And just like that, the whole world has been put on a TIMEOUT against our will, our comfort and our pre-planned schedules.
It is foreign and unusual as we are forced to suddenly eject from this generation’s fast-paced lifestyle and get to know ourselves and our nearest and dearest, in closer proximities. Time seems to have slowed down and the days are long.
We are gasping for natural air and we are struck with how much we have taken our leisure days outside for granted.
There is a temptation to hold our breaths until it’s over. And if you’re like me you have considered hunkering down under a pile of duvets until COVID-19 has ended its reign of terror.
After all, what is there to report about on social media about our days, when nothing is happening and we are going nowhere. Phone and video calls are shortened because we don’t want to recount and remember the fears and dangers that are lurking outside.
And now you know you are not alone. I can tell you confidently that your mind, your thoughts and your unique personality are not on lockdown. Your body may be restrained but your imagination is not, and definitely not your amazing opinions and perspective. It may surprise you to know this but we need you to continue sharing and talking.
Hours of browsing on social media and news highlights have slowed down our thinking processes and if we are honest, some of us have been frozen in fear, anticipation and uncertainty.
But how do you unlock the door of the mental lockdown and walk again in wide-open spaces?
There are some amazing resources and people out there that we can walk through this time with.
1. Deal with the fear
It is natural to feel afraid in the face of a threat that we cannot totally understand and eradicate. But mind-numbing, crippling fear is a choice and is exacerbated by what we feed our minds with.
If you need to read the news and catch up with the latest updates, limit it to official sources and regular times during the day or week.
Do not binge watch opinions from various individuals on social media. Leave online groups and gatherings that continuously highlight the frightful panicked nature of the situation.
2. Learn your rhythm
There is truth to the importance of having some form of daily routine to help you establish a sense of normalcy. But every routine is totally dependable on your personal needs and the extent to your ability.
Establish a routine that is comfortable and suits you. It should include; regular meals, personal grooming, movement (exercise), mental nourishment (reading, studying, watching documentaries), emotional connections (talking to family and loved ones, catching up with friends etc), leisure and enjoyment (dancing, watching comedies, etc), deep reflection or meditation and whatever else you know is important to you.
You can use specific timings or block out periods when you know you are going to do one action or the other.
3. Observe your thoughts
Watch the direction and nature of your thoughts. If they are very fatalistic and negative in nature then you will understand why you are sinking into deep fear. You will feel what your thoughts tell you to feel.
Therefore, taking control of what you are thinking is critical and it starts from what you are seeing, hearing, saying, reading and interacting with daily. Crippling fear is not inevitable. Your mental health is very important in building strong immunity against the virus and believing that the world will recover from the pandemic.
4. Take Action
You have to decide what actions you’re going to take daily to push back on the threat of the coronavirus. Every individual and family should have their own protocols based on the WHO and government recommendations.
The question you have to answer is: WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?
You have agency and you are self-empowered. What are you going to do with it? Make a list of tasks and actions you are going to enact in light of the current environment. For instance;
a. Build your immunity. Take vitamins and supplements. Get enough rest. Drink water. Sleep early. Focus on the positive news, the progress and the better future.
b. Clean your home and wipe down your surfaces with alcohol and/or disinfectants.
c. Make your grocery and item list and prepare to purchase the items that are necessary for your home. Do not panic when you are unable to buy everything immediately.
d. Take some time off the news. Feed your mind with good, helpful and happy information.
e. Create a healthy atmosphere in your home. Place plants in various rooms. Play music and dance and put up refreshing images around the house. You can play board games and engage with other fun bonding activities with your family. If possible, also open the windows and air out the rooms.
f. Download, print and hang up some positive visual messages. Put up anything that is visually pleasing and will continue to give you hope and joy. You can find many of these resources on Pinterest and other online websites and pages.
g. Connect with loved ones. Open up about the stress and uncertainty you are feeling but remember you are not the only one feeling that way so make up your mind to finish your conversations on a mentally positive note.
h. Practice patience with one another. It is not easy to be isolated from the rest of the world. But it is also difficult to be in one place with your family and loved ones for an unforeseen time and season. Institute periods of silence and peace. Be flexible with your schedules and make sure it includes the needs of everyone.
5. Practice Meditation
Allocate a special time to sit still without all the distractions and voices to focus on what is true and what is strengthening you internally.
Designating this time especially in the mornings and evenings will prepare you mentally for each new day and refresh you from the stresses and bad news of the previous ones.
Find opportunities to share your strength and compassion with others like when you go to the shops and meet with others. Social isolation does not mean we cannot communicate with one another.
I would like to focus on the importance of staying in communication and opening up to one another about what we are personally facing.
Even though we feel inclined to retreat and isolate our thoughts, it is actually an unhealthy practice in the face of this quarantine period; the end of which is uncertain.
The question on the minds of many mental health professionals is how we are going to revive relationships and effective communication after this crisis has passed.
We are currently being taught to view our friends, family, neighbours and even strangers as possible physical threats. How do we continue to see other people as people and not walking timebombs?
Well number one, we must maintain the knowledge that the virus affects the body and not the personality and character of a person.
This means we must learn to dissociate physical distancing from overall distancing. Staying away from people physically does not imply that we stop interacting and communicating.
In fact, it is critical for us to stay connected if we are to combat and eradicate this disease.
Mental and emotional isolation poses a threat to our humanness and natural ability to empathize with others’ sufferings. The beauty of humankind is the fact that we want to identify with each other and our situations. That is why reality shows and apps such as Twitter and Instagram have been so successful in giving us a glimpse into the lives of different people from around the world and helps us engage in experiences that are very different from ours.
For instance, the various tributes to medical personnel around the world have been truly heartwarming and encouraging.
Nowandme.com has an amazing interactive platform that gives individuals the opportunity to talk and share their personal fears, anxieties and challenges anonymously.
Why is this important?
Because dark negative thoughts can feel very real and true until they are communicated and discussed in the open.
Whether we like it or not the aftermath of the coronavirus is going to come with a significant psychological fallout. Psychiatrist Damir Huremovic of Northwell Health in Manhasset, N.Y. has commented that “We live in this age of unprecedented communication [capabilities]”.
It is likely that some of us may actually increase our social contact during this time but we have to recognize the opportunities we have been given to deepen our relationships.
A meta-analysis of 70 studies was conducted in 2015 by Holt-Lunstad and her colleagues to study how loneliness and isolation may affect overall health across age groups (SN: 2/20/15)
More than 3.4 million participants were followed for an average of seven years. The chances of dying during the study period increased by 26% for those who felt lonely, 29% for those who were socially isolated (having a few social contacts) and 32% for those who were living alone.
It is undeniable that we are on the cusp of dealing with an upsurge of mental challenges during and following this pandemic including and not limited to depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia and emotional distress.
But the situation is not hopeless. We have the blessing of modern technology to connect us and ensure that we maintain some level of social interaction. And while it may seem difficult to accept that we are limited to this medium it is very likely that we would be pleased by the depth and meaningfulness of our relationships by the time we have come out of the lockdown.
We may also discover the richness of our individual personalities and learn how to share our lessons and unique perspectives with one another with respect, love and understanding.
So, log on today and begin this new journey of self-discovery and wonder with the virtual communities we still have the pleasure to be able to connect with.
If you liked reading this, you might also like: Quarantine Hits You Hard; Dealing with Negative Thoughts