BY KIRAT KALYAN, LEAP TRAINER AND MENTAL HEALTH PRACTITIONER
COVID19 | LEARNING
Mental Health is everyone’s business and as I sit here and reflect on the impact of coronavirus on our mental health, I am left a little in awe. We have long flourished living our lives in a bubble of comfort and predictability. We dither in casual conversations long enough to have a voice and express an opinion, sometimes merely for ‘likes’ and acknowledgement. We are keen to learn and support, but always from a comfortable distance. Nothing has quite touched us like this truly life-changing phenomena, Covid-19. Our safety net has been ripped out from beneath us. Now, we learn to discover balance in our #StayHomeSaveLives terrain, a place which was typically filled with cosy cuppas (or a glass of wine!) after a long, hard day in the office.
The Covid-19 pandemic is an unfamiliar and uncertain time. It has impacted our mental health in new ways and has caused rapid change, and for many, has completely shifted the way our lives are lived.
For young people in particular, this pandemic has bought enormous uncertainty to sitting exams, starting university or waiting to enter the workplace. As young people begin to exit the global pandemic, they are entering into a mental health pandemic like nothing we have ever witnessed. The effect of the disruption, confusion and collective trauma is magnified by socio-economic as well as racial inequalities. On Tuesday last week, a Public Health England Report found there was a disproportionate impact of coronavirus on Asian, Caribbean and Black ethnicities. In addition to young people suffering death or sickness of a loved one, those with pre-existing psychological conditions are at a higher rate of harm and trauma from this global pandemic. The next steps we take are incremental to the journey of young people’s lives.
If you are worried about the long-term impact of coronavirus on your/your young people’s mental health, you are not alone. There is no denying the importance of staying informed, but there are small changes you can make to manage wellbeing during such ‘unprecedented times’. Here are a few things you can do to stay calm, connected and entertained.
As we dance to this new rhythm of life, maintaining a routine that works for you is key. Routine and structure will help to give you a sense of purpose and control over time. Sticking to the same activities, especially during the working week, provide familiarity when feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Listen to the highs and lows of your body and discover your needs. Remember to be gentle and supportive. With much more silence than usual I have learned to exercise patience and listen without judgement. Create a pattern for you and play with it, it can be as creative as you need. You are at the heart of this.
Loneliness is one of modern day’s biggest killers. There is a plethora of free ways to connect and feel connected. Social media channels, video calls and the ‘old school’ phone call can really brighten your day, as well as a loved one’s. Try reaching out to people you have not connected with for a long time, either due to loss of contact, a relationship breakdown or simply because you have been too busy. The prelude to making that phone call can often fill us with a sense of nervousness. Forgive yourself, create a realistic deadline and remember the smile you will put on someone’s face. Alternatively, you can find lots of positive online resources routed in your interest. Explore them and dive right in – you might even find a hidden talent.
Exercise is a natural anti-anxiety treatment. It enhances mental wellbeing through the release of endorphins. Being active doesn’t necessarily mean doing something too intensive or a sport you really do not enjoy. In this new world we have found ourselves in, it is an opportunity to take stock, pause and re-evaluate the amount of physical exercise we are doing. Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organisation, has encouraged people in compliance with national and local guidelines, to go out for a walk, run or bike ride whilst keeping a two-metre distance from others. Being out in the sunshine as well as bringing nature into your everyday life can really boost your mood, have you feeling more relaxed and content plus relieve tension and stress. If you are in a position where you cannot leave your house, open the windows, let some air in, pop your head outside and feel the sunshine beating against your face. There are also some brilliant online videos (including the famous Jo Watts) to help you exercise at home. Feel free to mix it up and dance, practice yoga and even use stairs for a creative workout.
Media and News
The world is at the epicentre of a tragedy like no other. It is frightening. It is scary. And it is uncertain how long it will last. There are talks of the race to find a cure. We wait. Fear creeps in as we pray our loved ones are kept safe. In the absence of knowledge, we are drip fed by the national media. However, if the extensive news coverage of the pandemic is causing huge stress, take a break and limit your news coverage to once a day. Finding balance is key. Stay connected with current events but be conscious of where you are receiving your information from and when it feels too much. Similarly, during this time you may want to take a social media spring clean. You could consider unfollowing or muting accounts which make you feel distressed or upset. Own your feed and make sure it is giving you what you need to be fed.
Now is a fantastic time to start a new creative endeavour or revisit an old. Is there something you have always wanted to do, procrastinated on or would love to revisit? Learning a new language can be a brilliant alternative to distract yourself when things feel like they are getting tough. From arts and crafts to yoga and meditation, the options are endless. Platforms such as FutureLearn and OpenLearn have a variety of online courses. With your newfound time, explore activities that excite you. It is necessary to keep your brain occupied, challenged and full of joy, on your terms.
One last thing…
I know, I am known to be overly optimistic but, what if we can also use this time to re-imagine an existence where we share more empathy, have greater family connection, love for reading and expression in writing? We will have a greater appreciation for the simple things; tweeting birds, flowers blooming, cooking wholesome meals and finding delight in small joys throughout the day. Surely this will serve mental wellbeing well, in the short-term and thereafter. What is for sure is that when we do emerge from this, and we will, we shall be much stronger, connected and committed as a nation.
The world is too connected and abundant for anyone to feel alone and disempowered, wherever they may call home.
Kirat is specialises in the design and facilitation of training around mental health, trauma and conflict in institution settings. Visit https://kiratkalyan.com/ to learn more about her work.