Unchaining the Mind: Its COVID not CONVICT

Words by Brian Otieno

What if it gets out of hand? Why is this happening? Am I infected? What if I wake up tomorrow infected? When will this isolation end? How am I going to survive? What's going to happen to us? Am I being punished for my bad deeds? You've possibly had one or two of these questions rub your mind’s bubble trail, at least pop up before bursting into nothingness. The damage caused by the virus in itself may not be as stern as that created by the mind during this pandemic. Fear keeps on consuming every bit of hope left in us as the days go by. Trimming the last of what we once called courage.

Some common indicators of distress may be (but are not limited to):

  • Fear and worry about your own health and that of your family
  • Change in sleep and eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Worsening of mental health conditions
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.

Mental Wellness needs attention just as physical health does, although physical health is currently being given the lion's share of attention for a better outcome from the precautions we are taking to curb COVID-19. It's not every day you hear people talk of mental wellness but it's as important as physical wellbeing. Taking care of one's psychological health during this pandemic period is key. But how?

The mention of mental health triggers the relation to psychiatrists, nursing psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, counsellors or life coaches. This is not always the case, at the end of the day it all ends with you as the Centre point. So yes, you can be your own shrink in such moments. Anxiety and panic are most common in stressful situation like this, and if not addressed may elevate to something worse. Being self-aware and self-conscious in most cases helps with noting the onset of an anxiety or panic episode. This is based on acknowledging patterns in behavior and emotional shifts through noting particular triggers to these changes.

Staying at home can be tiring - a recipe to keep that mind up and running:

1. Create a Schedule - being used to a system flow, then suddenly there is no flow of events. Change of schedule or interrupted schedules often interferes with how our brain processes information, hence causing distress while trying to adjust.
It's key to have a schedule, one you are able to keep up with either similar to pre-COVID or slightly adjusted to fit the situation. Having a schedule helps keep the brain active and linked to a pattern to be followed.

2. Body and mind care - staying at home may tempt the body to be at a static state with little muscular, dietary and mind concerns. Simple exercises like Yoga, meditation, walks, healthy eating and reading or mind games, play a major role in making the body active. Not engaging the body may lead to increasing the progress rate of distress. Research shows that exercise help release endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good. So less sitting more sit-ups.

3. Social connection - 'no man is an island', is clearly practical how staying away from fellow humans can be damaging. Social connections are part of human interactions and keeps us going. With social distancing in place, this seems not to be happening at all or as often as it was. Find time to connect with friends and relatives, make this part of the schedule, talk about good times and the current situation, share how you are coping during this time. Social connections help us not feel alone in the moment and reminds us that we are in this together.

4. Keep away from COVID News - watching COVID updates is key to keep track of progress we are making and how the trend is picking. This is good, however too much of it may be harmful to your mind. So far, the news has been filled with negative news which can impact thoughts negatively. Keeping away from News once in a while helps look at things differently and remember that there still more fighting chances than we could imagine. Try find something more fun like cooking, mind games, spend time with your family, taking a walk, cleaning/house chores or make some artwork with material in the house.

5. Gratitude journal - if you can't say it, then put it down on paper. Writing not only helps one express oneself, it also helps to heal and identifying the different angle not ventured. Gratitude journals help us look at things we are thankful for despite this critical moment. The things we took for granted but in this period we find valuable. This list will always remind you that not all is lost and that we have things that we still hold dear and would want to live for.

6. Seek the right information source – a lot of fluid information is all over regarding COVID, however it's of importance you drink from the right well. Having the wrong information based on unverified 'facts', not only mislead you but increase worry and tension. It's quite easy to panic and be anxious based on unverified information. To avoid unnecessary panic and anxiety, always verify the credibility of information you receive with the right channel i.e www.who.int and www.cdc.gov.

Most important, to have you maintain that Mental Hygiene requires no magic or a Thanos Snap, it's a process that starts with accepting that you need to make a move. You are human, and fear is part of being human. It's Okay Not to Be Okay.