Encerrado: A Practical Guide to Preserving your Mental Health in the Time of Corona

Picture: Financial Times

It is no news that Covid19 has affected our lives multifariously. However, amidst all the agitation about washing your hands and observing social distancing, all of which are put in place to assure physical health, we forget to address how to protect our mental health this period.

Like many of you may well know, the mind is our seat of being; anything that goes wrong with it almost always extends to other areas of our lives. This is why it becomes all the more important to prioritize mental health especially in times like this. To weather this period, here are a few handy tips you should have in your mental health toolbox.

Mimic Your Normal Routine

One of the many ways COVID-19 has destabilized the world is by dissolving our routines. Pre-Corona, the normal routine of the average human looked like this:
Wake up after snoozing your alarm for the nth time, prep and head off to work or school, interact with co-workers and classmates, grab lunch, go back to work/class, trudge through the rest of day, go home, rinse, repeat and tweak a bit on the weekends.
Now everything is changed.
Our alarms have lost their purpose.
No more happy hour and TGIFs.
No more traffic and girls’ (or boys) night outs.
It’s just you and the beloved indoors- and this can get old pretty quickly.

While the outdoors is not your friend at the moment, to maintain your mental health, you can simulate parts of your normal, daily routine. This would help you adjust better to this indoors state of things. Resist the urge to lounge on your couch all day, scrolling aimlessly through social media feeds while the television plays in the background. Create an indoor version of your normal timetable. Wake up, pray/meditate, stretch/work out, take your bath, and prepare breakfast. If you are working from home during this period, designate a corner or section of your house as your workspace and get to work immediately after breakfast. If you are not working, use that time to do productive things you have always wanted to do but never had the time for.

Set 3 achievable goals each day

Goal setting is one thing that reinjects purpose and direction into your life and helps you look forward to each day. This comes in handy in times like this when our days are blurring into each other. One of my long term goals is to learn how to do the splits. So each day I do different stretches that bring me closer to this goal. This makes each day more memorable and distinct for me. As a bonus, there is this inexplicable joy I feel each time I cross new limits and get even closer to the ground. Your goals- long term or short term- may and can be different from mine. It can be basic things like making your bed, vacuuming the house, eating all your leftovers, working out, cleaning the house, reading 50 pages out of a novel (or the whole novel), finishing that online course, making that call you have been putting off, cleaning out that closet. Whatever it is, write it down on a sticky note(or on your phone) and devote time to it- and doing it well- the moment your feet hit the ground.

Be Patient With Your Loved Ones

It is not news that a lot of relationships are breaking down in the face of this pandemic. This could be either because:

•Being locked in has brought a lot of incompatibilities to the fore

•Schools, our various workplaces and friendships have been our havens, not our homes, familial and romantic relationships

•Our mortality is staring us rudely in the face and we cannot handle it

•We get to spend more time (or less) together with our partners

•Some of us have been laid off and are now facing financial difficulties

•Of skin hunger (deprivation of physical affection) and the erosion of intimacy and some of its furnishings (think date night every Friday at that dreamy restaurant you went for your first date)

•Anxiety and uncertainty have become our quotidian reality

A lot of us are always so worked up, depressed and anxious we snap at our partners and friends and direct our anger at our kids and loved ones. You have to understand that this pandemic is no one’s fault. We are all trying to make sense of all this. Your partner and kids are just as confused and worried as you are.

Try not to be testy and prickly. The beautiful thing about this madness is that it has taken us back to the drawing board and has reminded us of what is most important: family, love, healthy practices, and cleanliness. So while staying indoors and adhering to the general safety guidelines, use this period to get closer to your partner and family.
Turn off the TV and its apocalyptic predictions and have fun with your family.
Play board games or watch a movie together
Cook together or have date night indoors complete with candles and all that snazzy stuff (it’s the thought and effort that counts)
Or any other thing you guys love doing. In the grand scheme of things, it is things like this- those little things we take for granted- that matter.

Filter What You Consume

There is a line from a story I wrote titled, “Love in the Time of Corona (Part 2)”, that goes thus:

“In times like this, it is better to be misinformed than uninformed...”

This is/was my reality.
Sadly, the pandemic is not the only thing we have to contend with; there is also an infodemic that is killing people faster than the pandemic:
People throwing conspiracy theories about like shurikens

WhatsApp messages detailing recipes to herbal elixirs that are purported to be the panacea to Rona and all whatnot

Inflammatory and exaggerative posts about Covid19 and talks about the expiration of our existential subscription.

You have to filter what you read. One way I do this is by avoiding the news, taking time to detox by going off social media, and being intentional and picky about what I read. It might seem juvenile to say I don’t watch the news but if protecting my mental health equates to puerility then so be it. The thing about News, in general, is that it lacks balance; it serves us a steady diet of the incendiary and the sensational while starving us of hopeful information. In his interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Trevor Noah advises people to watch the News with discretion. He goes further to say:

“...The News can make it seem like everything is going wrong. The News’ job is to report the things that are going wrong. So whether it’s the chicken or the egg or the egg and the chicken, either way, you are only going to be getting bad news...”

At this point, it is important to intone that:
•I do try to stay informed nonetheless

•The fact that I believe the News often verges on the sensational doesn’t intend to belittle the seriousness of the pandemic

One thing I find very effective is to find kindness and look for good news amidst all this darkness. One of such places is the #covidkindness thread on twitter

Work on Yourself

Thanks- or no thanks- to the current things, we all are currently in a global limbo. Everything seems to have careened to a halt as the world holds its breath, waiting for this storm to pass. However, inasmuch as everything is on hold, you should remember that time doesn’t and hasn’t stopped. I believe in trying to make the best of every bad situation and this is why I enjoin you to see this period as an incubation period of sorts. It would be a pity to leave this pandemic the way you went in. That being said, it is necessary to work on yourself and try to be the best possible version of yourself. Work on your body and skin, grow out them edges and give your hair much-needed attention, take advantage of the numerous free online courses and retool yourself (I highly recommend Coursera), practice emotional, mental, spiritual and physical self-care, stay out of your exes’ DMs, read more, write that book you have been putting off, etc. Working on yourself doesn’t always have to be so dynamic and action-centric; It can be passive and relaxing and this brings me to the next point...

Rest, Relax and Recreate

If you are like me, you’re probably sleep-deprived and perpetually exhausted. You are always so busy you find it hard to squeeze in time for much-needed shut-eye. In case you haven’t got the memo: rest is king, hun. You are not a machine; you need rest. Heck, machines need battery change and time to recharge to function well. Recreation is re-creation. Think of yourself as a stressed caterpillar trying to take the vicissitudes of life in stride and this pandemic as that opportunity to go into your cocoon to rest and transform. Coming out of this pandemic well-rested and refreshed is just as commendable as getting an online certification or a banging body. Try to rest, relax and recreate because only then can you re-create yourself

Read

When your normal existence becomes a scene from an apocalyptic movie, what better way to escape it by drowning yourself in books? Reading is amazing. Not only is it an awesome way to escape, but it also sharpens the imagination and aids creativity- and we all know creativity and innovation drive the world we live in. So dust out those books in that closet and start reading. If you are not old school like I am or want to read books that are not physically available to you, check out Scribd, Okadabooks, Audible, Kindle, or Kobo for a mindboggling array of books.

Do something for another person (and don’t expect anything in return)

I have seen a lot of posts saying something along the lines of “take note of those who reached out and were there for you this period...” We have to understand that this is a pandemic- something none of us has ever witnessed or has a manual to- and it is hard on all of us. Despite the blinding smiles on SM and the laughter that is a little too loud on zoom, people are struggling- some more than others. That person you might be waiting for to check up on you might be dealing with depression, anxiety, or potential impecuniosity. You have to step out of your little world and reach out to other people. You have to learn to shift from a me-centric mentality to one that considers others. So call your friends and family, remind them of how much you love and care about them. Help people around you in any way you can either financially, with food, or by practicing social distancing and other healthy practices.

Stay Hopeful

2020 started on a very promising note with a lot of us making serious money moves, working towards our goals with renewed vigour and prioritizing personal development. Unfortunately, life- in conjunction with 2020- dealt us all a huge, slimy curveball that had us wanting to apologize to 2019. Like Margaret Mitchell puts it, life is under no obligation to give us what we expect. The only thing we can control is how we react to the wild cards life deals us. So while staying indoors, try to be hopeful. Think of the time when you’d finally be free.

Free to take promenades down the street and drink that latte at that idyllic coffee shop around the corner.

Free to buy Suya from your friendly neighborhood Mallam and touch surfaces without imagining microscopic slime men dancing to Astronomia 2k 19

Free to watch your children throw Frisbees and play in the park.

A time when we’d all be able to hug and breathe in each other’s scent without thinking twice.

To conclude, I’ll leave you with this quote by Alfred Lord Tennyson:
“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, “It will be happier...”

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