Your Mental Health And Wellbeing Amidst COVID-19

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Dr Ottilia Brown

Your Mental Health And Wellbeing Amidst COVID-19

Posted 28 Apr 2020

Mental Health

Dr. Ottilia Brown

Your Mental Health And Wellbeing Amidst COVID-19

We are living in an unprecedented time faced with a global crisis that inextricably affects all of us. This is undoubtedly like nothing we’ve lived before and the sheer scale of effect is still to be completely comprehended. In short, humanity is in crisis. Some of us are experiencing anxiety and grief for the first time. Grief for the loss of our lives as we knew it, grief for what will never be the same again. Or we may be experiencing emotions that we do not know how to label as yet. Everything is heightened… the intensity is palpable. Now more than ever, mental health and your wellbeing matters.

Most of what we are currently experiencing is completely beyond our control. Routines have changed, our usual coping mechanisms may not be accessible, and the comfort of normality and predictability of lifestyles we are accustomed to are challenged by daily news updates. COVID-19 forces us to socially distance, work remotely, be confined to our homes, and to basically change most of how we have been living with everything from beaches to places of worship being closed. We literally have to rethink how we live every moment. Feelings of stress, fear, panic, anxiety and low mood may be more prevalent at this time. These conditions are known to weaken the immune system hence it is increasingly important for us to care for our mental health.

Mental health exists on a continuum and we may be experiencing a movement to the end of the continuum where we are feeling unwell or less well as compared to our usual level of functioning. For those of us who already live with mental health challenges, the current state of affairs could be even more destabilising. Feelings of loneliness can arise due to social distancing. Previous trauma may be triggered. For example, some are likening this experience to experiences had during times of war… being quarantined at home, movement restricted, and constant fear and anxiety.

If you live with trauma related mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, you may be especially triggered during this time. People living with depression and anxiety may be affected by social distancing, the collective sense of anxiety and increased levels of stress. Those coping with obsessive compulsive disorder may find that their obsessions or compulsions increase in intensity and frequency. I mention specific categories of mental health issues here for the purposes of demonstration. All conditions may be affected by the constant need to adjust and cope while general coping strategies usually relied on may be restricted.

Keep the basics intact

Humans are patterned beings. Sleep, nutrition, and movement are the non-negotiable foundations of being mentally healthy. And… they boost the immune system. Ensure that your sleep routine remains intact, sleeping at least 7 hours a night and going to bed and rising at the same time most days.

Eat energy rich meals fortified with fruits and vegetables and enough protein for energy and access healthy sources of fats like avocadoes, salmon, nuts and seeds. Drink enough water. Eat enough calories. If you know you are prone to comfort eating, be mindful of the snacks you choose to keep in your home during this time. Take supplements to boost immune functioning.

Move, Move, Move! If you have a personal trainer, keep going with web-based personal training sessions. Schedule a virtual training session with a friend. You can use one of the home workout routines flooding the internet at the moment. If you have a garden, go outside and engage in an outdoor activity that gets you moving. If you live in apartment building, do some stair climbing.

Routine is key

Working from home? Schedule sleep, meals and exercise. Dress for work. Schedule work tasks to achieve for the day so that you can have a sense of accomplishment every day. Book an online lunch or coffee with a friend or colleague. Have a designated workspace so that you can feel like you are ‘going to work’.

If you are not working during this time, a routine can really help to offset boredom and mood disturbances. Have a schedule for the basics and book in some activities that you have not had time to do. Arts and crafts, reading, doing an online course, listening to podcasts, playing uplifting music, journaling, learning a new skill like a language or playing a musical instrument are just some of the activities that could add some structure to your day.

Be mindful of where you focus your energies

It is important for us to be informed of new developments especially with regard to new restrictions implemented. However, constantly talking about it and checking the news and sharing news on your social media platforms means that most of your daily energy is engaged with something that you have little control over. Mute key words and groups and hide or unfollow social media platforms that you experience as triggering. Limit your news checking to reliable sources like the World Health Organisation and your local news outlet and local government websites. Decrease the amount of time you spend talking about COVID-19 and limit sensationalism and doomsday talk. Fear is contagious.

Focus on that which you can control

Ask yourself what you can control… your attitude, nutrition, sleep, movement, what you talk about, your routine, the activities you choose during this time, the people you choose to contact, and so forth. I know it is difficult to do this when most of your life is currently not in your control. Using mindfulness strategies to contact the present moment can be helpful. Create awareness that you are allowing your mind to engage in fear-based thinking and worry, notice this non-judgmentally and then bring your mind back into the present moment. Things like deep breathing, meditation, engaging in a hobby or meaningful activity or conversation, reading, doing something creative, or any of the tasks suggested above could be helpful with redirecting from harmful thoughts about loss of control. The internet is teaming with wonderful ideas on how to use our time productively during this time of social distancing.

Connect

Human beings are wired for affection and touch and connection. Connect with loved ones back home as much as possible on video and audio calls. Limit sharing of bad news from media sources and rather share positive stories that are increasingly emerging during this time. Use the time to reconnect with people you do not always have the time to talk to when life is on constant fast forward. Connect with those in the home with you. Eat meals together as part of establishing routines… do other activities like boardgames/card games, exercise, arts and crafts and movie watching together.

Support one another

Be vigilant of loved ones that are living with mental illness and offer additional support. Ensure that these individuals are continuing their treatment virtually and being compliant with medication during this time. If you are living with a mental illness, ensure that you reach out to your treating team and arrange virtual appointments with them. If you do not currently have a treating team it is highly recommended that you mobilise this as soon as possible. Contact your family doctor, a psychiatrist or a psychologist to get the necessary treatment and support. 

We are experiencing immense uncertainty and our emotions will fluctuate. Let us ground ourselves in that which we have control over in this moment. Feel free to reach out to me if you need support during this time.

Wishing you well always, Ottilia

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3 people have commented this blog.

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Bettina

Bettina says:

5 months 2 weeks ago
This is really helpful, well-written advice with practical tips that we can all use. Thankyou.
Dr Ottilia Brown

Dr Ottilia Brown says:

5 months 1 week ago
Dear Bettina. Thank you for your complimentary feedback. I am really pleased that you have found the tips helpful. Wishing you well during these unprecedented times, Ottilia
Muhammad

Muhammad says:

6 months 1 week ago
I believe connect and support each other most important during these testing times.
Dr Ottilia Brown

Dr Ottilia Brown says:

6 months 1 week ago
Dear Muhammad connection and social support are undoubtedly very important during this time. Loneliness and isolation can lead to feelings of depression and can increase existing anxiety. I hope you are connected and supported during these challenging times. Wishing you well, Ottilia
Terina Faure

Terina Faure says:

6 months 2 weeks ago
This is such great advice in the times we are all trying to adapt too. Do you think that post-covid after the world has been working remotely from home, that companies will change the way their workforces operate? I think this might be the start of a major shift from working solely in an office to working under a more flexible arrangement. I'm interested to hear your thoughts on that. Best, Terina
Dr Ottilia Brown

Dr Ottilia Brown says:

6 months 1 week ago
Dear Terina thank you for the positive feedback. I think there will be major shifts in the world of work after COVID-19. While there are many professions that are not ideal for remote working, others that have been able to continue during this difficult time may have opened avenues for reducing costs in the future and offering products and services in a more diverse way. For some this is business as usual of course. However, the mental health strain of working remotely is an important consideration to bear in mind. Wishing you well. Take care, Ottilia

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