MENTAL health in India needs serious attention according to the World Health Organisation – and alarmingly it is the youth that seem to be the worst hit. A 2018 Lancet report claims that suicide is the leading cause of death in the 15-39 age group in India. With a raging pandemic creating fear and despair, it has been particularly hard for the young to remain calm and look forward to a better future. So how do you achieve mental fitness?
Here are 10 practices you can build into your everyday life to keep yourself mentally well in this pandemic or otherwise. Please pass this on to a friend or family member who might be suffering from anxiety. This Mental Health Awareness Month, let us celebrate compassion and look out for one another.
1. Spot. Stop. Swap
This brilliant strategy comes from world renowned motivational speaker and an ex-monk, Jay Shetty. His advice is to spot the moment of stress/worry, stop it and then swap it with something positive such as good memories, book reading or taking a walk.
This method has stood the test of time. One of the best outcomes of this strategy is that it raises your levels of consciousness. Often, we habitually slip into worrying without even realizing it. With this SSS method, you can not only raise awareness of your mental health but also get to do something about it.
All we need is one positive action to turn our day brighter!
2. Talk to your loved ones
It’s a no-brainer that talking helps release stress and when it is done with loved ones such as friends and family, it is an excellent boost to mental fitness.
Researchers say that good and healthy communication on a regular basis promotes mental fitness. In this pandemic when you are locked inside your home, unlock the opportunity to build on relationships. Talk to family members about what they are going through, share your anxieties and remember the good times. Catch up with friends and let them know that they are in your thoughts.
Organise video calls. Send texts and messages. Just stay connected, not more isolated as Covid protocols have already made you.
3. Be around green/nature
Have you ever wondered why guests wait in the Green Room before appearing on television? While the origin of the term is lost in history, it is believed that the room where actors would wait before their performance used to be painted green because the colour has a soothing effect on the eyes before the bright lights of the stage.
According to colour psychology, green offers tranquillity, good luck and health. Nature is abundant in green. In fact, just by looking at plants or trees, walking in the park if you can or listening to the birds chirping or the sounds of waves splashing on the river banks or the sea shore are proven to promote mental health by leaps and bounds.
In this pandemic when everyone is locked inside their homes, search on the internet – or apps on playstore – for calming sounds of nature.
Meditation has helped millions of people deal with the stress caused by the coronavirus. Meditation not only helps overcome anxiety but it also benefits by keeping you calm on a day-to-day basis.
Simple guide to meditation – Choose a quiet corner, sit comfortably and close your eyes. You can plug in some meditation music available on YouTube. Clear your mind of all thoughts and focus on your breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Let your mind and body relax. Be in the moment. Do it for five to ten minutes every day. Slowly increase your time as per your comfort.
Insight Timer is a brilliant app for meditation. You can download it on your phone.
Do you know that 30 minutes of regular walking can help cut down on anxiety, stress and depression? Exercise does not have to be difficult or boring. When it comes to mental fitness, keep it simple.
Every morning, if you can’t do it outdoors, walk around the house for 30 minutes. Do some Yoga. Yoga asanas guarantee mental fitness. There are many online classes you can join or lessons on YouTube which are free. If you feel like it, put some music on and do some simple dancing or aerobic exercises like skipping.
Muscle movement causes better oxygen flow in the blood which further releases endorphins, the happiness hormone.
6. Follow Covid-19 safety protocols
When it comes to mental wellness, we are not only answerable to ourselves. As a member of the community, we are liable for others’ mental fitness as well.
As a responsible citizen, make sure you are following all the Covid safety protocols such as wearing a mask, sanitizing or washing your hands, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, maintaining physical distance when out shopping for essentials etc. It will make you feel good about protecting yourself and keeping others safe too.
Every time we see someone not following these protocols, it makes us fearful, angry and anxious. Try and negate that by telling yourself that you are doing your bit to keep the community safe and taking responsibility for their physical, emotional and mental wellness too. You are also setting an example for those who are not following the protocols – and when they feel like outcasts, they will soon follow.
Here is a list of Covid safety measures suggested by WHO.
7. Think of what you CAN control
For many of us panic, anxiety and depression are not unfamiliar emotions – then corona comes along and adds some more trauma.
When Covid began in 2020, we had hope – that we would regain control of our lives after a few months. And by the end of the year we thought we had. But the second wave is a different story for all of us. We feel more helpless. And the feeling of helplessness causes more stress and worries.
It’s easier said than done, but instead of focussing on the pandemic – like the whole world is doing – focus on things you CAN control. You cannot control the corona outbreak but you can be sure to take safety precautions. You can also write down what worries you the most, then can work on finding the solutions.
Another proven tip is to focus on the moment. People usually worry about the future, and sometimes about the past, but it is almost impossible to worry if you are focussed on the moment. Notice the sound, smell, lights streaming in from the window, on whatever you are doing. Focus on being present. It’ll distract the mind from stress.
8. Limit the consumption of news
News related to the coronavirus is inevitable these days. Be it chat groups or social media, wherever we look everything is about this invisible virus and its devastating effect on life as we know it. This kind of constant exposure creates an overwhelming amount of stress! One look at the lastest Covid news to keep ourselves informed – and there goes any peace of mind down the drain.
Here are a few tips to stop this 24/7 bombardment:
- Stay away from news.
- Mute/silence the groups with too much information.
- Allow yourself only a limited amount of watch time for news channels (on TV or phone).
- Request your friends and family to stop oversharing.
- Dedicate 30 minutes, maybe in the morning or evening, to receive the updates and get off immediately. Invest your time on doing something positive.
Sleep is a mental health promoter. Besides, adequate sleep keeps our immune system healthy and strong – and that is what we need during the Covid pandemic.
Because of Covid, we are stuck inside our homes and many are unable to get natural daylight. The lack of natural light plays havoc with our circadian rhythm, which helps maintain our wakefulness and sleep cycles. So try and get some sunlight exposure every day – just 5-15 minutes is enough, experts say. Having a “sunny disposition” is based on the fact that exposure to daylight increases the level of serotonin which lifts the mood. Sun also helps your body melatonin which lulls you to sleep.
Getting a good night’s sleep – anything between 7-8 hours – helps you wake up on the right side of the bed in the morning, in a good mood. Don’t overdo sleeping though. People who sleep more than 7-8 hours often find it difficult to get up on time and when they do, they are groggy and irritated.
Loads of people need help during the pandemic. Why not volunteer in whatever way you can? Serving others is a guaranteed way to make you feel better about yourself. Studies show that volunteering makes you feel valued and boosts confidence and positivity.
Volunteering also gives a sense of purpose – whether it’s helping NGOs deliver free rations to hungry families or teaching English to underprivileged children online – each day begins and ends with a purpose. This calms the mind and invites the feeling of solidarity as a community.
Here are some ways to volunteer:
- Buy basic essentials for neighbours who are patients or quarantining.
- Buy and deliver medicines.
- Help elderly with online shopping.
- Register elderly and others who need help on the CoWIN app for vaccinations and schedule appointments.
We never asked for a debacle such as the Covid19 pandemic. Losing a loved one or feeling helpless while thousands of people struggle every day for beds and oxygen is a soul-searing experience. By staying physically and mentally fit, we can reach out to help others. Be positive, stay strong and know that this too shall pass – it may be stormy now, but remember storms don’t last forever.
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Priyanka Baranwal is an author and a blogger, guitarist and podcaster. She loves reading, writing, watching movies and travelling.
Priyanka is currently based in Bangalore, India.