Imagine being isolated and not being able to see your loved ones for 14 days!
We all know the COVID19 statistics, startling as they are…but statistics fail to highlight the fact that behind the numbers are real people, dealing with real emotions.
As Karen* from Seattle says “Towards the beginning of my isolation I was fine, I just realised I was sick and needed to take care of myself. Towards the middle of it though, I started getting restless and towards the end I was getting depressed. I live by myself and I started getting really, really lonely”
While enough has been said and written about best hygiene practices and social distancing, not nearly enough attention has been given to how to emotionally cope with Corona anxiety.
Depending on the level of impact, reactions vary from disappointment through frustration to all-out despair. There’s fear about the virus itself, added to that are financial worries and the feelings of loneliness that comes with social isolation…and you can see why the overall global sentiment is one of gloom.
While a certain amount of anxiety is normal, it’s important that people proactively manage their emotional wellbeing.
Here are 5 specific things that you can do to cope better:
1. Stay physically active
Getting regular exercise is a necessary condition for emotional well-being. Physical exercise releases endorphins and serotonin, both extremely critical in elevating your mood and in relieving feelings of pain and stress.
If you can’t go to the gym, find new ways to exercise that don’t require equipment or weights. Look up new workout routines or floor exercises that you can try in your living room. Go for a brisk walk or run within your community, if permitted.
Changying* a resident in Wuhan who used to enjoy dancing, practiced her dance steps in her living room with her husband during the lock-down.
2. Stay connected
Countless studies highlight the impact of warm relationships on well-being. Most of this is attributed to the hormone oxytocin, cutely nicknamed the ‘cuddle hormone’. So reach out to your loved ones over a call, send out virtual hugs or schedule a Hangouts reunion with friends from across the world. You’d be surprised how good you’ll feel after that!
Pandemics also put quite a strain on families. We each have our unique ways of perceiving and responding to the environment and these differences can create discord between partners. An open, communicative approach is best when it comes to discussions with your family, more so with children who are equally prone to stress. If you are locked down together, it might be a great opportunity to spend some QT together, making up entertaining stories, watching TV or playing fun board games.
Li Qiang* a resident of Shanghai said that the only thing that got him through the lockdown was playing Chinese chess with his grandfather.
3. Learn something new
Did you know that learning releases dopamine – the reward hormone – and it also builds new connections in your brain? So, sign up for a new course on Udemy, learn a new language online or get started on those books on your to-read list. If you are not able to visit a library, e-books and audio books are great options too!
Mindfulness is also a great way to relieve stress. Both learning and mindfulness activate the left pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain that’s the seat of emotional control. Mindfulness is especially effective in reducing activity in the amygdala – the part that’s responsible for stress and emotional reactivity.
Zhang Wei* from Beijing was stressed. His company was taking a hit financially and during lockdown he was asked to lay off a quarter of his team! He was anxious that he may also be asked to go. To make matters worse, he was staying alone and the news on social media was depressing. Finally, he decided to go on a digital detox, along with following a daily mindfulness and yoga regimen. Overall, Wei seems to dealing with his anxiety much better now.
4. Do what you enjoy
Gabriella* facing lockdown in Italy said “We’re always complaining that we didn’t have enough time for ourselves to do stuff. Now I’m going to cross-stitch, do some scrap-booking and watch movies, maybe watch a new series” Wow, put like that, the extra time on your hands sounds like a gift, doesn’t it?
An experiment conducted by renowned psychologist Mihalyi Cziksentmihalyi in 1970 asked people to stay away from the activities that they most enjoyed. After two days, the experiment was called off because 48 hours without enjoyment seemed to “plunge people into a state eerily similar to serious psychiatric disorders” That’s how important recreation is to our emotional well-being!
The Chinese have taken to cooking gourmet meals to keep themselves engaged. Others to DIY home improvement tasks, picking up that old guitar from the attic, gardening, even re-arranging furniture, spring cleaning and de-cluttering…really, the possibilities are endless.
5. Watch what you watch
The primary function of the brain is to keep you safe. This is why more attention is given to negative news, because we are always wired to look out for danger.
One of the news channels I was watching yesterday was filled with words such as “bloodbath at the markets”, “criminal negligence”, disaster of epic proportions”. In fact within a span of two and a half minutes, I counted a whopping 9 statements that predicted doom!
We need to understand that going through a pandemic is a stressful affair. The situation in all likelihood may get worse before it stabilises. Accepting that is a first step to handling one’s emotions. Restrict your exposure to alarm-based news coverage, instead check out Ministry of Health or CDC updates – not more than twice a day! Also get your daily dose of some light viewing – hilarious comedies, stand-up comedy acts or heart-warming movies.
If there is anything at all that is good about this situation, it’s probably that it gives most of us the gift of time and an opportunity to make a few desired changes or build new habits. A time for rest, reset and re-charge of sorts…before the mad whirlwind of life starts again!
It’s also gotten us to realise how connected we are. What affects you cannot not affect me. It has reminded us what it means to be human, and to focus more on the ways we are the same, rather than how we are different.
Stay safe and be well.