By Dr Eugene Brink
The third wave of Covid-19 is now in full swing in South Africa and let’s be honest, it is a terrifying time to be alive.
The threat of contracting the Delta variant and having loved ones exposed to it as well as the trepidation relating to economic and work-related challenges, are just some of the concerns that could affect our psychological wellbeing. Although we cannot change the course of the virus, we can manage our own mental health to ensure that we remain healthy and robust while going about our daily business.
- Eat and exercise well and manage news consumption
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise us to take a break from watching, reading and listening to news stories, including (and maybe especially) those on social media. “It’s good to be informed, but hearing about the pandemic constantly can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple of times a day and disconnecting from phone, TV, and computer screens for a while.” Also, try to find good news and stories.
It is winter and hence not the ideal or most pleasant time to exercise, but it is essential for your body and mind to start moving – even if it is just minimal. In taking care of your body, it is recommended that you simply take deep breaths, stretch and take a brisk walk. Of course, more intense exercise is even better. Also, drink lots of water and sleep well. Not only will this elevate energy levels and release endorphins, but it will divert your attention away from all the negativity and clear your mind.
- Separate work and life
It is quite trite to talk about balancing work and life, but it is now more important than ever – in the light of increased work-from-home arrangements – to maintain a work-life equilibrium. Shannon O’Neill, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, says a simple tip is to still “dress for work” – as opposed to working in your pyjamas – even while working from home again. This will help to restore some sense of normalcy and help you to distinguish between work and everything else you need to do at home.
Also, have a “virtual commute” at the end of your home workday (and there needs to be a definite daily end to it!) by clearing your head for a few minutes after you’ve sent your last email. Watching a TV clip or reading a few pages in a book for as long as your normal commute would be, should help to clear your mind before you tend to your kids and other domestic duties.
- Reach out
The British Mental Health Foundation sums it up perfectly: “At times of stress, we work better in company and with support. Try and keep in touch with your friends and family by telephone, email or social media, or contact a helpline for emotional support.” Sometimes, merely getting a different or new perspective that challenges and assuages your concerns, or having a good laugh, is all you need to put your mind at ease.
The CDC suggests making and maintaining contact with community and faith-based organisations – such as churches. Pastors, counsellors and other personnel are trained to provide emotional support, especially to people who might be lonely and afraid at the moment.
- Control what you can
It is an empowering experience to simply do what you can in any instance. By the same token, worrying about factors beyond our control is paralysing. Merely reducing your number of stressors as far as possible could already lower your emotional strain. By ensuring that your work is up to date and your workspace at home or the office is neat will most certainly lift your mood and give you improved peace of mind.
British Mental Health Foundation, 12 January 2021, “Coronavirus and mental health tips”, https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus/mental-health-tips.
CDC, 22 January 2021, “Coping with stress”, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html.
Maggie O’Neill, 11 January 2021, “8 Tips for Coping With Coronavirus Stress, From Mental Health Experts”, https://www.health.com/condition/infectious-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-stress.