While it may be the case for some that being obliged to stay home during the Covid-19 lockdown is akin to a forced go-slow, to others the lockdown has been no picnic. According to Dr Tshidi Gule of MediSpace Lifestyle Institute, there are three big disruptions when it comes to our mental and emotional stability that have come with the Covid-19 pandemic. Namely, in our communication, connectivity, and social lifestyle. When you look at these things that we take for granted, one can understand the anxiety associated with feeling isolated during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Dr Tshidi Gule believes that mental well-being is a journey. “It’s a journey of knowing your emotions, the responses you associate to those emotions, and then understanding why you behave the way you do as a reaction to your emotions.” So, when it comes to creative and constructive ways in which you can maintain a strong sense of mental health during this tough time, here are three ways Dr Tshidi suggests for looking after yourself and others:
The biggest shift is to acknowledge that we have been enforced as a global community to distance ourselves from one another, that the context of face-to-face communication is something that has largely been restricted and is likely to be so for a long time. And this is probably the greatest source of distress for many individuals especially when it comes to how we are used to relating to our loved ones. For those of us who aren’t living at home with our loved ones, whether our parents, siblings or relatives, the biggest impact of being this isolated is an associated anxiety due to worry over the well-being and safety of those loved ones.
Being forced to only communicate through electronic and digital means can definitely trigger anxiety. Use digital devices in your home like your smart TV, laptop, or smartphone to keep in touch with those who mean the most to you.
The most important way to navigate this time with your family is to have a very predictable pattern of communicating with each other telephonically or virtually. Building safety in a time when you’re feeling displaced is a way that you can not only stay connected but also alleviate the anxiety about knowing how everyone is doing. Simple ideas such as agreeing as a family to touch base in the morning and then again in the evening, for example, especially when it comes to the elderly, can really create a sense of unity and bring about peace of mind in otherwise trying times.
If you start to put effort into communicating regularly as a family, through these new means, you will also in a wonderful way learn more about each other and get to really appreciate what support structures work for which individuals. This could be a very enriching time, so do not let it get you down for too long. Switch to the new style of communicating, develop a tradition around your communication, and enjoy the time when you are online. Make this form of communication work. Make it fun. Make it meaningful.
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One of the great ways to make sure that our connectivity does not betray our need to stay vulnerable in this time, is to do a mental check in with each other.
Before starting any conversation, meaningfully ask: “How are you?” Three simple words that could maybe have not held as much meaning to you, hold a lot more meaning to you now. The goal of asking this question is for you to listen. To listen to what the other person is not only saying but what they need. This leads to the second question in meaningful connectivity: “What do you need right now?” For some people it might be something as simple as a virtual hug, for others, it might be a moment of silence. Some may have a material need. But asking this question changes the way we connect with one another and during this trying time, we will be creating new ways of relating to and understanding each other, so that when required, we can help one another out of dark places.
Mental health doesn’t only speak to those that have a mental illness. It speaks to those of us that don’t but through moments wherein there is so much turbulence, confusion, chaos and conflict in our minds that all we need is a helping hand. The surprising thing we will all realise is that if we connect more authentically we will find comfort and strength in each other. This pandemic will challenge us to connect in a different way and to evaluate if we show up for each other.
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3. Social Lifestyle
Socialising is a very big part of many people’s lives, including children. For many of us the reality of not being able to move around freely and hang out in places of familiar environments such as shopping centres, restaurants, clubs, playgrounds and parks, is probably something we didn’t pay much mind to before but has caused a lot of loneliness. It is normal for humans to want to interact with each other, and it is a necessary part of mental stimulation for us to stay in commune with each other.
Despite social restrictions, there are creative ways in with which you can stay in the social space with your loved ones. A really fun way is by participating in social gaming. Gaming has taken new meaning in a family or a group setting in that you are able to break the ice with each other by playing familiar games online. This can be quite a laugh, which eases a lot of the anxiety and tension of being apart. It can also create a tradition and become something to commit to that makes you feel that same feel-good energy that you get when you are physically together. You can play games online with family and friends using a gaming console, a PC, or using apps on your smartphone.
The important thing with maintaining a social lifestyle is the frequency with which you connect with other people. While social media is a very strong way with which everyone is communicating, it can become a very addictive and depressive spiral. Don’t just post about missing someone; actually connect with them and tell them how you feel. Don’t just post about missing travel adventures; call a friend and talk about that trip you took together. And talk about what you’re looking forward to doing the minute you can get out and about. Being able to look forward to a lot of things together will get you through the tough times as well.
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“And remember, the more we observe social distancing the quicker we will be able to regain our freedom and see each other again,” says Dr Tshidi. “For now, our social lifestyles are physically restricted, but they should not be restricted emotionally or mentally. Fun is a great way to release the tension of negative emotions so find creative ways to have fun with those that are living in your space and those that you communicate with digitally or telephonically.” Keep the laughter going. It is one of the best pills that will get you through the intense moments.”