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Caring for your mental health during the second wave of Covid-19

 

By Sakuni Weerasinghe

Gone were the masks. The bottle of sanitiser, which had been a staple in our purse over the past few months, had been relegated to the dusty corner of our dressers. Entering supermarkets after just sprinkling some water on our hands had replaced previous meticulous hand-washing habits. No. I’m not pointing my finger at only you. All of us, myself included, had forgotten that it was just a couple of months ago that we endured the effects of a little something termed the Covid-19 virus. Today, we’re seemingly back to square one with the virus re-emerging to disrupt our daily lives.

We were slowly re-adjusting, moving on from the whiplash of the uncertainty, hopelessness, loneliness, disappointment, and other side effects of the first wave. In having gone through that experience, most of us are presumed to have an idea on what to expect with the second wave. However, this is no indication of how well we recall the ways stress seeped into our lives and the coping strategies we had to adopt back then as a response to mitigate it. If we are not aware of how we may be impacted, we would not be able to use our resources to upkeep our mental health the second time around. 

Let’s take a look at a few stressors we may experience this time. 

We were placed under curfew and had social distancing regulations in place even back then. So how is the experience any different now? For starters, we were just readjusting to our regular social lives, pre Covid-19. We were back to hanging out with our friends over brunch on Sundays, hosting dinners for family and relatives, and going out on mini-trips with cousins rejoicing in what we missed out on for months. Having just had a taste of social life, we are having to impose restrictions on ourselves again. It’s a tough adjustment. 

Tuning into the daily news, you may find that the worries for the health, safety, and security of yourself, friends, and family are back too. Anytime a new contact is identified at a particular place on a given day, you may find yourself ruminating on your whereabouts and those of your friends. You may be irrationally pondering whether you may have passed on the virus to someone despite lack of evidence. As such, you may notice an upward spike in your health-related anxiety. 

You may have just restarted going back to the office, and now you’re back to working from home (WFH) which can feel like you’re back to square one. You may wonder about the progress in your career, your job security, find yourself fretting over your finances once again, or find yourself entertaining thoughts of quitting altogether because the demands placed during the first WFH stage were too much that you don’t know how well you could cope with another. 

Following the first wave, you may have just readjusted your life goals and timelines for personal events, such as starting a new degree, moving your house, or planning an engagement. Now that you’re going through this once more, you may have to edit these goals and timelines again, which can place undue stress on your shoulders. 

As you can tell, just because you’ve been through this once doesn’t exactly mean it’s going to be a piece of cake the second time around. So what are the signs that tell you that you need additional self-care this time?

  • Not being able to sleep or sleeping throughout the day at home, but still not feeling rested
  • Lack of appetite or engaging in excessive eating (stress-eating). You may notice fluctuations in weight
  • Reduced physical activity and lacking the energy to engage in workouts 
  • Experiencing sadness, loneliness, tiredness, anxiety, and feeling like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster
  • Constant ruminations of your health and the health of your family and friends
  • Trouble taking care of yourself including engaging in safe hygiene practices, and managing basic household chores

The good news is that strong mental health habits and self-care practices, although once forgotten, can always be re-learnt. Therefore, in caring for your mental health right now, you ought to relearn the following.

  1. Address basic health needs: Nutrition, sleep, and physical activity

It is vital that you strive to eat healthy, in appropriate portions as per your body type and health conditions, incorporating more fruits and vegetables while minimising overly processed food. Rest is vital to your health. Adopting good sleep hygiene practices such as having a wash before bed, dimming the lights in your room, and reducing TV consumption and the usage of your mobile phones at least an hour before bed are important. Getting physically active is primary to good mental health, owing to the mind-body connection. Not only does it improve physical immunity, but it also helps upkeep mental resilience as well. 

  1. Stay connected with family, friends, and community

Our social connections are vital to our health. They are our support systems and as such, it is necessary that we remain in touch (from afar). Thanks to the easy access to mobile phones and social media, we are able to stay connected despite physical distancing. As much as we are supported by friends and family, we also have to remind ourselves to be a source of support for them as we are all going through some form of the effects of the pandemic. Some struggles may be invisible. Hence, it is vital that we take time to inquire about their health and well-being, such as by asking “how are you feeling today?”, “have you had your meals and had a restful sleep?”, or “how do you feel about working from home?”. We are all part of multiple communities; therefore, it is necessary that we extend our check-ins to those in those respective communities as well. Check in on your neighbours, college peers, and your friends from Sunday school. 

  1. Remain hopeful

As Admiral William H. McRaven notes in his book Make Your Bed: “Hope is the most powerful force in the universe…(shows) that in the very worst of times we could rise above the pain, the disappointment, and the agony and be strong. That we each had within us the ability to carry on and not only to survive but also to inspire others.” 

Irrespective of the context, hope gives us something to look forward to, even in turbulent times. We can still look at things we can be grateful for. Remind yourself that the pandemic would not last forever, and that life remains yet to be experienced. This also allows you to refocus on what you can control when everything seems beyond it. We cannot undermine the effects we have on others by being hopeful. Action out of hope has the potential to shape and inspire. In practising safe hygiene habits such as wearing a mask the right way, practising appropriate hand washing; fostering new connections and putting time and effort into existing relationships; and revising your routines to accommodate a work-life balance, you’re engendering hope within yourself as well as in others. Hope is displayed through these seemingly “little” gestures and in the way you communicate. In the very least, it gives another person a chance to consider the big picture.

PHOTOS Cern, Vecteezy, AA