The world has gone topsy-turvy. Since the onset of COVID-19 earlier this year, the way we live has changed almost overnight. For some of us, it changed in four hours. Things that were once typical of human life—going to work, socialising, travelling—are all things we can’t do. Our carefully constructed systems are crumbling, and we’re crumbling with them.
In times like this, our mental health is more important than it’s ever been.
People who’ve never experienced anxiety and depression might find they’re experiencing it for the first time. Those with existing mental health conditions might find their symptoms returning or worsening. In these uncertain times, here are five things you can do to help keep your mental health in check when you’re stuck at home:
1. Have a routine:
When I went to therapy for depression, one of the first things I learned about was the importance of a routine. Routines are important. Routines anchor us. They provide stability when our physical and emotional world is unstable. And our world right now is very unstable. We’re awash in constant unpredictability, and there are fresh waves of bad news coming in every few days. No one knows what’s going to happen next.
In an unpredictable world, sometimes all the comfort and stability you need can come from simply knowing that you will have lunch at 2pm every day. Taking the guesswork out of your day helps give you something steady to rely on, and it reduces stress because you have to make fewer decisions. Routines don’t need to be complicated. They can be as simple as eating at and sleeping at the same times every day. Start with waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day and take it from there.
2. Unplug from the news:
The situation is bad; we already know that. Reading about just how bad it is twenty times a day isn’t going to make it any better. Stop. Back away from the phone. Continually checking the news traps you in a vicious cycle of worry that never ends. It also adds significantly to stress because you feel helpless all the time.
To combat that put aside a certain amount of time per day, like between five and twenty minutes, to catch up on the news and limit your reading to that. Focus on only the hard facts and remember to get your information from reputed and trusted sources like the WHO and not from the many WhatsApp forwards doing the rounds.
3. Allow yourself to feel bad:
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Remember, there is no right or wrong way to do this. This is an unprecedented moment in history, and we have no manual for it. You don’t have to take this time to lose five kilos, learn how to play the guitar or become fluent in Spanish. All you have to do is get through the day. If you feel bad, allow yourself that. These are distressing times, and it is only a mark of sanity to be distressed by them.
4. Keep your social networks active:
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Humans are social animals. We need to connect with other people. For most people, one of the hardest things about this lockdown is being separated from friends, family and loved ones.
Connecting with loved ones can help maintain the normalcy in our lives and it gives us a support system to rely on. Take the time to schedule daily video calls, write emails or even send voice-notes – it will go a long way in helping you feel less alone.
5. Help those who need helping
This pandemic is affecting everyone in different ways. Daily wage earners are struggling to survive, animals are starving because there’s no one to feed them, businesses are collapsing, the elderly are trapped at home with no help and no one to talk to. There’s a lot of suffering. In times like these, we are in desperate need of kindness and compassion and lucky for us – being kind has an added benefit – it makes you happy.
The ‘Helper’s High’ is the feeling of wellbeing and joy you experience when you do good deeds or perform acts of kindness. These positive feelings are rooted in our instinct to help those in need and to act on these instincts is beneficial not just to us, but to the community at large. So, do as much as you can for others.
Donate a small amount of money, feed hungry animals in your building or area, and regularly call an elderly friend or family member to keep them company.
Do whatever you can. No act of kindness is too small in times like this.
Shaheen Bhatt is the author of I’ve Never Been (Un)Happier and the founder of Here Comes The Sun, an initiative that encourages conversation around depression and anxiety.
(Featured photographs: Neha Chandrakant)