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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Matters of the Mind: Challenges are many amid pandemic, lessons even more

Understanding the functioning of our mind, its relationship with our emotions and ensuring mental health is important

Written by Dr Shwetambara Sabharwal | Mumbai |
May 1, 2021 2:25:53 pm
covid-19 pandemicComing to terms with things that are not in our control is the fundamental difficulty we face. (file)

Part II

In a continued effort to answer some questions troubling many, here is week 2 of more answers based on psychological therapy and experience that will hopefully cause some thought ripples and empower you. More confidence, clarity and courage.

8. How do we keep our mental health in check in such tough times?

While I have always said that stress is an integral part of life and learning, prolonged stress can be the culprit of significant damage. The pandemic has exposed us to multiple stressors including uncertainty in future which is stretching and thinning out our endurance. Mental health is key not just to avoid psychological disease through this period but also to be optimally effective, resilient and healthy.

Try to

a) Follow a routine – a certain amount of predictability in the day will reduce last-minute agitation and stress. A comfortable plan that includes physical activity/exercise, intake of a healthy diet, prioritising sleep, balancing work and rest will help. Our brains like familiarity and will be more available to fight if something comes up, if at least some basic patterns are on autopilot.

b) Adjust and adapt – as a paradox to my own earlier point of the brain preferring the familiar, I would like to remind you that our brains are champions at adapting to the new. A lot of things have changed recently and shifting focus from rejection, rumination and rigidity, to acceptance of the change and flexibility, openness to explore, wrestle with unfamiliar and developing strategies and skills to adapt will help maintain mental health.

9. What is the best way to maintain a healthy sleep schedule right now?

I truly believe we know the answer to this but are not able to follow our own sound judgement.

Deriving our dopamine kick from gadgets and binge-watching TV, browsing social media until wee hours of the night, not having to wake up early to ready and reach the kids to school and “believing” that we have all day to catch up, apart from worries that have cropped up, could have contributed to our sleep habits changing.

Adequate sleep is vital for our recovery and wellness. Sleep impacts our immune system, heart function, brain health function, mood, memory, productivity and significantly contributes to wellness. And we find it hard to say no to distractions at the time of sleep.

To prioritise sleep and putting all things away, no matter how tempting, for six to eight hours at night, is absolutely imperative for our wellbeing. Continued motivated practice and regulation of our behaviour is key to maintaining a healthy sleep cycle.

10. How do we come to terms with the fact that this pandemic won’t be a temporary issue?

This is truly a tough one. While it isn’t going away soon, we also need to know that it will neither be permanent nor as deadly as it unfolds currently because we are gaining more and more knowledge about the way the virus works. That said, coming to terms with things that are not in our control is the fundamental difficulty we face. It is in this cognitive error of “need to know” or “control the future” that we chronically tense our nerves. Humble acceptance of such happenings where we have limited or no control, allowing for life to unfold knowing that we are enough and further pivoting our perceptions of pain and crisis to empower ourselves and others, can help sublime our helplessness and angst.

Challenges are many, lessons even more!

11. I’m finding it tough to keep my friends close. How do I change that?

Let me just put it plainly, this time is for priorities. Just as you may get busy with things, so may our friends. This is a time to keep our hearts open and full of empathy and be generous with benefit of doubt. Putting a finger on what truly is concerning you about this friend or the relationship will be helpful. I highly recommend for us to focus not the ones who are fighting hard to be close as opposed to those who are drifting for various and most probably genuine reasons.

Staying connected with friends despite not meeting them is tough but not impossible. With honest and empathetic communication, compassion, patience and being yourself, we may feel close despite physical distance.

12. Self-care is so stressed upon. What are some habits we can inculcate that will help us in these times?

The “self” is a triangle with each side connected and leaning on the other. Investing equally on these sides namely your body, mind and soul is important to take care of your whole self.

Make sure you refill, recover and restore each of them. As the body requires O2, hydration, food, exercise, rest and sleep, so does the mind require nurturing. Understanding the functioning of our mind, its relationship with our emotions and ensuring mental health is important. Lastly practicing compassion, giving back and expressing gratitude are food for the soul.

13. How do I explain Covid to my children?

If you haven’t spoken to them yet, please do have the chat. Gather up some basic facts about the outbreak and manage your own feelings first. Make sure it is a two-way, open discussion first allowing children to share what they know, feelings, myths and rumours. Listening is key and will give them more space and confidence to ask their deepest worries.

News, discussion with peers, rumours, conjecture and exposure to infection in the family etc can be triggers.

If your children don’t bring it up, please do go ahead and talk to them as they may be struggling with it internally. The idea is not to make them experts on covid related GK, but to empower them with age-appropriate knowledge, awareness, communicate acceptance of feelings, bond, educate on hygiene and social distancing, empathise with negative impact on their routine, and discuss options and ideas on how to adapt.

14. How should we keep our relationship healthy and avoid monotony right now?

Intimate relationships have been the most complex to understand, to heal and the hardest to sustain mutual health and happiness in. That said, they are also the most beautiful, emotionally uplifting and joyful stories.

a) Focus on each other’s strengths at this time

b) Acknowledge the hits and contributions as opposed to critiquing the misses

c) Share your feelings and listen to your partners

d) Ask for help, don’t assume the other will know or should notice

e) Be grateful for the monotony, trust me you do not want adventures at this time

f) Make the most of this change and opportunity to adapt. Build on family bonding, collective resilience and growth. While you meticulously sanitise hands, your homes and items coming from the outside, also make time to wash away unhealthy emotions and grudges. Make memories.

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