As a mental health professional, I find that most people are facing considerable difficulties in the context of COVID-19. Many people I see had been suffering from mental health conditions before the onset of the current pandemic situation. Many of them have symptoms that are recent in origin. Regardless of the nature and recency of the difficulties they and their loved ones are facing, some strategies can work for all. I am trying to address the common issues being faced by most of us in the current situation.
Common issues that are being faced by most people maybe not having a routine, feeling distressed about the negative news, fear of getting the infection, loved ones getting the infection, uncertainty about coming times in terms of financial, professional, academic goals. Some people are also having difficulties coping with the lockdown, not being able to socialize, being in unsafe family environments, managing newer demands such as online meetings, classes, long hours in front of the screen, loss of work-life balance due to work from home scenarios.
How to deal with this situation? While a lot of us are managing well under these circumstances, it might be helpful to put together some of the coping strategies here. Broadly speaking; firstly, we can modify certain aspects of our behavior, which are in our control, and we can modify our thought around what we cannot control.
First, let us talk about the things which we can try to control:
1. Structuring your Day
Structuring your day can be done; however, some people do not like having a routine or a structured day. One needs to find out what works for them. If not having structure is something that you like and work better with, it can be tried. Having a relatively stable sleeping and eating schedule, exercising can help you take care of your physical health at least. Getting dressed every day, phone or video call with loved ones, attending to your studies or work for a stipulated number of hours each day; household chores can also find a place in your daily routine. Some people might want to help or take care of others who are less fortunate. Do not forget to give credit to yourself for whatever you accomplish through the day, however small that might be.
2. Set Realistic Goals
One might feel that their routine or other parts of their life, such as relationships, studies are also going out of their control. One might find it challenging to apply things or change habits despite every intention to do so. Do not try to make all the changes in a single day. Aiming to get up on time, eat healthy, exercise, learn new skills, give time to your hobbies, meet deadlines if you are working/studying or from home; may all sound very nice and easily achievable; however, achieving it all in a single day might not be possible. It might also lead to feelings of dissatisfaction with one own’s self. Aim to improve in one area first, and gradually include other areas. Also, if you set your goals too high, not being able to achieve them might frustrate you even more. So set realistic goals. Try to balance your day with tasks that you need to get done and tasks that give you a sense of pleasure.
3. Limit exposure to News:
Stop checking news related to COVID repeatedly. Check the news in healthy limits and also try to increase exposure to other news. Telling yourself that you need not need to know all information at this moment can be helpful. Repeatedly checking news is likely to feed your anxiety as you will be paying more attention to threats.
4. Stay Emotionally Connected
Social distancing refers to the natural part of the human connection, not the emotional part. Stay connected with people you like to talk to, talk about your feelings, your fears, apprehensions, and if you feel like; listen to others’ emotional experiences too. You might discover that you are not alone in this and many people are sailing through this.
5. Practice Self-care
Though self-care can be a separate topic in itself to talk about, in current circumstances, the best way to practice self-care is to do the things that you find emotionally nourishing. For some, it can be yoga or meditation. For others, it is a hobby or activity that makes you feel like you.
Let us talk now about things that seem to be beyond our control. Such as feelings of uncertainty, worries about health, your future, feeling distressed about the circumstances we are in. While we certainly not change the situations around us; we can certainly try to change the way we look at our changed reality. Following are some of the ways we can manage the distressing thoughts many people are experiencing these days:
1. Re-frame your Thoughts:
We might be feeling as if we have no choice in this situation; however, we can choose how we respond to the current scenario. One can remind themselves that it is our choice to follow guidelines and recommendations made for our collective safety. Thinking this way is more helpful than resigning to a thought that you are being forced to follow them. We can try and view these times as being challenging, rather than viewing them as overwhelming. The way we feel about a situation is shaped by how we think about it. If we view COVID as a threatening situation, we will feel anxious and overwhelmed. If we accept that following the guidelines issued by competent authorities on this matter, we will have less chance of not only contracting the infection but even if we do get it, and it is going to be manageable. Try Wysa to practice reframing thoughts!
2. Accept Negative Emotions:
Since these are unusual times to which we are responding in usual ways, we can allow ourselves to feel negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, irritability, or sadness. Talking about your feelings to a loved one can be helpful. Also remember that it is reasonable to feel anxiety right now, and while we need to allow ourselves the space to feel these feelings, we also need to give ourselves the space to let them go. For example, not all anxiety is wrong, and some level of anxiety might be, in fact, productive; it is what motivates us to wash our hands often and practice social distancing. However, unproductive anxiety can lead us in many frightening directions.
3. Dealing with anxiety during COVID:
Not knowing when the virus is going to die, when a vaccine would be developed when the lockdown would end, when would be able to resume our work, produces uncertainty. As a response to uncertainty, we try to comfort ourselves by trying to take control, which may come in the form of following each piece of news and development in this regard, by repeating sanitization measures, or repeatedly checking on loved ones. Such behavior might provide temporary relief, but is likely to be disturbing not only for own selves but also for others living with us. One way to help this situation could be accepting that we cannot eliminate our risk of getting the infection. During anxiety states, people imagine worst-case scenarios; which is only one of the many possible outcomes. Ask yourself what the probability of the worst-case scenario coming true. A fact-check might reveal that most of us will be safe or safe enough without being completely in control, or without knowing what happens next. Thus, reminding ourselves that knowing all facts related to COVID-19, or what comes next is not a necessary condition to safeguard ourselves against the infection. We are well aware that we cannot do much apart from staying at home, practicing social distancing, and sanitizing ourselves and our environment. Since absolute certainty is not possible in these circumstances, you can reduce your anxiety by accepting that following guidelines issued by competent authorities is the best you can do.
4. Not a Productivity Contest:
Also, be conscious of the fact that lockdown is not the period for self-improvement, nor it is a productivity contest. Please steer clear out of any thoughts that make you feel not “good enough” just because you are not doing something creative, learning a new skill, or building up your knowledge during this time. It is okay to have a routine that takes care of your essential physical and psychological health.
5. Taking care of coronavirus fears:
In case you or your loved ones are worrying too much, doing mindfulness-based activities can help you put worry in the background. There are many mindfulness applications available online which people find useful.
6. Planning the Future:
Focus on one day at a time. When you worry about your future goals, tell yourself that you can make a plan once this is all over. Instead of focusing on what you will do in the future, ask yourself, what are you going to do today. Human beings are natural problem solvers. Remind yourself of previous challenging situations in your life and think of the coping methods you applied in solving them. Try to see if you can use similar strategies in solving the current situation you might be facing. If you feel too overwhelmed try out Wysa to organize your thoughts.
Of course, the strategies, as mentioned above, are not exhaustive. One might have employed many of these many times, or might have access to access to many more effective coping strategies. So, try to make use of all your resources to stay in the best of physical and psychological health possible right now. Follow the Government guidelines, do not hesitate to reach out for support whenever you need it, and stay safe!