Long work hours, high-pressure work environments, high-density city dwelling, pollution, protests, and now the outbreak of the Corona Virus are just a few factors contributing to the alarmingly low levels of wellbeing in Hong Kong. We are told many different things on how to keep ourselves physically protected from the Corona Virus, but what about our mental health?
A sense of frustration and helplessness in the face of yet another crisis can make it easy for us to freeze and become stuck. Here are some small things we can do to maintain our mental health during Corona Virus:
Engage with your feelings
You may be feeling anxious, stressed, depressed, unmotivated, fatigued, indecisive, angry, helpless or hopeless. Acknowledge these feelings rather than sweeping them under the rug. Observing how your emotions feel in your body and trying to understand what they are telling you are both effective ways of regulating emotions. What threat are your feelings alerting you of and how can you help? If nothing can be done to resolve the situation, it is important to practice acceptance of the feelings and simply validate that they are okay to be there. We can also actively practice shifting our emotions by observing the sensations in our bodies. How does your body feel when you think of the word YES compared to the word NO? Try to apply this principle more generally to help yourself shift out of negative emotional states.
Breathing gives the body feedback whether we need to prepare for fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system) or whether we can rest and recover (parasympathetic nervous system). When something stresses us, we begin breathing faster and in a different rhythm. This can help to activate our fight-flight system. The great thing is, we can consciously reduce this activation and put the body into rest-and-recovery instead. One way of doing this is breathing deep into our bellies with slow measured in- and exhales. Implement a rhythm of four counts inhale, four counts pause, eight counts exhale. For some help with that rhythm, click here for my free guided 5-minute 4-4-8 breathing exercise.
We get cabin fever when we are stuck in the house for too long with nothing to do. For some of us going out doesn’t feel safe right now; others may feel trapped as many things are closed. We often are so busy keeping up with our daily chores that when time opens up before us, we can’t think of anything fun to do. Get creative and plan activities – bonus points for ones you would not usually do. Keeping a list of things to do when you have time is a great resource to come back to. Another fun way to plan family activities is have everyone write some of their favourite activities onto a slip of paper, pop these into a jar and draw one every weekend. Click here for some inspiration for things to do at home and outside, if you’re coming up blank.
Reach out to your family and friends. Be kind to strangers. As humans, we are social animals – we have evolved to feel safe in a community. Make use of that community in these stressful times. Sharing your own vulnerability can strengthen your relationships and make both you and others feel understood. It builds a sense of “We’re in this together” which is likely to make us feel safer and lift our spirits.
These are uncertain times: It is difficult to predict what will happen next week, let alone in 3, 6 or 12 months. As humans, predictability make us feel safe and in control - a lack thereof can send us into a spin. We can regain some control and manage uncertainty by researching the situation and planning multiple routes for the future.
1. Identify what the key uncertainty is. Are your worries financial, career, family, health, future…? 2. Gather information. How many months can you survive without income, what career options are there for you, where could you go if you needed to…? 3. Think outside the box. Don’t just aim for the most obvious solutions. Be creative. Have fun with it. Move to a deserted island. Win the lottery. Run an empire. Solutions happen when creativity is stimulated! 4. Rate your options. 1 to 5: how feasible is it, how much joy would it bring you, how good a solution is it? 5. Make a concrete plan with your top three choices. Whatever is thrown at you, you have possibilities.
Making use of these techniques on a regular basis can help you to maintain your mental health during the Covid-19 crisis. For more personalized strategies and some additional support, book a consultation with psychologist Dr. Terrighena on (852) 2715 4577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.