Managing Mental Health amidst the Coronavirus Outbreak

By Diya Ganguly
Friday, June 19, 2020

Within this article, UWTSD London lecturer and mental health practitioner, Diya Ganguly, gives practical advice and coping strategies to survive within these unprecedented times.

A laptop with surrounded by childrens toys, a coffee mug, a pen, a mobile phone, and a weekly planner.

In times of uncertainty, it is usual for children and even the adults in the family to be overcome by intense feelings & strong reactions such as irritability, uncontrollable anger, confusion, sadness, hopelessness, fear of the unknown, lack of appetite and even sleeping dysfunctions.

Everyone reacts differently to a crisis. Some practice mental preparedness for facing the challenge, some start mapping out new routines to tackle the crisis while others may simply struggle balancing their pre-existing roles with the newly added challenges. With remote working and schools being closed, many parents are now juggling between home schooling and balancing work life. Therefore, as responsible grownups, it is essential that we observe the reactions in ourselves, our loved ones and our young ones, not allowing the prolonged distress result into mental health maladies or long-term repercussions on our coping mechanisms. 

Here are a few ideas to instill a safe base and create a sense of family well-being by constructively utilizing family time, staying connected with the outside world and managing the conflicts thrown at us by COVID-19:
Establish routines 
Try to establish routines or plans, appropriate for you and your family. Remember a well-planned routine can make you feel more in control of everything and helps us make room for all that is important. Routines aid us in coping with change, form healthy habits, and reduce stress levels. Remember our brains are fallible and can easily forget important tasks, leaving us regretting, saddened or feeling low for rest of the day. So, create a checklist, follow it, be flexible with the time but rigorous in implementation. Also, if you cannot make one, find one.

Connect and stay informed
While the pandemic has disrupted most of our lives, compelled us to stay indoors and physically distance from our social circles it has guaranteed one good thing and that’s enormous ‘family time’. Every household with children can now guarantee quality family time.

There should be no excuse these days for not having meals together, sharing domestic chores, looking at photo albums or even simply sitting in the living room for deep conversations. These simple activities add value, create unity and bonding. Also, families must find time to laugh together in such difficult times, humour helps reduce negative emotions and fill them with optimistic ones instead.

Also, try and stay tuned with the outside world, not just by watching news on tele or online, but by connecting with friends, extended families, peers from work, schools through zoom, skype and other virtual platforms.

Create a memorable experience
Most of us find it easy to surround ourselves or our young ones with digital gadgets or tele programs, but it’s important to remember overwhelming images online or on TV, can sometimes feel like the crisis is all around us. Children especially can’t distinguish between images on the screen and their own personal reality and can start feeling vulnerable. It’s important to replace such intense emotions and with happy memories. A sing along session, a family karaoke night, and even indoor games can give you an opportunity to spend some quality time with your family and give a kick to our dopamine levels in the brain.

Engage in play
Play is not only an integral part of brain development for children but has multiple beneficial impacts on our physiological and psychological health at any age. Board games like Monopoly, chess, life clue, scrabble, mancala, checkers create an golden opportunity for sharing a quality time and having fun with family. Sharing fun and laughter with closed ones can promote empathy, compassion, confidence and trust with others. Besides, playing board games help kids practice essential cognitive skills like problem solving, decision making, resolving conflicts etc. the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex (parts of the brain responsible for thought processing and memory formation) especially benefit from playing games, as they help the brain retain and build cognitive associations well into old age days. Research also suggests play has significant benefits in reducing risks for mental illnesses like Dementia, Alzheimer’s and other mood disorders, lowers blood pressure as having fun while playing increases endorphins, a chemical in the brain responsible for oozing out the feelings of happiness. This release of endorphins in our body helps muscles to relax, blood to circulate and eventually lower our blood pressure, saving us from risks associated with artery damage, heart disease and stroke. The positive feelings and thoughts associated with enjoyment of indoor or outdoor play can prevent release of some stress inducing chemicals that leads to negativity, confusion, unknown fear, rage, depression, ultimately boosting our immune system. These will gradually give rise to survival genes and activate them in our brains enabling the brain cells live longer and helping to fight numerous diseases. Other research findings have also indicated that games like Monopoly, checkers, chess, Life or even video games can speed up our responses in locating targets, fine tune of finger motor dexterity and enhance our coordination.

Understand your current home energy
As many of us are required to stay or work from home, the daily use of energy pattern will likely change. This create an additional need for heating or cooling, more frequent use of hot water/refrigerator, laptops, television and various other appliance usages, This increased energy use will likely impose you with a big fat electricity/internet bill amidst this times of financial uncertainty. So be vigilant about your electricity consumptions levels, consider setting a family challenge for minimalizing the use of air cons, televisions or even refrigerators that consume most electricity. Consider cutting the ‘phantom loads’ by unplugging the electronics that continue to use electricity even when not is use or in stand by mode. Be mindful about your psychic energy levels as well, declutter if required, play some soothing music, spray some room fresheners, light some candles or burn incense sticks for an extra boost.

One of the best ways to make new connections or strengthen existing relationships is to commit a shared activity together. No matter how big or small it is, volunteering offers help to people in need, connect with the community, learn new skills and even provides a sense of purpose. The social aspect of helping others, especially in unprecedented times like this can have profound impact on your overall wellbeing, helping us to counteract the effects of stress, fury, nervousness and even depression. Doing good for others and the community provides a natural sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride and identity taking our mind off our own worries and keeping one psychologically stimulated. Remember children watch everything we do, and by giving back to the community in your own little way, you’ll show them firsthand how volunteering makes a real difference to the lives of people, animals or organizations in need in your community and how to delivers immense pleasure to enact change for the greater good.

At present there is a lot going on, but remember every dark cloud has a silver-lining and this too shall pass. By understanding your own anxieties, you can help your partner, children as well as yourself. So be mindful of your worries and intense emotions, talk it out with friends and family, draft your plan for post covid-19 world, communicate finance management strategy for your family maintenance, be resilient and start having conversations about the days when all these covid-19 maladies will be a distant reality.

About the Author

Diya Ganguly is a Mental Health Practitioner and Lecturer at UWTSD London. She is also a founding member of the global online mental health platform, Psychonnect.