives you an enormous sense of well-being. People who exercise regularly feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. It is best to exercise in the morning, before energy and motivation wane away. There are many fitness instructors who are giving free online lessons.

Practice mindfulness. The practice of mediation and yoga as well as mindfulness are invaluable for mental well-being. When you shift the focus of your attention from all that is tiring and weighing it, you provide your mind with rest and respite. Train yourself to practice mindfulness always, whatever activity you are engaged in. You can find tons of information about this online.

Practice gratitude Science has shown that people who practice gratitude are happier and more optimistic. Try to think of three things that you are grateful for every day and allow yourself to feel the welling of gratitude for a few of minutes. During the day, try to remember and back to that feeling.

Personal hygiene and appearance Maintaining good personal hygiene, keeping yourself well-groomed and well-kept are key to mental well-being, even if you are not leaving the house and no one is going to see you. It will bolster your self-confidence and your mood, and help you feel good about yourself.

Do not focus on bad news Avoid an obsessive focus on alarming media reports on the pandemic and the devastation to the economy. Do not follow people or hashtags that give you anxiety while reading them. Avoid speculation, conspiracy theories and unreliable news sources. Consider reducing the use of social media and disconnecting totally from it for 24 hours occasionally. Instead, read a good book, watch a good film or a funny one.

Do things which interest you and/or give you pleasure Try to do the things you normally enjoy doing. Stay connected and maintain a social life by connecting online with loved ones who are living apart and with friends.

Learn something new. If you now have more time on your hands, consider learning a new skill. There are plenty of affordable online courses. You could learn something simply because you like it and always wished to learn it, or because it will improve your career. Either way, being mentally engaged distracts the mind from negativity, and learning new skills can give a sense of achievement. It could possibly help your career too!

Sleep – Sleep deprivation leads to anxiety and depression, whilst anxiety leads to poor sleep, a vicious circle. A healthy lifestyle and practicing good sleep hygiene can often help our quality of sleep. Make sure that you religiously maintain regular sleep-wake hours, and that you do not sleep too little or too much.

Do watch this short video by Unicef:

The truth of the matter is that this situation is not going to go away soon. But we need to find meaning in all this. This is a test for the human spirit and fortitude. This is an opportunity for humanity to find once again its humaneness, compassion, and empathy. It is an opportunity to show and practice kindness. That another rhythm besides the rat race we were all caught up in is possible. It can help us rediscover the importance of family and self.

The Covid-19 pandemic was not our choice, but our response to it is.

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