There are many COVID-19 trackers that keep count of those who have been physically impacted by the pandemic in our cities, country and the world. We track the sick, the survivors and those who have succumbed. But no tracker accounts for the mental impact of the disease or tracks those who are stressed, anxious or headed for a burnout. As the pandemic surges on, it is time to pause and recognise that it has taken a toll on our mental health even if we are not suffering from mental illness.
Dr. Syeda Ruksheda, Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist from Mumbai, shares what we can do to help ourselves and support others during this crisis so we can stay mentally fit and healthy. Dr. Ruksheda has been offering support and counselling to people through free webinars and free sessions for schools, colleges, mommy Facebook groups and others through social media and other channels. Having run a virtual clinic with clients all over the world, she also understands the unique challenges of those seeking online consultation.
Here are some insights and practical tips for fellow Mumbaikars from Dr. Ruksheda.
Work towards selfcare
Being overworked and not having time to cook is a big issue for many people who don’t have any househelp or family support. In some housing societies, even ordering food might be an issue as one can’t leave home to collect it. Eating a one-pot meal with some basic ingredients once or twice a day is an easy way out, but it can have many unpleasant consequences, like rapid weight loss.
Compromising on sleep is a major concern because no therapy or medication can substitute sleep. Thanks to long working hours or working odd hours, some people are sleeping late, some wake up late and some are unable to get any sleep.
Today, no matter who you are, your screen time has increased exponentially as you are either working or studying from home, or spending long hours consuming endless news feeds.
You need to recognise the changes in your patterns of eating, sleeping, activity and screen time, and take care of your physical health by working on changing these unhealthy habits. If you are a caregiver or parent, this is doubly important because you are not going to be able to support anyone if you are not able to show up for them.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends you eat meals regularly, sleep on time, do simple exercises daily, take screen breaks and make time for doing things you enjoy.
Advocate for mental health at the workplace
There is a complete erosion of boundaries between work life and personal life. People no longer have that time off even in professions where weekends were considered sacrosanct. For example, college professors and teachers have administrative meetings on Sundays. People working in IT and such sectors get calls at odd times of the day or night.
Working from home doesn’t mean that the workplace doesn’t exist. It is important to speak to one’s supervisor or HR head and discuss reasonable working hours. Mental health at the workplace is an important conversation to have so that the lines between personal time and professional time are not blurred. Midnight calls and working on holidays can be a one-off thing; not a sustainable option.
Use facts to deal COVID-19 related fears
After taking care of yourself physically and taking precautions for your hygiene and safety, if you still feel anxious, then you must focus on facts. If your loved ones are safe and not leaving home much, and you have followed safety protocols, your chances of contracting the disease are low. Even if you are sick, chances of it being severe are again, low. Most people with severe symptoms survive and make a full recovery.
Sticking to facts and being aware of your health instead of being hyper-aware is the key.
Another concern is finances that may have taken a beating due to the economic situation. Practically, even if earnings have reduced, spending too is down, so you need to evaluate whether your financial position is okay despite a pay-cut before you lower your standard of living.
Seek the right mental health professional
Telepsychiatry or telepsychology is here to stay long after the pandemic, so if you need to lookup a mental health expert, do some basic research. Bear in mind, a video consultation where the doctor can see your facial expressions is better than a face-to-face session with a mask on. Having said that, do try to find a local practitioner who you can meet in person when the situation eases up.
After you consider factors like affordability and accessibility (in terms of convenient timing), ensure that the practitioner is both, qualified and certified. If it is a doctor, ask for their qualifications, if it is a psychologist, ask for their RCI number.
Lots of people may claim they are therapists and counselors but they are not trained as therapists. Counselling, giving advice or life coaching is different from therapy—find out what kind of therapy they offer and where they were trained for it. Most professionals have online reviews or testimonials that you can look at, or get references from trusted sources.
Your personal comfort level or rapport is also very important. Unfortunately, many people take a long time to seek another expert if their first experience was not good. You need to go about it pragmatically. If for some reason, you are not comfortable with your doctor or therapist, look for another one immediately instead of waiting a long time.
Establish the new normal as you go along
When people talk about new normals, it involves this time during the pandemic, and what we imagine might happen afterwards. That is why normal may not mean going back to the way things were before. This can, though, be a good thing.
You can introspect and evaluate what you want to carry forward. For example, you may realise that your home is noisy because everyone in your family speaks loudly, fights loudly and watches TV at high volume. This is something that may have already reduced during the lockdown if you live in a quiet neighbourhood. It could be one of the positives for you to take away.
Another change we see is the willingness to help each other. Be it buying groceries for an elderly neighbour when we make a trip for essentials, or some other form of help, we had the community spirit in Mumbai, which is now returning slowly.
People are becoming aware of their local political representative, local doctor or local policeman as they need to reach out to them during this time. That culture of seeking and offering help, which was lost in our everyday bustle, is something that we need to re-cultivate.