Dr Achal Bhagat, senior consultant psychiatry and psychotherapy, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, speaks about how one can change their thought pattern by thinking “slightly less negatively — if not positively”. From managing our time to not shying away from seeking help when required, Dr Bhagat shares important tips for sound mental health. Below is an edited transcript from the Facebook LIVE video of his conversation earlier this week.
We are going to talk about the fact that we are going through very difficult times and it is having an effect on our everyday lives. It is affecting the way we think, feel and behave. The first thing that I’ve learned from people is that it is important to say to yourself that it is a worrying time, and if I’m anxious or worrying, then it is alright to be so.
Everybody requires mental health support. It is alright to talk about your feelings and thoughts because mental health is about our feelings and thoughts and the way we look at ourselves. It is important to accept that there is a risk and that there are many changes that are happening in our lives. One has to accept the difficulty of the time.
How does one manage time?
First, let’s not worry every moment of the day. Let’s have a worrying time, let’s say, may be a problem-solving time. Once a week or twice a week, sit down with your families. If you’re living alone, sit down with people across social media or a video call, and list your problems and brainstorm possible solutions to that, and then try and apply those solutions. Deal with problems one day at a time, one hour at a time.
Second, don’t get overwhelmed by news. It is not that you do not need to know what is happening around you; it is extremely important to know. So, divide that into two parts: one you need to know what’s happening across the world, so, have half an hour to know about the world. But also, have half an hour to know about your own local world–what is happening in your community, what people are saying and doing. You don’t have to respond to that every moment. Have a view on it but walk away from arguments and fights because a number of people are irritable right now. Be accepting of their views. If people are being hurtful, empathise.
That’s how you manage your time and then divide it further into screen time and non-screen time, problem-solving time and non-problem-solving time, and leisure time.
How to manage screen time?
Screen time has increased for every one of us. It can be extremely exhausting. When we are interacting on the screen it is this type of performance; you’re not talking to one person always, you are talking to a large audience who you don’t even know sometimes. So you are being looked back at and that can be stressful. It is important to avoid screen time when one is so preoccupied with the screen otherwise.
How does one manage emotions?
The first thing to do is to accept and acknowledge what you’re feeling. State the feeling in words, rather than trying to keep it inside, or it comes out in an unhealthy manner. Once you’ve expressed that feeling, ask yourself what is it about this situation that is making me feel like this? And can I do something about it? It is important not to fight your feelings. But if you’re getting distressed, then talking about your feelings to someone else is important as well.
How to manage thoughts?
There are about a few kinds of distortions or patterns in our thoughts that are unhelpful. One is that you’re thinking in an “either-or” manner. Either things are too good, or too bad. This dichotomous way of thinking is not helping us.
Sometimes we start having a chain of thoughts, where we magnify the negative. So the way to manage feelings is to watch it. Be mindful. It is not a one day job. It will take you at least a week to 10 days to two weeks to understand the pattern.
Start maintaining a three-column diary where at the end of the day describe the situations that made you feel hurt or angry or happy. And then, what did you do in that situation, write that. And also, in the third column, write what did you think in that situation. If in a week you realise you are thinking like this over and over again, then that’s a pattern. And if you look at that pattern, ask yourself, is it helpful to think like that or not? If it is not helpful to think like that, how can I think slightly less negatively? I’m not asking you to think positively, I’m asking you to think slightly less negative.
Why do we feel exhausted all the time?
There are workplace demands, there are household-related demands, family-related demands, parenting demands, and there are demands that we have of ourselves. And the moment we have these demands, there is a mismatch with our resources. Be accepting of yourself, set realistic goals. It is important to say that maybe I cannot do everything. And let me manage them one at a time. And also be accepting of the fact that sometimes you will be less productive than before. And last of all, be ability-centric.
How to motivate oneself?
Have small endeavours each day which you find meaning in. And at the end of it, congratulate yourself that you’ve been able to do it. If you’re able to complete one endeavour, you will feel ready for the next endeavour the next time.
When do you seek professional help?
If you are having negative thoughts, feeling helpless or hopeless and this has gone on for a very long time — more than a few days, a week or 10 days — and it is causing a lot of distress and coming in the way of everyday functioning, reach out and seek help.
Who do you seek help from? Friends, definitely. Self-help books, definitely. But even beyond that, if you think that it is so distressing that this is not working for you, then reach out to any physician or a psychiatrist or a psychologist or a helpline.
Also in this series: Local cops remember the forgotten, with a daily lunch van
© IE Online Media Services Pvt Ltd