Boosting emotional resilience and mental wellness during COVID

Some people are blessed with that most hardy constitution that rides the waves of life with scarce a whimper or a tear. They are eternally positive and optimistic – their mental and emotional resilience seldom, if ever, fails. The expression “bullet proof” comes to mind.

I am not one of these rare individuals. This has certainly proven to be true during this unique time in history, a time that is characterised by,

  • Social isolation
  • Economic uncertainty
  • Widespread panic
  • Debilitating fear
  • Rampant disinformation
  • Business failure
  • Mass layoffs
  • Domestic abuse

These are extremely challenging times. Even the bravest souls among us are doing it tough mentally and emotionally.

How can we boost our emotional resilience and mental wellness during this unprecedented time? Let me give you five practical suggestions:

1. Manage your news intake

We are bombarded daily with negative, distressing news content. In the Information Age, we are generally overloaded with data; we can easily drown our heads (and hearts) with toxic information.

Even short periods of negative news can bring about feelings of sadness and worry. Today’s news is on a 24-hour cycle, which is often geared toward keeping your attention. What’s more effective at keeping us glued to our seats—good news or bad news? You guessed it.

The trick is to limit this intake to that which is helpful and informative. My tips are:

  • Consume news on purpose and on schedule
  • Limit your social media intake
  • Stick to reliable sources

See: The Power of the Brain Break: Balancing Your News Intake with Mental Breathers

2. Stay connected

Isolation, whether voluntary or enforced, can have a serious impact upon our mental and emotional wellbeing. Our social connections with friends, family and colleagues are vital to health and happiness, and limiting or removing these can be catastrophic. COVID restrictions have placed involuntary constraints upon most of us, to varying degrees according to our location, and the result is a drastic decrease in healthy social interactions.

Being alone with your thoughts and emotions at a difficult time like this can be destructive. Seclusion, with the goal of reflection and rest, is healthy and beneficial. Isolation, where you wilfully or involuntarily avoid human contact, can be dangerous. The thoughts, fears and imaginations of the depressed or anxious person can lead to desperation if left unchecked by personal interaction and accountability.

Whether it be face-to-face, Zoom, FaceTime, phone, or whatever, choose to stay connected on purpose. With who? Some ideas are:

  • Friends
  • Family
  • Colleagues
  • Neighbours
  • Churches or other religious groups
  • Community groups with common interests.

For example, I collect 1/18 scale Diecast model cars. One new habit I’ve taken up is joining and interacting with a group of Aussie model collectors on FaceBook. Is it as good as a regular face-to-face meet up? No, but it is a great deal better than no meet up at all.

3. Be active on purpose

Even individuals with typically sedentary lifestyles have found themselves less physically active during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of us are practically glued to our desks at home, suffering from reduced physical activity and increased calorie intake. This is not good for our mental, emotional or physical health!

Research published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine in 2000 showed that exercise – three aerobic sessions a week – was as effective as medication in reducing the symptoms of depression. Furthermore, research showed that people who exercised regularly were much less likely to relapse. A research study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in 2005 showed that moderate aerobic workouts, done three to five times weekly, cut mild to moderate depression symptoms nearly in half.

Regular exercise has been proven to:

  • Increase energy levels
  • Strengthen the heart
  • Reduce stress, anxiety and depression
  • Boost feelings of self-worth
  • Improve sleep

So, be active on purpose. Try:

  • Scheduling time on your feet, even if you work standing up
  • Setting a daily target for steps taken
  • Walking during your lunch break (do take a lunch break!)
  • Following a YouTube (or similar) exercise regime. E.g. Body project
  • Being accountable to your family members for daily movement
  • Using an app for tracking health and fitness

4. Maintain WFH boundaries

Working from home (WFH) has many advantages, such as decreased travel time, reduced cost of commuting, and flexibility of schedule. However, one of the negative impacts of WFH is the dissolution of the line between work and home – the two worlds simply merge. In many cases, this can lead to increased stress, reduced leisure, and damaged relationships.

How can you maintain WFH boundaries?

  • Stick to your work schedule and only work outside normal business hours if necessary and planned.
  • Do not check work emails outside normal business hours.
  • Turn off phone notifications for work-related apps such as Slack and Outlook
  • Put your phone on “Do not disturb” during meals with family and friends. Also, you can set up this up daily using your phone settings. For example, my phone goes into “Do not disturb” mode every day from 10 pm to 6 am; maybe that’s too lax! 😆
  • Have a designated work place at home and only use it for work.
  • Ask your partner to hold you accountable to these guidelines.

5. prioritise your own wellbeing

Self care is not selfish. In fact, I would suggest that self care is a prerequisite for caring effectively for others. You cannot help others to prosper if you’re always broken.

How can you prioritise your own wellbeing? Here are some suggestions:

  • Take regular breaks while WFH.
  • Keep tabs on your physical health – check blood pressure, monitor weight, etc.
  • Read books that facilitate healthy thinking and promote self-development.
  • Maintain a balanced diet – don’t succumb to the temptation to snack all day!
  • Purpose to switch off on weekends and days off.
  • Have someone to whom you are accountable for your health and wellbeing.

If anyone can testify to the dangers of not prioritising your own wellbeing, it is me. I know all too well, from the most awful and painful experience, what it is to be so busy caring for others that you don’t make time to care for yourself. Trust me – you don’t want to go through this experience, so look after yourself.

These are highly challenging times. I cannot imagine how tough it has been for those who have lost jobs, closed businesses, or suffered loss. It has been incredibly difficult for those who have been ill, or have buried loved ones. The toll taken on people’s mental and emotional wellbeing cannot be measured or benchmarked, but I imagine that things are worse than they have been for a good many years.

What can you do? Two things:

  1. Look after your own health and wellbeing.
  2. Be good to everybody, because everybody is having a tough time.

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