SELF-CARE IN THE FACE OF COVID-19
BY SAKUNI WEERASINGHE
The name “Covid-19” itself has now become fear- inducing. The novel coronavirus, or Covid-19, is a pandemic that has swiftly started to take over the world, impacting the wellbeing of not just those who have contracted it, but everyone. From the caretakers of loved ones in quarantine and families back home waiting to hear from those overseas to healthcare workers and staff working day and night as well as the people living on daily wages and parents who have to console their little ones, everyone is affected on many levels.
While those at high risk have been outlined as the geriatric population and those with lowered immune functionalities, we should not downplay the potential of teenagers contracting the virus. Therefore, preparedness is key even for them. Young adults, in particular, can contribute towards efforts to prevent contracting the illness by holding themselves accountable in ensuring their own and others’ safety. This includes keeping yourselves informed, maintaining good hygiene practices, taking care of your loved ones, disengaging from behaviours that pose health
risks such as smoking, sharing news responsibly on social media, and engaging in other self-care practices on the daily.
It is undeniable that the current situation has taken a toll on the psychological wellbeing of people as well. When faced with such crises, it’s fairly easy for our minds to go into overdrive. Fear and anxiety start to occupy the driver’s seat and before you know it, we’re constantly in fight-or-flight mode. There’s no right way to feel about a situation like this. Your worries, fear, and anxiety are extremely valid, and it is completely understandable for you to have an overwhelming emotional experience. It is important that we acknowledge our emotions and strive to take extra care of ourselves as we manage this situation.
Maintain a healthy diet and engage in regular exercise.
As you may know, the mind and body are closely linked. Your physical wellbeing has an influence on your mental health and vice versa. For example, recall how you feel blue when you get a headache. It has been well established that stress has a significant impact on your immunity. The activity of the stress hormone cortisol can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system. Lowered immunity leaves you more vulnerable to infections. Therefore, taking care of your body is pivotal, even if you’re staying indoors. Stick to a healthy diet by including lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and take your vitamins as prescribed. It is important to be aware of your food intake, as we may engage in behaviours such as emotional eating to soothe ourselves, which in itself can have adverse effects. Take note if you’re often reaching for a tub of ice cream and other junk food and find yourself feeling guilty afterward. Pay attention to what you consume, and mindfully opt for healthier alternatives. Moreover, even if you don’t have access to the gym right now, try and ensure you get as much exercise as possible. You could check out workout videos on YouTube and follow a fitness routine as demonstrated by your favourite fitness guru.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for a change in terminology with “physical distancing” replacing what was formerly called “social distancing”. As such, while it is important to physically distance ourselves from others prioritising everyone’s safety, it is important to stay socially connected.
You could make use of this time to catch up and connect with your parents and siblings, discuss their concerns and worries, go through old photographs, and recall the fun adventures you’ve been on as a family.
You can also make use of current technology such as video calls and group chats to stay connected with your family and friends, especially if you’re a student or employed in a different continent altogether, and/or under quarantine. If you’re an introvert, you may ease into this lifestyle. It is important to make sure during this time you pay attention to your extroverted friends who garner much of their energy from being around others.
Social media distancing
News surrounding the pandemic – both verified and unverified – is circulating on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram at a rapid rate. While you may already be experiencing stress and anxiety about what is happening, constantly being bombarded with news can only aggravate it. It becomes even more problematic when false news is shared, contributing to panic among your loved ones and, by extension, the public. While it is tempting to check your socials periodically, especially if you’re feeling bored at home, try and suppress the urge to do so whenever possible. Even when you do, make sure you stay tuned to verified news sources and share news responsibly. Set up a timer if necessary to keep track of time, set up an allocated time to use social media to connect with loved ones, and make it a point to keep your phone disinfected as well.
Work and study from home
While you may have posted something about wanting a life where you could “eat, sleep, Netflix, repeat”, having to actually do so can be mentally draining. Suddenly being thrust into the position of having to study or work from home, which is a significant shift from your normal routine, can create an empty feeling after the first few days. It can activate negative thoughts and ruminations about yourself, your worth, and the meaning of life. It is important that we look at the prevailing situation as a temporary state that we ought to adjust to. While we may not be able to engage in our daily routines in the exact manner as we had done before, we can surely make adjustments while continuing to work towards our goals. We thrive when we have a sense of purpose, which serves as the light at the end of the tunnel. It is important we take active steps that align with this purpose each day, whether it is to study one chapter a day to keep you on track with school work, read up on literature for your research as a university student, arrange for video conferencing for office work, or take online courses to learn new skills. Keeping yourself occupied has the added benefit of serving as a distraction from what is happening outside.
Talk to a mental health expert
Staying in line at the grocery store, looking at everyone rummaging to stockpile basic necessities, watching some others arguing over the last bag of rice, and the sheer panic on the faces of people surrounding you can be incredibly
overwhelming. Having to witness all this unfolding, being disengaged from previous work/ study routines, and having to stay away from loved ones can be an incredibly isolating and emotional experience. It all gets too much at times, and it is only understandable that it does. If you start to notice symptoms of panic and/or you feel distressed, do reach out and ask for help. There are mental health professionals providing their services online, ensuring utmost confidentiality, from whom you could get all the help you require. It is vital that we remind ourselves that we don’t have to reach breaking point to talk to an expert on the matter. For those already in therapy, not being able to see your therapist in real life can be difficult. Making sure you arrange for a call or video call for a therapy session and arranging more homework activities is beneficial at this time. Engaging in self-help by reading up on what concerns
you, continuing to do breathing exercises and visualisation, and processing your emotional experience in a journal can help manage stress and anxiety. Make sure you also reflect on three good things that happened during the day to aid you to remain hopeful in these trying times.
Crisis Support Service – 1333
National Mental Health helpline – 1926
Sri Lanka Sumithrayo – 011 2696666/2692909/2683555
Shanthi Maargam – 071 7639898