Since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, many of us, even those who have not been infected by the virus, will choose to quarantine in our homes for the upcoming weeks. Capsized travel plans, indefinite isolation, panic over scarce re-sources and information overload could be a recipe for unchecked anxiety and feelings of isolation. Here are a few pointers that could help you survive spiraling negative thoughts about this uncertain time.
1.) Reframe “I am stuck inside” to “I can finally focus on my home and myself”
As dismal as the world may feel right now, think of the mandated work-from-home policy as an opportunity to refocus your attention from the external to the internal. Doing one productive thing per day can lead to a more positive attitude. Set your sights on long-avoided tasks, reorganize, or create something you’ve always wanted to. Approaching this time with a mindset of feeling trapped or stuck will only stress you out more. This is your chance to slow down and focus on yourself.
2.) Stay close to your normal routine
Try and maintain some semblance of structure from the pre-quarantine days. For those individuals with children, sticking to a routine might be easier; however as you work from home, it could be tempting to fall into a more lethargic lifestyle, which could lead to negative thinking. Wake up and go to bed around the same time, eat meals, shower, adapt your exercise regimen, and get out of your PJ’s. Do laundry on Sundays as usual. Not only will sticking to your normal routine keep you active and less likely to spiral, it will be easier to readjust to the outside world when it’s time to get back to work.
3.) Avoid obsessing over endless Coronavirus coverage
Freeing up your day from work or social obligations gives you plenty of time to obsess, and if you have a tendency to consult Google for every itch and sneeze, you may be over-researching the pandemic as well. Choosing only certain credible websites (who.int or cdc.gov is a good start) for a limited amount of time each day (perhaps two chunks of 30 minutes each) will be in your best interest during this time.
4.) Start a new quarantine ritual
With this newfound time, why not do something special during these quarantined days? For ex-ample, perhaps you can start a daily journal to jot down thoughts and feelings to reflect on later. Or take a walk every day at 4 pm, connect with your sister over FaceTime every morning, or start a watercolor painting which you can add to everyday. Having something special during this time will help you look forward to each new day.
5.) Use telehealth as an option to talk to a professional if your anxiety becomes unmanageable
Many licensed psychologists are offering telehealth options over HIPAA-compliant video chat platforms. Remember to reach out for help if your anxiety is reaching proportions that is unmanageable without professional help.
Letting go of illusions of control and finding peace in the fact that you are doing your part to “flatten the curve” will certainly build mental strength to combat the stressful situation the whole globe is experiencing.
Maintaining one’s mental wellbeing during a pandemic is as important as containing the viruses. Here are a few tips to make sure you stay clear in your head
Youngsters facing relationship issues and losing patience with their partners. Employees worried about when (if at all) their next paycheck will come in. Students with hazy academic futures. People living alone who just want someone to talk to. These are some of the phone calls that Amatullah Lokhandwala fields every day. A clinical psychologist, she volunteers with Wellbeing Volunteers United (WVU), an initiative started by Prakriti Poddar, Managing Trustee of the Poddar Foundation. With over 500 volunteers from all walks of life, WVU is a free distress line created during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, offering support in English and multiple regional languages. Its helpline number is 1800-121-0980.
“This is a time for action”, says Amatullah, when asked why she volunteered. “During and after a pandemic, one should not lose sight of mental health. We are in unprecedented times, and it is natural to need help in coping with our situation.”
Don’t lose sight of a routine: Stick to healthy eating and sleeping habits.
Dr. Alka Subramanyam, Associate Professor of the Department of Psychiatry at TNMC and BYL Nair Ch. Hospital in Mumbai, recommends that families plan their schedules together, so that everyone knows what the other is doing, and individual preferences can be accommodated. Seemingly harmless changes to a schedule can cause discomfort to others — for instance, if the family decides to eat a meal an hour later than the older adults are used to, it could impinge upon the latter’s medication routine or have physiological consequences like reflux.
Be mindful of each other: Living through a lockdown is a new experience for everyone.
For youngsters used to going out, staying in can feel like a stifling loss of independence; for those whose work has come to a halt, it can feel like a loss of purpose; even for those older adults who have been home-bound, staying indoors isn’t an issue — but if they live with family, having people around all the time can be quite an adjustment. Be mindful of this and find ways to listen to or accommodate each other’s concerns.
Being in confined, shared spaces is also bound to cause friction between family members. Anshuma Kshetrapal, a psychotherapist and drama and movement therapist, says, “We are responsible for setting our own personal boundaries.” She suggests picking the right time and having a conversation about it with loved ones — it could be something as simple as asking those around you to knock before entering your room. To make the conversation go smoother, using the “I” language might help (for example, “This is something I would like, and I am checking if it is okay with you; it’s not about causing offense or discomfort to you.”)
Minimise “corona time”: If you wish, spend 30-60 minutes in the morning or evening absorbing news and updates about the pandemic. “The rest of the time, dedicate to self and to relationships,” says Dr. Subramanyam.
For those who live away from their elderly parents or relatives, she advises against causing panic, and instead promotes “cautious concern”. Though one might have good intentions, repeatedly calling one’s parents to issue instructions could not only increase stress but also ruffle feathers; after all, those at the receiving end might bristle at the idea of their life suddenly being managed by their children, when they have run it themselves all this while.
Social connectedness: Make phone and video calls on a daily basis to others. Staying in touch has never been easier.
Express yourself: The arts are a representation of the conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings that we carry around. Giving these an outlet, especially at this time, is important. “Anyone is capable of creating art, irrespective of their range of expression,” says Anshuma. She encourages people to spend less time consuming content and more time in creating it. She also advocates spending more time on movement, even if it is just to perform mundane tasks. She warns against taking too much of a “capitalist outlook” towards these activities — it doesn’t matter how “good” you are at the arts, or how many calories you burned in a day.
Seek help when you need it: If you begin to feel stress, anxiety or depression and need someone to talk to, do not hesitate to seek help. A list of contacts is provided at the end of this article.
This pandemic will eventually pass, and life will move on. The return to normality can be an overwhelming experience, and we need to pace ourselves. Anshuma emphasises on “graduality” being key. If you haven’t immediately achieved all you set out to, “Be gentle — Don’t punish or criticise yourself,” she advises.
The same can be said of organisations too. Prakriti Poddar points out that for many people, the home ecosystem has slowly become the new normal. So returning to work at an office could require a major adjustment. Their thoughts and worries may still be tied to the goings-on at home. It is important for employers to recognise this and demonstrate empathy by giving their employees time to adapt.
Prakriti urges mental health practitioners to use this as an opportunity to collaborate with each other. “We need to work together,” she reaffirms. Doing so will not only widen their reach and enable more Indians to get help, but will also introduce standardisations in the way teleservices for mental health are delivered.