The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. According to WHO, mental illness could also reach new highs during the coronavirus (COVID-19 )lockdown. Given that our Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a nationwide lockdown till May 3, mental health should now be a high priority. While managing mental health during this time may be harder than usual, it is not impossible. Here’s how you can deal with the stress and anxiety during these unprecedented times.
Stick to a healthy routine to feel normal
When we are home all day, there is some disruption of routine. Aim for maintaining a healthy lifestyle including proper diet, sleep and exercise to help negate the side-effects associated with this change. It is important to remember that social distancing doesn’t mean absolute distancing. There are several ways to stay virtually connected, build relationships and share your feelings with the people you trust.
Engage in hobbies to divert your mind
Keep yourself occupied and plan your daily activities in advance. Make a list of the hobbies, courses and other activities that you would like to pursue. Set “feel-good” goals for yourself and prioritise things that make you happy. A positive distraction can get you away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression. Identify new home projects like a DIY or organise your closet. Make your time productive by engaging in online courses, tutorials, webinars and other activities. Find accountability and a support buddy to keep you motivated through this time.
Be in touch with your therapist if you have a pre-existing mental health condition
Dealing with isolation is hard. Humans are social creatures and need contact with others. Being deprived of that gives rise to a wide range of feelings, including fear, anger, sadness, loneliness, irritability, guilt, confusion and may even lead to sleep problems. This time can be especially difficult for those with a pre-existing mental illness. If you have a pre-existing condition, make sure you have enough medication on hand and are adhering to the cycle of medication. Have those sessions with your counsellor or therapist over calls, rather than skipping it altogether. The need to adhere to the therapy plan is important right now, more than ever.
Diffuse financial insecurities by building your career network
With the fear of people losing their jobs, you are bound to have insecurity and financial worries. It is important to remember that you are not alone, and this is the bitter reality that everyone is facing. Use the time during lockdown to plan future endeavours and connect to new people over LinkedIn to build job-related security.
Communicate to manage relationships better
Being in a lockdown can be a burden on relationships because of being in a confined space for a long time. Remember, communication is key. Use creative ways to interact and stay connected. You can set up a gratitude tree where every member posts a message to share something they are grateful for. You can also find a group to account for your daily challenges that could include a healthy habit, a mindful practice, a creative pursuit. Be sure to encourage and check-in daily to stay motivated. You can also set dates and times to watch the same TV shows with someone and message each other your thoughts along the way.
Stay away from substance abuse to prevent dependency
The use of alcohol and other substances may be on the rise during this time. It is popularly considered a good way to kill time and is used as a coping mechanism to escape emotions. Excessive consumption will only make matters worse, reduce your coping skills and increase dependency after the lockdown is lifted. Replace this with productive activities that we just listed above.
Consume only warranted news to avoid panic
Anxiety due to the fear of self and family contracting the virus is normal but it is important to remain calm. At the same time, be careful by accurately determining risk and taking reasonable precautions. Panic is a result of the spread of false information. Be sure to follow credible sources such as WHO and limit the time spent watching or listening to media coverage that you perceive as upsetting.
Determine your anxiety symptoms to prevent panic attacks
Panic attacks are fairly common even under far less dire circumstances. Coronavirus (covid-19) seems to be causing many people to suffer panic attacks within a short time. “There’s an increased level of stress due to all this uncertainty,” Dr Lynn Bufka, PhD (senior director of the American Psychological Association). The tightening of the chest and breathing difficulties are often confused for symptoms of the coronavirus. It is important to know that severe anxiety can bring on a panic attack. It may be helpful to try to determine what brought on these symptoms and attempt grounding exercises to alleviate the panic. Tackling anxiety will reduce the likelihood of panic attacks.
Relieve stress with deep breathing techniques and meditation
Feelings of depression, anxiety and stress plus substance abuse can snowball into issues with long-term consequences. Even after the lockdown is lifted, remember to set aside time for yourself to relax and recharge. Practice deep breathing, yoga or meditation or anything that helps you relax. You can find good instruction very easily online.
It is important to recognise what is typical and what’s not. When some symptoms and signs are reoccurring and interfere with daily life, it’s time to seek professional help. If you continue to face these negative emotions, reach out to a professional counsellor or Employee Assistance Program (EAP), if available. Hoping mental health problems such as anxiety or depression will go away on their own can lead to worsening symptoms.
(The author is a psychologist and mental health specialist, MSc mental health, University of London. )
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