Here are five simple but effective tools you can use to keep yourself and those who are around you psychologically ok during the COVID-19 shutdown
For weeks, we’ve seen videos and images of parts of the world looking like ghost towns because of the Coronavirus pandemic, from Wuhan to Rome. (The New York Times has a gorgeous photo essay of what some of the world’s busiest cities look like in the time of COVID-19). We’ve watched videos of people in Spain making music from their balconies or exercising in isolation, Italians singing, or their mayors losing it because people aren’t adhering to lockdown rules.
It’s all felt far away. But now that South Africa is in a 21-day lockdown, feelings of anxiety, trepidation and grief are coming into play as we realise that this is now our reality, but one that cannot be compared to other parts of the world because of our complex socioeconomic dynamics and circumstances.
Aside from the virus, one of the biggest threats we’re facing is the psychological effect the lockdown could have on us – as a nation and as individuals. I recently had a session with my psychiatrist, Dr. Kim Wides, and we mostly spoke about dealing with mental health during this period.
While the consultation was about me and my circumstances, there were some tips she shared that I believe can help others, too. We don’t all have the same privileges or share similar circumstances, but hopefully some of Dr. Wides’ advice can come in handy for you, too.
- Take it one day at a time
In order to try and reduce feelings of anxiety and hopelessness, we have to take things as they come. As Dr. Wides says, “you’ve got to focus on being in the day and in the moment.”
She continues: “One of the things with human beings is when we realise how out of control we really are, we freak out. We don’t actually perceive on a daily basis how out of control we actually are for our world. It’s only when we go through a trauma [like this one] that we’re actually shown how out of control we are.”
Subconsciously, however, the lockdown could actually help us in that regard “because we get a little bit of perceived control”; while we cannot decide to do things as freely as we’ve been doing them, the government’s control of the situation can also make us feel at ease as much as it can also frustrate us.
“There’s this global anxiety and there’s global hysteria, but you cannot fall into the hysteria because all you’re going to do is make yourself sick and make those around you sick. You have to get yourself together and realise, ‘I have to manage this now, and I have to take it day-by-day’.”
- Have a routine
The importance of a routine is that it almost gives one a sense of normalcy and can take your mind off what’s happening with the pandemic. Dr Wides says: “You’ve got to simulate a normal life routine.”
Wake up at the same time as you always did, go to bed at the same time as before, because “good sleep hygiene is very important”. If exercising was part of your routine, do at-home exercises, preferably both in the morning and in the evening.
In the morning, get out of bed, bath or shower, and get dressed: act as though you’re going to work (if you were employed in the first place).
Try as much as possible to do the things you did previously. For office workers, after your shower and breakfast, sit down and do some work in the morning. “Work like you’re at work. Not like you’re half at home and half at work,” says Dr Wides. “Being online [for your job] helps keep you connected to others. It’s the people whose jobs cannot be done online who especially are at risk, because they’ll feel so disconnected and they’ll start to feel like they’re not doing anything, and their self-esteem will start to go down.”
- Give yourself a break
Even if you’re not working, if you’re fortunate enough to have food and space, take a break for lunch, no matter how you’ve spent your morning. This could be on your own, or with your family (or whoever you’re in lockdown with).
If you have an outdoor space you can utilise (garden, balcony, veranda, etc) have your lunch there rather than indoors. “It’s important to try and take in the light and fresh air,” says Dr. Wides. Especially given the strict restrictions of a lockdown, cabin fever is a danger, so do whatever you can to prevent it.
Put on your active shoes and take a walk to the shops to buy sugar or bread, but don’t violate the lockdown restrictions.
- Filter information
Many of us have been consumed by news, analysis and updates on COVID-19, both within South Africa and outside of it. It’s understandable – information is power, but it can also be overwhelming and cause more harm than good.
Dr. Wides suggests following a limited amount of news sources (locally I’ve chosen TimesLIVE and internationally, the New York Times and UK Guardian), so you can filter the amount of information you receive.
Set aside an amount of time each day (could be 30 minutes, could be an hour) for catching up on the latest developments, numbers and regulations, and stick to it strictly. Don’t spend all hours of the day wrapped up in COVID-19 coverage – this will only negatively impact your mental health.
Limiting social media usage is also recommended, because other people’s anxiety will make you anxious, and the constant barrage of information will consume and overwhelm you. “Know what’s happening but don’t absorb it or live in it. Otherwise you’re gonna get very, very down,” says Dr. Wides.
- Be kind to yourself – and others
This one is for the empaths (described by Psychalive.org as “a person that experiences a great deal of empathy, often to the point of taking on the pain of others at their own expense”): It’s important to remember that you can’t save or help everyone. Essentially, focus on yourself and those around you, says Dr. Wides, because thinking further than that will only burden you with guilt.
And if you’re sharing space with someone/ people during the lockdown, expect some conflict, understand that it’s a difficult time for everyone and then let things go. “Be mindful of the fact that you’re sharing this space and that you’re in this together,” says Dr. Wides.