Increased measures of social distancing cater for the physiological aspects of the coronavirus, but as South Africa prepares to #stayathome for the next 21 days, how can we mentally prepare ourselves? Here are a few ways to promote your mental health during the coronavirus shutdown.
- Acknowledge heightened emotions you feel and take steps to reduce them
- Take control by creating new routines and even a healthy habit
- Harness technology to connect, explore and share
With South Africa joining most of the world in initiating a nationwide lockdown, many may be dreading the prospect of staying at home for 21 days. Let’s consider some of the psychological aspects of coping in this challenging time.
Coping with heightened emotions
For most of us, a lockdown of this nature and magnitude is unprecedented and completely foreign. Although it is critical to act collectively to slow the spread of the virus, it feels strange to give up some of our rights, change our routines and distance ourselves from our friends and family, with our futures seeming even more uncertain than ever.
We are likely to feel overwhelmed, and that is ok. For many, our seemingly predictable lives have been plunged into chaos, creating feelings of fear and anxiousness, not only about our health and the health of our loved ones, but also about how we go about earning a living and caring for the people we love. Be kind to yourself – you are going through a lot.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you feel like you are struggling to cope. If you feel disconnected from some of your usual support structures, think of someone that you trust that you can talk to. We tend to feel better when we share our experiences and with others, allowing us to both support and be supported by people that we care for. If you don’t have someone immediately available, there are many excellent organisations that can provide support remotely, like SADAG and LifeLine.
Carefully consider how you consume information over this time. While it is important to remain informed and plan for the future, be careful not to overload yourself with information and be sure to look for information from reputable sources, such as the World Health Organization or National Government. Beware social media, where inaccurate, sensationalised or catastrophising information might be propagated, negatively affecting your mood and mindset and potentially promoting a downward spiral.
Coping with the lockdown
The idea of a lockdown is daunting and the disruption to our daily routines can lead to heightened feelings of anxiety, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, and increased tension between loved ones. This is especially true for children, who may exhibit sore tummies, unruly behaviour and withdrawal, adding to your difficulties with coping, especially if you are working from home. Establishing and maintaining new routines is critical to provide a sense of safety, stability and comfort, both for you and your little ones.
While we will all experience the loss of our usual routines, this lockdown also presents us with a unique opportunity to foster healthy behaviours and even build a new habit. We can take control of our time and direct it towards a goal that will not only bolster our mental fortitude in the short term, but benefit us in the long run. Choose how you want to emerge after 21 days and work towards it. If you need some inspiration, here are our two top recommendations.
Indoor workout plan
The importance of the connection between physical and mental health cannot be overstated. When our bodies feel drained, slow or unwell, so will our minds. Not being allowed to leave the house then presents us with some challenges, if we intend to exercise our bodies for the benefit of our minds.
Fortunately, there are hundreds of potential exercise routines we can adopt. Look up exercises you can do indoors. For example, running on the spot, squats, bunny hops, pushups or other forms of cardio or muscle exercise that don’t require a lot of space. Don’t overcommit – consistency is key! Even a 20-minute daily routine over the space of a week can dramatically benefit both our mental and physical health.
Mindfulness has been shown to decrease stress, anxiety, depression and fatigue; while reducing “rumination” – that is, compulsive thinking with negative effects. Its positive effects have been shown time and time again in psychological research and given that it requires only 10-minutes a day and a bit of patience to get started. Like exercise, mindfulness shows its best results when it is done consistently, making the lockdown period (with a solid home-routine!) an idea time to develop this habit.
If you are interested in giving it a try, it might be best to use an app that provides a few free guided sessions, before you carry on, on your own. Try Headspace, Calm or Sam Harris’ app, Waking Up.
Communication is necessary to stave off the feelings of isolation, and although the lockdown makes person-to-person interaction with anyone beside immediate family or roommates a challenge, we thankfully live in a world of digital communication technologies. Now is the time to take full advantage of what our hyperconnected world has to offer.
Apps such as Skype allow you to have face-to-face conversations, while messenger apps such as WhatsApp ensure you stay in touch with the outside world. You can even use the likes of Skype or Discord to play online games with friends, or even board games, with the help of dice-rolling apps.
Do your bit
Remember that purpose of a lockdown is to protect the vulnerable in our society. Most of us are young and healthy enough to cope with getting the virus ourselves, but by acting with unity, we are able protect others. We all have our part to play. Other South Africans are staying home and practicing good hygiene to protect your parents, grandparents or other vulnerable family members, so return the favor by protecting theirs.
Learn more about human psychology
Promoting the health and wellbeing of people, whatever the situation, is one of the pillars of the psychology profession. You can study psychology at SACAP and learn more about human behaviour patterns. It’s a broad subject with many career possibilities, and you can learn more about it by enquiring now.