The COVID-19 lockdown with social distancing presents additional challenges of staying mentally sound. Loneliness and boredom can significantly contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. Working from home, along with juggling home schooling or minding younger children, can result in feeling overwhelmed. There are, however, proven steps to take to maintain sanity and thrive in the storm.
In his 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr Viktor Frankl (neurologist and psychiatrist) – a Holocaust survivor – reflected that the way fellow prisoners imagined their future affected their longevity. It was his observation that a mindset that remained hopeful and constantly focused on the desired future was a common trait among survivors.
As the global community faces coronavirus, it is another time to remind ourselves that outlook influences outcome, and that expectation determines manifestation. Deciding to adopt an attitude of faith and hope – no matter the challenges ahead – is one of the most crucial tools to keeping a sound mind.
Structure Your Day
Research shows that a solid daily routine is good for mental health. Structure also helps to relieve stress. The temptation to allow things to slip during a lockdown is high. Getting up at the same time, getting dressed, and having dedicated meal times are all simple steps that can help. Staying in pyjamas all day is a bad idea, as the mind links this to lazing around rather than to productivity.
A demarcated home office area can further reinforce the boundaries between work and leisure at this time. It is best that area is not the bedroom, as the brain naturally associates that room with rest and relaxation. Failing to get work done, with its feelings of guilt and low self-confidence, can have a debilitating effect on mental health. Allocating a small task to segments of the day can be crucial in breaking monotony, and in creating the variety needed to sustain motivation.
Keeping the phone away – and checking in on social media only at pre-determined periods – can be a massive time saver.
Think about long-term projects to which you can allocate the additional time now saved on commuting. Starting a blog, a podcast, a new business, writing a book, learning a new language or picking up a hobby are plausible endeavours, with the additional free headspace the lockdown creates.
In order to keep a sound mind at this time, it is crucial to keep the body healthy. Regular exercise, a balanced diet and sufficient sleep are essential to enabling the immune system to work well. Being home all day creates the temptation of bingeing on unhealthy snacks. Stocking up on healthy nibbles is a good strategy to combat comfort eating and post-COVID waistline expansion! A healthy, balanced diet, rather than taking vitamin supplements, remains the evidence-based method to boost immunity.
Without the need to get up early for the work commute, one can be lured to habitually staying up late, bingeing on Netflix. Eight hours of sleep remains the recommendation – lockdown or not.
To get sufficient exercise, in the context of social distancing, will require some creativity, so consider using long walks, gardening, worship aerobics and YouTube exercise videos. The private time of reflection that exercise affords can be effective in clearing your mind and staying sound. Exercise is associated with the brain’s release of endorphins, which are happy chemicals that lift the mood.
Keeping a journal to record the things to be thankful for at the end of each day is a proven way to keep the mind positive. There’s always plenty to be grateful to God for, and intentional gratitude is associated with a happier life. The lockdown also creates additional free time to devote to reading books that build up the spirit or develop the mind.
The Scripture that says ‘When a man is sick, his spirit helps him. But nobody can live if his spirit is not strong’ (Proverbs 18:14 ERV) comes to mind this season. Building up one’s spirit with regular times of prayer and meditation on the Scriptures cannot be overemphasised in time of crisis. Neuroscience now says that five to 15 minutes of daily meditation supports optimal brain function and sound mind.
I am all for social distancing. With discreet use of social media and technology, isolation and loneliness can be curbed. Control your time on social media, and avoid bingeing on negative news. This may require you to mute certain contacts, who favour featuring grim rather than uplifting updates. Checking in regularly with family and friends for encouragement is vital. Giving back, by providing comfort to others, is another sure way to maintain a sound mind at times of crisis. Can you volunteer, support the elderly, or shop for others at this time?
Finally, spend each day visualising the favourable times post-COVID. This too shall pass, folks.