We can’t deny that everyone is feeling the effects of the pandemic. Its impact isn’t limited to those who have the coronavirus. During this time, many of us are feeling stressed and anxious, whether it’s from losing a job, being isolated from loved ones, or simply not knowing when we will return to normality. Forbes reports that 36% of Americans say the pandemic has had a serious impact on their mental health.*
Mental health could be the next wave
Mental health has never been more critical. It’s imperative that we look after ourselves during times like these, or we can expect mental health issues to be the next wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Falling into the trap
I realize how easy it can be to slip into a funk or to spiral into a world of panic. When I was stuck in Peru due to the pandemic shutting down their borders. The day I struggled the most was on the fifth day. The difficulty wasn’t that I was stuck in a foreign country, but the one I was having with myself mentally.
Something changed that morning
Until that fifth day, I had thought I had been doing quite well. I remember waking up that morning, disappointed to be staring at the same ceiling. I know what you are thinking. ‘Of course you went to bed in that room. —what did you expect?‘ I guess some part of me wished it were nothing more than a dream.
Fight or flight
I started letting the panic that had been surrounding me sink in and cloud my thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes panic is good. It’s our natural human response to uncertainty and the unknown. At times, it’s useful, as it’s our body’s way of telling us there’s danger – it’s what kicks us into fight or flight mode. But it becomes harmful when it’s a guest that has overstayed its welcome.
I couldn’t think clearly
All I kept on thinking was that I would never get out. That was it; no one was going to help me. It was as if I could see myself paddling out at sea, trying to keep afloat as a storm approached in the distance. When the storm hit, I would be trying to survive battling through the howling winds and vicious waves that came crashing down. I was on the verge of tears, completely helpless. No matter how hard I tried to shake this feeling, I just couldn’t get rid of it. It felt as if it had engulfed me.
Frustrated with myself
Another part of me was frustrated that I was feeling this way. I was a grown-ass man crying out loud! I had a roof over my head, plenty of food, and water. People had endured a lot worse. No, the situation wasn’t ideal, but I was safe, yet I was acting was as if I were in imminent danger.
We needs more conversations about mental health
It’s surprising mental health isn’t discussed more widely during the pandemic. Most of the content and articles I see on social media have been around physical well-being or what to buy for a lockdown. We equally need to have the same conversations on mental health as we do about in-home fitness routines.
With the increasing possibility of lockdowns around the world being extended, it’s more important than ever to look after ourselves both physically and mentally. Undoubtedly, we will survive this, but doing so starts with us.
The World Health Organization’s advice
The message from the World Health Organization is to stay connected and maintain social networks. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings, engage in healthy activities, and reduce the consumption of news related to the coronavirus. Above else, be empathetic, especially to those who are directly affected.
5 ways to improve your mental health
I recognize everyone’s situation is different, but I wanted to share the five things I’ve been doing to maintain my mental health. Remember, no one is perfect or gets its right the first time. Give it a crack and see how you go. I would love to get your thoughts in the comments below.
1. Connect and reconnect with loved ones
You have no idea how much this helped me while I was stuck in Peru. Make time to connect with loved ones and reconnect with friends you’ve lost touch with over the years. Also, who doesn’t love an online happy hour? Just make sure you’re not overdoing it.
2. Get plenty of sleep and maintain a routine
Don’t fall into the trap of staying up super late and messing up your circadian rhythm. You should be getting the right amount of sleep, not too little nor too much. You don’t want to be waking up midday and losing half the day.
3. Set 3-5 daily goals
Don’t just decide to binge on another Netflix series or scroll endlessly for shows that you would probably never watch otherwise, simply because you have nothing better to do. Every day, make time to complete three to five tasks. It can be laundry, a grocery run, or basic life admin tasks that have been lingering since the beginning of the year.
4. Train the mind
Meditate or reflect. Just as you would spend time to go to the gym (or nowadays a virtual body pump class), set aside time each day, preferably in the morning, to do some meditation, self-reflection, or journaling. If you want to try meditation, give Headspace a go—it’s super easy for any beginner. For those wishing to try journaling and some form of self-reflection, try the ‘five-minute journal, which is highly recommended by Tim Ferriss. It may sound a little silly, but these exercises will help train your mind to weather anything.
5. Invest in yourself and learn something new
If you ask any of my friends, they’ll tell you I’m the queen of a thousand hobbies. If you want to learn a new language, there are great apps like Duolingo or Babbel. You can also learn new skills online; I’ve been doing lessons on Masterclass, Udemy, and Skillshare. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn online these days.
A mental day is a me day
Lastly, it’s okay on some days to have a me (or meh) day and just say F*** it. There have been countless times I’ve been like, “You know what?! I’m going to spend the whole day on this couch watching reruns of Judge Judy and Gossip Girl.” You know you love me, xoxo.
^The 90-day lockdown: NSW police to enforce home isolation until at least end of June. The Guardian, 2020
Thank you for reading my post. Follow my Instagram account @wheres.wang to get updates daily. If you’re interested, you can also check out one of my opinion pieces ‘Why saying goodbye is the hardest thing you’ll do when you travel?’ Learn More.