7 ways to care for your mental health during lockdown

A psychiatrist suggests ways to deal with mental health challenges that arise in times of social distancing

Man sitting alone by the window alone | caring for your mental health during lockdown

While it is well-established that man is a social animal, this fact has been repeated so many times that it’s turned into a cliché, one to which we hardly pay any attention. It has taken a worldwide disaster of monumental proportions for us to sit up and take note. We have been found to be woefully inadequate in our ability and preparedness to deal with the challenges that have befallen us over the past few weeks. In a world where outings, shopping sprees, parties, get-togethers and holidays have been the norm, being confined to a limited space within the four walls of our house during lockdown is creating all kinds of mental health issues.

Adding to the impact of social isolation is the anxiety about the dreaded coronavirus. As a psychiatrist, I am not going to engage you in a long-drawn therapeutic process or suggesting that your anxiety is baseless. The fears brought on by the virus are real but the key to dealing with those fears are also real, and they are also quite simple.

I list a few practical suggestions that will prove useful to most of you in caring for your mental health during lockdown. For those who are acutely suffering, I would suggest reaching out to a mental health professional.

7 ways to take care of your mental health during lockdown

1. Change the Perspective

One of the severest forms of punishments is solitary confinement in jails. Those of us who are at home or in familiar surroundings with our loved ones by our side will do well to remember that this is not a punishment. We should stop comparing this lockdown with being locked up in prisons. In fact, you could change your view of the lockdown and think of it as a noble act for the sake of humanity because your staying at home is not just for your own benefit but also for the welfare of your fellow beings.

2. Have a routine

I cannot overemphasize enough the importance of having a daily routine. Sure, it requires self-discipline and determination but the effort is worth it. Little things make a big difference: waking up at a same time each day, eating meals around the same time, limiting time for news and social media, allocating time for leisure/hobbies, exercising and meditation. Starting and finishing your workday at an appointed time even if you are working out of home is another important aspect of following a routine. Doing this will make you feel productive and engaged with life. Without a routine, your days will become chaotic and unproductive and lead to overthinking and anxiety.

3. Stay connected

While the fears of excessive internet usage are real, smart use of technology can enable us to remain connected with our near and dear ones when we are being deprived of their physical presence. Having said that, we ought not to forget those loved ones who we live with under the same roof. Being together 24×7 has its challenges—for instance, since the lockdown began reports of increased domestic violence and spousal abuse are coming from around the world including India. It is crucial that each of acts as a source of comfort to those around us, giving them the right amount of attention while at the same time providing them their own space. One practical way to create joy at home is to help in household chores and do activities like cooking and cleaning together.

4. Stay active

Physical exercise is essential for your overall wellbeing—physical, mental and emotional. It is well-established that moderate exercise releases endogenous peptides called “happiness hormones” that cross the blood-brain barrier resulting in improved mood. Besides, regular exercise enhances your immunity and helps you fight infections—something we all want during a pandemic.

5. Engage in something new

All of us, at some time or the other, have felt like learning something new but the busyness of life prevented us from ever seriously pursuing it. Consider this lockdown as an opportunity to fulfil your heart’s desire to take up a hobby or acquire a skill. Whether you want to start gardening, learn a new language, write a book or try your hand at playing the guitar, this is the time to do it.

6. Finish a pending endeavour

This is an extension to the previous point. You may have started something but were compelled to leave it unfinished because of other priorities. Perhaps it was something important like finishing the half-written will or arranging your financial records. Or it could be something as simple as calling up that friend you have been meaning to get in touch with.

7. Cultivate positive emotions

As we grow, we begin to take ourselves too seriously. We get preoccupied with work pressures, family obligations, health issues and other such matters, in the process losing touch with the lighter side of life. But a sense of humour and the ability to laugh at oneself is a quality that can take the edge off all the hardships we face. During this lockdown, make it a point to spend some time each day watching or reading something funny and share jokes with your family and friends.

The above 7 ideas are meant to make it easier to endure the undue strain on your mental health during lockdown. But I strongly recommend that you continue following these suggestions even after the lockdown is relaxed or lifted as they will raise the quality of your life.

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Asif Iqbal Ahmed
Dr Asif Iqbal Ahmed, Professor & Senior Consultant Psychiatry, formerly Senior Adviser (Psychiatry) is a Gold Medalist Post Graduate in Psychiatry (1995) from AFMC Pune. He retired as Surgeon Captain from the Army Medical Corps (Colonel) where he rendered yeoman service for 25 years in Healthcare. During his illustrious career he received Chief Of Naval Staff Commendation and citations for Vishisht Sewa Medal and Naosena Medal for devotion to duty while catering to the Mental Health needs of the community. Dr Asif is the founder of Psycare, a care and cure centre in South Delhi for psychiatric, psychological, social and occupational problems


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