Dr. J Saplala, Toronto based Clinical Psychologist
Apr 14, 2020
3 min read
7 Ways to Stay Mentally Fit During These Challenging Times
1.Acknowledge your feelings. These are not normal times, which is why it’s okay to feel anxious when times appear unpredictable. Remember that anxiety is normal and is a future oriented feeling of dread associated with the sense that events are both uncontrollable and unpredictable. Martin Seligman, a Psychologist who is the director of Penn’s Positive Psychology Center, offers a quick and straightforward way to refocus your mind. You can click the article here.
2. Practice mindfulness. Be mindful about how you feel, note the feeling by describing it (e.g. writing it down, talking with someone, engaging in an expressive arts activity) and as much as possible, without judgment. Use your senses to connect with the present. Try suspending your judgment and if you get distracted, acknowledge the distraction and gently go back to your focus. Remember that creating a habit takes time so be patient and practice mindfulness everyday as much as you can.
3.Create a routine. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we all had regular routines: waking up at a specific time, having breakfast, going to work, going home, etc. The current situation can be challenging because it restricts our movement to a space (our home) we associate with rest and recreation (not work). Thus, it is important that we designate a space for our workplace (not our bedroom, kitchen), which could be another room or a table. I would suggest that you maintain your daily routine, dress up for work (this may sound silly but the logic behind this is reinforcement of the routine) and at the end of the day, change back to your house clothes as you leave your work-space/office. That way, when things are back to normal, the re-adjustment to your old daily routine will not be too much of a struggle.
4. Soothe your senses. Try soothing your senses during the day and before going to bed. If you can, walk outside and tune in to nature’s sights and sounds. Start or end your day with a warm shower or bath. Listen to the trickling water for a minute. Enjoy the different tastes that comes with your meal. Knead dough. Feel the pressure of your muscles as you exercise. Savour a cup of chamomile tea. If you can’t go out, look at photos of nature and carefully examine the details for a minute or two then end your day with five-minutes of abdominal breathing.
5. Stay physically and mentally active. For those who are not working, it is important to keep your mind active. Continue to engage in pleasurable and mastery activities in a predictable way. Enhance your creativity. You can clean your home, pursue a hobby, bake bread, prepare lunch from scratch, sort out stuff and so on. Do this in a scheduled manner while experiencing focus, calmness and satisfaction. As Mihàly Csikszentmihalyi, a Psychologist associated with positive psychology said: Start doing more of what you love and less of what you hate So, even if you’re not working, maintaining a routine keeps your brain active and decreases the intensity of negative feelings and behaviours associated with cabin fever: boredom, irritability, restlessness, hopelessness, and difficulty concentrating.
6.Continue to connect with others. Get in touch with your family, friends, or your therapist. Reconnect through phone, text messaging, email, or preferably, videoconferencing. As Psychologist Jody Carrington said, “There is no replacement for face-to-face connection.” Listen deeply to others without interrupting them (for five minutes or more). These can be your parents, spouse, children, or friends. Listen to the thoughts and feelings they are expressing and ask yourself what you’ve learned about them or others. Explore ways of connecting with others. If you can, volunteer to get groceries for your relatives or neighbour. Or get in touch with people you have been wanting to get in touch with. For example, try handwriting a letter to thank someone who helped you in the past (try to imagine how that person would feel!).
7. Get the facts. Stick to reliable fact-based sources and limit your exposure to information that are fear-based. Reduce your exposure to news and or social media, preferably by sunset.
Overall, use these strategies to stay healthy and safe!