Preserving good mental health in times of the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Alvira Ashraf

On January 4th, Boris Johnson addressed the British public with news that most of us did not want to hear. After the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus, the government has decided that the best course of action to take would be to enforce strict lockdown rules until at least February. While many of us may be cheering about not having to attend school in person, others are less joyful. Despite it being a sacrifice needed to save lives, lockdown and self-isolation can be stressful concepts even to imagine: how could one possibly maintain sanity in such agonisingly prolonged distance from the outside world?

Here is a list compiled of three tips in answer to that question which, if done consistently, I’ve found can be extremely useful in preserving good mental health in times of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Physical movement

Although it can be tempting to use the virus as an excuse for lying in for multiple hours at a time or familiarising yourself with the comfort of a sofa, it is a better idea to see this as an opportunity to work on your physical health. Going on walks, engaging in home-workouts, or even (if you can afford to) investing in some gym equipment to use at home are all simple and easy ways to get moving during self-isolation!

Physical activity has been directly linked to good mental health in multiple studies. Regular exercise often increases one’s self-esteem levels, boosts their alertness, energy, and mood. It also reduces levels of stress and anxiety, which, during the pandemic, are likely to be even higher than usual.

  1. Journalling or mind-tracking

A personal favourite, journaling one’s thoughts can be extremely therapeutic and relaxing. During the crisis, get to know the inner-workings of your brain by tracking your thoughts or writing a summary of what you’ve done each day. This can be easy - going a traditional route, you could write in a notebook, or more simply and easily-available is the ‘Notes’ app on your iPhone.

Gratitude journaling, which can take up to five minutes, is a simple process in which you list a number of things you are grateful for; when done consistently, this has been shown to improve moods. By navigating self-isolation using a journal, you will also have a tangible representation of your thoughts and feelings, which you may later look back and reminisce on, once restrictions loosen, perhaps even sharing them with future generations, who will not have had the same experience as you.

  1. Stay in touch!

As humans, we are social creatures - without terrifying claws or horribly sharp teeth, we rely on social groups for protection, looking to family, friends, colleagues, peers, and sometimes even strangers, to provide us with comfort. It can be scary when we are seemingly deprived of contact with the outside world; but just because we are physically distant does not mean we can’t stay in touch with those we miss. Whether it be a friend, family member, neighbour, or even a teacher, the wonders of the Internet make it possible for us to stay connected to one another, no matter how many miles are in between.

The ease with which we can send a message to one another now is phenomenal. Although these uncertain times require self-isolation, this does not mean we must drift away from one another. It can be very reassuring to have a conversation with someone you miss and catch up over the phone.

Extra tips:

  • Don’t miss out on sleep just because you can! The recommended 7-9 hours of sleep for adolescents and adults is crucial in maintaining a structure to one’s daily routine so that we can wake up well-rested and ready for the day.

  • Channeling our inner artists can be a fun way to spend this newfound free time. Art comes in many forms: bake, sing, dance, cook, paint, draw, sculpt, blog, edit a video, or snap some photos. I also recommend creating a vision board before getting started, just for extra inspiration.

  • Be mindful of media consumption. It is important to make sure that the news we get comes from reliable sources and is relevant to our lives. By flooding our minds with Instagram posts, Twitter hashtags and Snapchat stories, we may overwhelm ourselves with information that we do not need. Especially in such unpredictable times, it is even more likely that news may try to incite fear and panic. Be mindful of fact-checking information before spreading it. None of us can have all the knowledge in the world, and while it is necessary to stay informed, we should not become obsessed with the news.

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