Maintaining your mental health during the COVID-19 lockdown

Clinical Psychologist and mental health researcher with The George Institute India Dr Amanpreet Kaur provides some tips and guidance on staying psychologically, as well as physically, healthy during these challenging times.

All over the world, countries have come together in the fight to contain the COVID-19 pandemic by announcing nation-wide lockdowns. As a researcher involved in evidence-based research, we at The George Institute know that rigorous testing and physical distancing could prove beneficial to stop the spread of this virus.

Lockdown and curfews mean that we cannot go outside of our house, no one is supposed to visit us in our homes, and we are meant to stay in our house, building, apartment or flat with only the people we normally live with. All domestic helpers are supposed to be on paid leave and should also stay in their respective homes. Working from home during a lockdown may or may not be similar for every person as we all have different personal and professional challenges in our lives.

Some tips or psychological strategies to be able to take care of oneself during this lockdown are listed below.

1. Stick to routines and manage time

We all are conditioned to feel relaxed and sleepy if we stay in our pyjamas and do not have a shower or bath. It is indeed challenging to continue taking care of oneself like earlier times, when facing a new routine. Therefore, set fixed times to get out of bed and go to sleep. You can’t go for a walk or to the gym or park, but you can set aside some time for stretching, yoga or meditation (whatever you like). Sit down to do your office work and meetings and spend time with your family in between or do the chores while taking frequent breaks.

2. Take care of yourself

Just because you are stuck in your house, it doesn’t mean you need to live shabbily or not groom yourself. That would again make you feel lazy, as if there is nothing new to be done and there is nothing exciting in life - let’s not reinforce such beliefs! Take care of yourself and if you don’t have appropriate grooming products left, do not worry, there are ways to use household items to take care of your skin, body and health. Spend some time for yourself.

3. Eat healthy!

Try looking at cooking videos while using social media accounts. Who said we need exotic items in the kitchen to cook? If you live alone, or have access to food delivery, or would rather eat ready-to-eat food, try and include healthier substitutes, such as nuts, fruits and vegetables in your free-time instead of binging on chocolate, candies or ice-cream. It’s a new situation for your body physically as well. Treat your body well, cook fresh and eat healthy.

4. Do Physical exercise

Try yoga, pranayama, jogging (include as part of your stretching) or moderate exercise. We are all eating as before, but our daily exercise and calorie usage has gone down since the lockdown. You should have an empty stomach for exercise (no food two hours beforehand), and you should try to exercise at night or early morning or evening, whichever time is suitable for you. But be active! Make use of YouTube videos to keep yourself occupied or motivated.

5. Practise Physical distancing NOT social distancing

There are multiple online applications where you can play games with either your family members, friends or relatives - you just need your phones and internet connectivity. Connect with your friends and check upon their safety and health and see how they are doing mentally. You need to maintain a safe distance physically but not socially. As humans, we are all social animals and are lucky to be able to access the voices, pictures or videos of our loved ones through the internet. Use it well!

6. Watch new TV series or shows

Watch new TV series or shows on Netflix, Prime or Hotstar during lunch or dinner or before sleep, or why not catch the series you couldn’t watch before because of work commitments? Keep in touch with the news but don’t overdo it! Read or watch news first thing in the morning, be aware of updates and check the latest before your day ends. If you try and watch television continuously or are always checking for updates on websites, it will only distress you more.

7. Pursue Hobbies, activities and interests

Why not dive into reading those books you bought but never read, or those interests or hobbies which you never found time for? It could be reading, writing, singing, playing, gardening, cooking, teaching the kids something new, re-arranging your house or wardrobe, cleaning your stuff – give something new a try!

8. Be Mindful and practice gratitude

You can’t just stop yourself from being fearful, anxious, uncertain or upset about the whole situation. The foremost thing to keep in mind is to be aware of, or be conscious of, the fact you are overwhelmed by certain emotions. Remember to use your ‘breath’ as an anchor - the only thing which is in your present and free of any guilt or anxiety. Take deep breaths and remind yourself to be in the present moment where you are nothing but relaxed and aware. Look around and notice your garden, your environment, enjoy the flavours of your food (try to!) before you judge something or react against something. Accepting and attending to present with relaxed awareness doesn’t require any equipment. Practice gratitude daily where you can be thankful of all positive things, people or events in your life.

9. Stay connected to your colleagues, manager and your work-self

Communicate realistic goals, worries, plans and updates with your colleagues and manager on a regular basis. Fieldwork can’t happen now but try figuring out how you can complete other tasks. Focus on previously unattainable goals, any grants, articles you may want to write or any pending tasks.

We are all in this together, and together we can flatten the curve by following the rules and guidelines. Above all, consider your physical and psychological well-being as a priority. Do not ignore your mental health while adjusting to this new pattern and system of lockdown.