Close to the beginning of the pandemic in January 2020, it was clear that things were about to change, but to what degree? What direction were our lives about to take no one knew?
As time passed, the United Nations acknowledged how COVID-19 has begun to take a sharp hit to our mental health & psychological suffering – deeming how mental health services are now essential as a response to the outbreak. Mental Health Awareness month took on a level of new importance this May, with high profile government officials recognizing the need to offer support & services to the public. In Singapore, the Minister for Social and Family Development, Mr. Desmond Lee, discussed the launch of the National CARE Hotline. Almost 7000 callers had been recorded during the early days of the launch, highlighting the significance of announcing this measure.
Jaswyn Chin, a senior psychologist at the TaTock Seng Hospital (TTSH), has spoken out about the validity of feeling afraid of feeling anxious and realizing how many people currently share the same scary feelings as yourself. ‘You are not alone in how you feel’ is a mantra that should be chanted continuously to avoid being overcritical of oneself. Typically, to cope with stress, we find ourselves out and about eating a comforting meal, meeting friends, or working it off at the gym. But, during this circuit-breaker period, we are subject to a reduced sense of freedom, unable to exercise typical coping strategies due to the enhanced social restrictions.
It is imperative to explore mechanisms by which we can try to keep both our mind and body healthy during a lockdown.
Me, Myself & I
Mindfulness is an exercise of being aware of your mind & body by focusing on your body’s involuntary actions, like breathing and concentrating on the heartbeat. During uncertain times, mindfulness can help you stay in control, keep centered, and allow yourself to find a moment of relaxation on a stressful day. It has been found that mindfulness keeps you away from negative thoughts, helping reduce stress, improve concentration & metabolism, among many other proven benefits. No, practicing mindfulness doesn’t just mean sitting still and meditating. Still, it can also be practiced while carrying out simple day-to-day tasks. The first step when engaging in mindfulness is to eliminate external distractions, which in this day and age, are likely to consist of our electronics. Turning off our electronic devices while working or eating meals can help us practice mindfulness and improve focus on our daily tasks.
It is essential to understand that it is okay to put more focus on the present than the future during a lockdown. A way to practice mindfulness is to focus on one task at a time. For instance, if the task at hand is to complete office work – you need to find a way to be present in your work, with no distractions. It is difficult to do when you’re at home because time spent at your abode is generally associated with comfort and relaxation. A simple fix is separating your work station from your bedroom or other areas of your living space (i.e., living room, kitchen). Another mindful exercise can be done while eating, by focusing on the food you are ingesting. As strange as that sounds, being aware of the food and drink you are putting into your body can help you acknowledge how your body reacts to this food, such as through physical sensation or enjoyment of taste & scent. Mindfulness can be applied in a variety of ways and can be quite an individual process. Therefore we encourage you to take some time to explore this practice and its various benefits.
- Builds better immune system
- Stress, depression, anger and anxiety levels are reduced
- Increased positive attitude towards life
- Helps to focus and multitask
- Regulates Sleep patterns
- Improves Heart condition
- Reduces ailment and chronic pains
Communication Is Key
On the contrary, advancements in technology have enabled us to stay connected with our peers and family. In the time of social distancing, the sudden change in the pace of your personal and professional social life can leave you feeling isolated. Staying connected with your family, friends, and colleagues can help stay emotionally connected and even support each other during such an uncertain time. It is essential to express how you are feeling and discuss what is going on in your day to day life, even if it may seem mundane. Being more empathetic and understanding allows your loved ones to know you value and acknowledge their feelings.
By setting up online activities such as video game nights or even playing a multiplayer game can help you and your friends & family stay entertained and connected during social distancing. Mobile applications such as Houseparty, or Jackbox party video games on PC can be downloaded and played with a group remotely.
It is incredibly important to find a balance between spending time with your friends and family versus time with yourself.
Since we are limited to the activities that can be carried out indoors, a comforting and colorful option thanks to the United Overseas Bank (UOB) is their newly engineered Art Explorer Programme. The company has acknowledged how individuals can use art as a form of release while being stuck indoors, to spark creativity in the Singaporean community. This program was also directed at promoting positive mental well-being while providing a platform for locals to showcase the vibrancy and spirit of their culture with a global audience. Activities that have been integrated into the program include an art therapy session managed by Yoko Choi, who is a professional therapist. A bonus of this session can make use of household eco-friendly materials or up-cycling, an environmentally-positive ideology. Various themes and causes are to be explored through Choi’s session. She hopes to allow people to manage how they are feeling more constructively.
Whether you are part of the workforce or a university student, it is essential to maintain a day’s schedule that resembles your regular professional schedule. Wake up at your usual time, change out of your pajamas, and follow your regular morning routine. Plan out the work that needs to get done for the day (and even the week). It is essential to plan out the day’s work and complete it within working hours of the day without procastinating while also accounting for your lunch and coffee breaks.
Beyond office hours, since more time is being spent at home, a routine of home life can be put into place. Plan a laundry day, make your bed in the morning, wash the dishes at the end of the day, and regularly clean your workspace. The messy surrounding can most definitely impact your mental state and productivity. So, a schedule that keeps you on top of your chores can help you clear your physical and mental clutter to work more efficiently. Giving yourself a target can give you a sense of accomplishment. By focusing on a target, energy doesn’t get wasted aimlessly, and you can form a more long-term vision. It can further organize your time and resources during the lockdown period, helping you make the most of what you have.
With a lot of negative and often devastating news being put out into the world each day, it is essential to remind yourself that you need to take care of your physical health. With the work from home order, the line between work and rest can get blurred. Hence, it can be challenging to find time to rest properly. Ample resting, sleeping adequately, and overall self-care can significantly improve one’s mental and physical health. The pandemic has induced stress and fear in many, hence taking time off work to compose yourself and focus on other relaxing activities may give a much-needed break.
You Are What You Eat
Beyond mental health, our physical health and fitness must not get neglected. With more work and tasks piling up, sometimes your body will crave unhealthy foods. In the long-term, taking care of your diet is essential for your health. The most effective practice during the lockdown would be to meal prep. It enables you to plan and control what ingredients you buy and monitor your intake of healthy ingredients. Through this meal prep method, you and your family can make mealtime a fun and exciting activity.
Another aspect is portion management. To maintain a balanced diet and proper intake, the ‘Plate Method,’ which roughly splits the plate into proportions for a balanced meal, is very useful. It involves the plate to divided into half portions of vegetables, 1/4th protein, and 1/4th carbohydrates. Beyond the three main meals, when it comes time for snacks, avoid snacks that are highly processed and have large amounts of added sugar. Healthier snacks such as fruits, dry fruits, and nuts, can help maintain that healthy diet and meet daily nutritional requirements.
In addition to a balanced diet, staying active is equally important. Depending on the lockdown restrictions, the typical facilities such as gyms and parks may not be at your disposal, so it is time to get creative. Use the space in your home to engage in some light physical activities, mainly yoga or body exercises several times. You can even use household items to assist your at-home workout. For instance, use a rice bag as a dumbbell, or use a chair or sofa edge when doing tricep dips. If you do not like conventional exercise, try to use other activities that keep you physically active, such as dancing, aerobics, and Zumba. These activities help you get a work out into your daily routine while keeping it light and fun! If you do not like exercising alone, or having trouble staying motivated, gather a small group of friends to workout with while on a video call or even sign up for online classes.
The New Normal
As stores begin to re-open, shopping malls begin to fill up and face masks are the new chic fashion statement – we must begin to embrace this new ‘normal’. Things will never be what they once wer. The society has changed, norms have changed and people’s consideration towards health and safety will remain altered for months to come. However, the positive take from all of this is how we’re slowly able to move beyond the boundaries of our home, gain a sense of freedom, and re-assimilate ourselves within the new social boundaries. Ultimately, we must remember that we have survived across one of the greatest challenges of our time. Although, many parts of the world are still under the influence of the virus and are unable to enjoy the same freedom today, we need to keep a positive outlook – remembering to put our mind and body above the rest.