By Associate Professor Dr Bilbir Kaur
Associate Professor & Head of Department of Psychiatry, Quest International University Perak
2020 has been pretty challenging to say the least, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect it’s had on all of us. With disruptions in home life, education and employment, major upheavals have crept into everyone’s life. We have to deal with this – and for our own health, we have to do so with a minimum of stress.
There aren’t many who like to leave the comfort zone they have built for themselves. Why? Well, your subconscious mind causes you to feel emotionally and physically uncomfortable whenever you attempt to do anything new or different or to change any of your established patterns of behaviour.
But then a change is essential to move forward. By gradually engaging in the newness, you will get used to it, thus allaying fears and anxiety.
Here are some steps you can take to help yourself and others around you:
Develop and stick to a routine
Have set wake and bedtime times, set meal times, and outline a structure for the day. The day should start with a positive tone and include learning activities, exercise, leisure time, chores, and family time. Try to make things feel normal with reasonable expectations.
Take Control of Your Mental Closet
Take control of your thinking. Just as you would dump an old worn-out pair of shoes, likewise dump all negative thoughts, stop letting them go on a rampage through your mind.
Don’t let pessimistic thoughts wreak havoc in your mind. Reframe your thinking. Practice positivity. Focus on the good things in your life; be thankful for what you do have.
Stay in the present; don’t worry about the future and things that are beyond your control. Noticing the surrounding sights and sounds will help you stay present and in the moment.
Limit your exposure to the news
Take a break from watching, listening to, or reading the news and put down your phone. Limit your time on social media to avoid getting overwhelmed and upset, about what is going on around you. It will only add to your stress.
Being informed and up to date is one thing; however it’s another to be watching and listening to what is going on all day long. And that will only increase fears and even cause you to panic.
Give your mind a rest!
Give yourself a break – go for a walk or listen to some music or watch a movie. Take a break from what’s going on around you and give yourself time to rejuvenate.
Make sure to get enough sleep. Sleep provides the brain and body with the opportunity to repair, restore, and rejuvenate. Seven to nine hours of sleep per night is recommended for optimal functioning. If you are having problems sleeping, try practising some sleep hygiene e.g. try taking a warm shower before bedtime, listening to some relaxing music, and making sure the room is cool and dark.
Avoid excessive caffeine and sugar. Don’t resort to comforting yourself with junk food. A healthy, nutrient-rich diet can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Healthy carbohydrates in moderation have a mood-stabilising effect, as they aid in serotonin production. Avoid excess amounts of caffeine and sugar.
Self-isolate, but stay connected
Stay connected via text, phone call, or Skype. You are not alone. If you need emotional support, reach out to friends, family, or a mental health professional.
Looking after your mental health while you have to stay at home is of primary importance. Many of us are spending a lot more time at home, and many of our regular social activities are no longer available to us. It’s equally as important to stay connected to our friends and loved ones to avoid depression and loneliness. If you’re ever feeling lonely, reach out. You’re probably doing the person on the other line a huge favor, as well.
Try a few new ways of connecting to keep things fun:
Write letters – Go back in time to how people used to connect. Try writing notes or letters and either send them through the mail or drop them on your friends’ doorsteps.
Drive-bys – Where you drive past a person’s house to visit them from a distance.
Digital parties – Host a digital party — whether for a birthday, a sports game, or even to cook dinner together. You can now host and attend parties through video chat platforms such as Zoom, which can host up to 100 people with the basic version!
Online workouts – There are many yoga and fitness instructors who are offering classes through Zoom or Instagram and Facebook Live. In this format, you’ll be able to exercise alongside your teacher and friends as though you’re with them in real life. Physical workouts are mood-elevating and have a powerful de-stressing effect.