Mental health is a huge aspect of our total wellbeing. Now more than ever, good mental health and positive wellbeing cannot be overemphasized in times of uncertainty such as this pandemic.
It is normal to experience feelings of anxiety, frustration, confusion and even anger. People with pre-existing mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety may also experience worsening symptoms. The most important thing to realise is that we are feeling a rollercoaster of emotions not because we’re weak or less resilient, but because we’re simply human.
There’s no denying that this is a new way of life which will take some time to adjust to, but we must first make peace with our feelings just as they are. There is no right or wrong way to get through a pandemic. We are bound to simply focus on surviving this collective traumatic experience.
Below are some tips to help us stay grounded and centred during these times.
- Start your day slowly
Prior to now, you have probably always stumbled out of bed and hurried to start your day. This time around, cultivate the habit of waking up and staying in bed. Starting your day slowly and intentionally is a practice we can afford right now. Spend some time in bed being conscious of your breathing. See how it changes your mornings.
- Gratitude journal
Reflecting on all you’re grateful for is a calm and refreshing way to start and end your day. By gratitude journaling, we’re shifting your perspective from all that’s going wrong to all that’s going right. This is scientifically proven to lift your mood.
- Meditation and Mindfulness exercises
Meditation is also a great way to relax, calm your racing thoughts and focus on the present moment. There are apps online and videos on YouTube that can teach simple mindfulness techniques. At the most basic level, schedule five minutes a day when you commit to closing your eyes and bringing your attention to your breath. Feel the air go into your nose, down into your chest, into your belly and all the way out. Sustaining this practice shuts off your thinking brain.
- Be deliberate about the information you take in
The one thing constant in this pandemic is rapid news. News is available at your fingertips every minute of every hour. Of course, this is useful for vital information but what it also causes is panic and fear. Do you really need to be informed of daily death tolls? Do you really have to participate in every group chat on the virus? Do you feel better after binge-watching news channels all through the day? Make the necessary changes.
- Create a healthy routine
It’s so easy for time to fly by and you wonder what you did with it. To avoid feelings of inadequacy, create a healthy routine you can stick with. One that helps you achieve 1 to 3 key things daily. It’s important to create a schedule that is achievable. You don’t want to feel overwhelmed because you put too many things on your list.
- Connect with your loved ones
Just because we are observing social distancing doesn’t mean that we can’t stay connected. What makes this pandemic especially challenging is that it makes us feel disconnected with groups and people that we hold a sense of belonging with. Video calling friends and family can help us feel connected. We can also create new traditions and memories virtually. Get creative.
For some reason, the word “exercise” feels burdened with responsibility and guilt. So I prefer movement. Whether your thing is yoga, pilates, dance or walking, the best exercise is the one that you do. What’s most important is that you find what works for you and try to be as consistent as possible with it. Exercise is called a natural antidepressant because it triggers the brain to release “happy” hormones.
- Consume Uplifting Content
What we feed our mind affects our feelings, mood and behaviour. Be intentional about curating music playlists that lift your mood. Podcasts and audiobooks are excellent ways to learn new things while keeping yourself centred. Watch movies, TV shows and documentaries that inspire and/or positively engage you. It’s okay to watch shows just for laughs. We could all do with some extra bit of laughter.
- Eat the good stuff
There are numerous studies that show the relationship between the foods we eat and the moods we sustain over time. While there may be no one-size-fits-all, eating as close to nature is generally considered safe. Avoid excessive consumption of processed and inorganic foods. Now more than ever, we need to boost and keep our immunity high by eating foods that contain whole grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts. Also drinking plenty of water is highly recommended.
- Tidy up your space and complete unfinished tasks
Ever notice how refreshed you feel after decluttering your space, arranging your wardrobe or simply cleaning your room? Studies have shown the correlation between the state of your immediate space and the state of your mind. Take some time to tidy up. Similarly, completing unfinished tasks gives a sense of accomplishment and with nothing but time on our hands, now is a good time to finish those online classes you started, that business plan you never got around to completing, that workout program that work kept holding you back from, and that book you’ve been too busy to write.
Know that these practices are expected to give a sense of control and help you cope. There is no magic to not feeling inevitable. We’re humans and feeling our emotions is part of the human experience. Download a free guide to caring for your mental health at home here – bit.ly/selfcareforcovid19
It is also important to note that this piece is in no way a substitute for medical advice or a cure for existing mental health conditions. If you continue to struggle with your mental health after practising some of these tips, please speak to a mental health professional by contacting She Writes Woman Mental Health Initiative on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hauwa Ojeifo publicly identifies as a person who lives with a mental health condition and psychosocial disability. Popularly tagged as the voice and face of mental health in Nigeria, Hauwa has received numerous local and international honours and recognition. She is the Executive Director at She Writes Woman (SWW); an award-winning movement that gives mental health a voice in Nigeria.