Disclaimer: Before I begin, I should mention that I am not a health professional, health expert or specialist on CoronaVirus. I am simply a global citizen sharing my insights, personal experiences and lessons on managing wellbeing as a digital media professional who works remotely (and largely in isolation). This article does not constitute professional advice. Have existing mental health concerns? Please talk to your psychologist, therapist or doctor for expert advice.

What a year the past few weeks have been! 2020 has turned out to be one of the most challenging times for the global community in recent history, as the entire world is forced to pause. Travel is restricted for many countries, and school and national border closures are now the thing. Even New York City – the city which ‘never sleeps’ – has succumbed to a nap. All this, because of a virus outbreak, now declared a pandemic: CoronaVirus, otherwise known as COVID-19.

Many of us are beginning to come to terms with the fact that life as we know it has changed, at least for the time being. In the midst of the CoronaVirus pandemic and its attendant confusion, uncertainty, and fear, it is imperative that we stay calm, vigilant and informed. That we (try to) balance prevention with proactivity, positivity with practicality. That we (re)find and/or redefine our center. Besides the health workers, scientists and policymakers working tirelessly to combat the epidemic, each of us has our own battle at hand. For some, freelancers and informal sector workers for example, it may be figuring out how to make ends meet, as priorities shift. For others, it may be a question of how to manage pre-existing health conditions and live with the new realities. Yet more may be in a quandary about keeping their businesses open, afloat and/or figuring out how to go digital with remote work, virtual meetings and e-commerce. For thousands across Ghana and Africa however, it is about the basics – food, shelter, water, healthcare, and a sense of safety.

With the influx of information on social media and messaging platforms like WhatsApp, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and panicky, especially considering the fake news and misinformation floating around. Add on self-isolation and it might very easily feel like the world is crushing in on you. Yet, even in the midst of this global crisis, we are not alone. There are little, simple every day things we can each do to help protect and manage our mental wellbeing and overall health. The aim of this article is to share some ideas on prioritising mental wellbeing in the time of CoronaVirus.

COVID-19 Pandemic: Tips & Ideas on Managing Your Mental Wellbeing

Wash your hands often with soap; no hand shakes; use alcohol-based hand sanitiser (minimum 60%); stay at home if unwell; cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; and practice social distancing as much as you can. These are some of the prevention measures recommended by health experts and organisations, including the WHO and CDC. Every day, it seems there is a new ‘DO’ or ‘DON’T’ that finds its way onto social media and/or inboxes. If you are feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed by the information, it is not surprising to say the least. That said, staying healthy and being intentional about managing stress during the novel CoronaVirus outbreak can do wonders for your overall health.

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

― Lao Tzu

You see, besides the Corona Virus, fear and panic are two additional things we need to combat. Why? Because the human mind is a powerful thing. So powerful it can literally conjure up something from nothing (look around you, most of what you see was conjured up in someone’s mind). So powerful, the messages it receives can be transmitted to the rest of the body, and the body will act accordingly (decide you will have a good day and watch your perspective shift). I am sure I’m not the only one who felt like there is one too many a tingle in my throat. Or that a few steps have left me panting. But is this reality? Or is it my brain at work, zeroing in on these things, because of all the information I am consuming, reading, and watching on COVID-19 symptoms and more? When one is stressed or anxious, our minds and bodies prepare us for for fight or flight: to survive. And so, even as we try to stay informed, even as we do social distancing, we must be equally vigilant in protecting our minds, thoughts, spaces and energy. Even as we practice prevention and social distancing, we must be intentional about staying healthy and managing stress. As the WHO’s guidelines on managing mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak puts it: “You are most likely to know how to de-stress and you should not be hesitant in keeping yourself psychologically well”.

Anxiety during COVID-19 and social distancing
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

I myself have had to hit pause in the past few days after weeks of being immersed in reviewing, curating and sharing information on CoronaVirus online. The feelings of digital burnout were all too familiar, and so, I cut it off to retune and inject some semblance of ‘normalcy’ in these very abnormal and uncertain times of CoronaVirus. Here is what worked for me:

  1. Turn Off the News & COVID-19 Updates: The first thing I did was to limit my consumption of COVID-19 information to manage digital burnout. I went 1.5 days without actively reading and/or sharing on Corona Virus. I intend to limit my consumptions to once or twice each day, and if possible, to take a break every other day. One could even designate a day free of COVID-19 talk. The updates will be there when you return.
  2. Channeling Creativity and Being ‘Useful’: I re-focused on work and channeled my creativity. Writing and editing have always been therapeutic for me – reviewing and publishing some guest articles from Circumspecte contributors, doing client work, and finalising videos for my YouTube channel helped take my mind off the world’s problems for a few hours. For me – doing something *useful* or *creative* usually gets me back on track, I guess because it gives a semblance of having some control. In uncertain times, ask yourself what simple things you can do or achieve and focus on that, a day or moment at a time.
  3. Inspirational & Positive Content: Of course, nature abhors a vacuum. When I wasn’t working or creating, I filled up my mind with inspirational content – specifically gospel and conscientious music by artistes like Tasha Cobbs and India Arie, poetry by Hafiz and Rumi, and personal development podcasts and audio-books. It was also helpful to read some of the more positive news about COVID-19 and to remind myself that the majority of people infected recover. Looking back on photos of happy moments helped too.
  4. Cleaning Up: For whatever reason, cleaning is therapeutic for me. I spent half a day cleaning the house, disinfecting, and wiping down door knobs, my devices and so on. By the time I was done, my mind was clearer, I felt calmer and I also got a good workout in.
  5. Exercising: My daily routine usually consists of a gym workout mid-morning. I stopped going to the gym since COVID-19 arrived in Ghana, but had neglected to start my home workouts. Going for evening walks in my neighbourhood helped inject a bit of energy and improve my mood – of course, I made sure to stay 2-meters apart from everyone I encountered. Feeling the sun and fresh air also helped me feel better.
  6. Prayer: Prayer is always a good idea when things are spiralling out of control. Even if it is just mumbling a few words of thanks to God for life, health and protection thus far from the CoronaVirus. Ramadan is around the corner, so I’m looking forward to that cocoon of peace as well.
  7. Gratitude & Meditation: Count your blessings, name them one by one. In previous times of personal crises, keeping a gratitude journal has been useful in keeping me afloat. I resumed that to remind myself that even in this very dark cloud, there are still silver linings.
  8. Pacing Oneself, Rest & Sleep: The inclination to do more can be high when there’s a sense of no control. But sometimes, less is more. When I absolutely couldn’t concentrate or was being unproductive, I would just stop, read a book, or watch something entertaining. I don’t nap much during the day, but I do try to get in about seven hours of sleep each night. On some days, only one thing on my to-do list would be checked off – and that’s okay. It’s a lot to deal with, so be kind to yourself.
  9. Cooking Healthy Food: With self-isolation and social distancing, eating out isn’t really an option. So I brought out my pan and ingredients and got cooking. So far, I’ve made sautéed potatoes, tuna salad with sweet potatoes, banana wheat pancakes. And yes, food and staying hydrated does help make things feel better.
  10. Conversations with Family & Friends: This is probably one of the few times when most people will be available for a call or chat online. I’ve made it a point to check in and reconnect with a couple of people every other day (virtually) – and to try, as much as possible, to talk about more than just CoronaVirus. Although it finds its way into the conversations in the end, it is still comforting to know we are not alone in this and that loved ones are safe and healthy.
  11. Practicing Kindness & Compassion: Whenever I’m in a funk, it helps to do something useful and help someone out. Being able to provide verified updates and raise awareness is one way I’ve tried to do this. I’ve also tried to be more compassionate offline and online because most people are probably afraid and reacting based on fear. Here are some other ideas for practicing compassion while observing prevention measures and social distancing:
  • Provide essentials like soap or hand sanitiser to neighbours or folks who may need it, especially if you have extra
  • Help raise awareness on COVID-19 among your networks, neighbours, drivers, fruit sellers, your favourite Waakye seller, whoever you come across. The information may be circulating online but many people offline don’t seem to know or understand what is going on. Translate into a local dialect if you can, but please factcheck before sharing and share from trusted sources like the Ghana Health Service (GHS).
  • Send an encouraging note or thank you to a health worker or professional working on the frontlines.
  • If you have elders in your community or neighbourhood or know people with underlying health conditions (respiratory especially), it might be helpful to call and check on them as well as they are a particularly vulnerable group.
  • Call to check in on your friends or family who may be living alone, or those who are extroverts and struggling with being in isolation.
  • If you can, self-isolate or self-quarantine especially if you feel you may have been exposed to the virus. See the GHS self-quarantine guidelines for details.
  • If or when the time comes, volunteer your time, resources, money or talent to help combat the CoronaVirus in Ghana.

“In a way, we are being forced to re-find our centres. To redefine what life and living means. To let go of the things we got used to (and probably took for granted) and stay open to new possibilities and alternatives – however small or simple.”

Jemila Abdulai

Finding Your Centre While Social Distancing during CoronaVirus Pandemic

Between 2006 and 2015, I moved cities or countries about 10 times, pretty much every year. Hence, I’m familiar with change especially as it pertains to movement or relocation – with having to find my bearings, adapt to a new environment, and finally, creating a routine and lifestyle that works for me. Being ‘isolated’ or away from family and friends, communicating and nurturing relationships largely online and at a distance, is something I have done time and again. Some times more successfully than others. What I learned overall? Human beings are resilient and adaptable, as history proves. However, that doesn’t mean the process of change is easy. It is, after all, a process.

Let’s take my most recent ‘move’ for instance. It wasn’t as significant a move as my first time leaving Ghana alone for school abroad. Nor was it as life-altering as my time living in Tunisia. I was simply moving from one neighbourhood in Ghana’s capital Accra to another. And yet, even with that relocation, I had to submit to the process. Before the move, I complained about all the things I preferred about my old neighbourhood (the accessibility, having numerous coffee shops in the vicinity, knowing exactly where to get what). I resisted the change. Over time however, I began to see the advantages of my new locality, like the relative peace and quiet, the relative affordability, more space. Eventually, I redesigned my lifestyle, found a new favourite Waakye joint (because Waakye is very important), and even have my go-to fruit and vegetable vendors in the neighbourhood. Do I occasionally miss my old place? Yes. But now, I have a new center. (Re)Finding my center made all the difference, because it helped me focus on what I did have at my disposal – and not so much what I no longer had.

"Human beings are resilient and adaptable, as history proves. However, that doesn't mean the process of change is easy. It is, after all, a process." – @jabdulai Click To Tweet

What does it have to do with the current CoronaVirus outbreak? In a way, we are being forced to re-find our centres. To redefine what life and living means. To let go of the things we got used to (and probably took for granted) and stay open to new possibilities and alternatives – however small or simple. By redefining our centres, lifestyles and ways of be-ing during this pandemic, we release the pressure to conform to lifestyles and routines from before – even if just for the time being. This in turn helps reduce the expectations we put on ourselves and the feelings of overwhelm and guilt that usually comes with feeling inadequate or unable. This concept of a new center and the process of change is also important because it will guide you in becoming more conscientious about your mental health. In guarding your mind, your thoughts, your actions during this time. Hopefully, it will help you feel a little less off-balance.

Useful Resources on COVID-19

There is a lot of information floating around on CoronaVirus, but these are some important sources for verified and up to date information on COVID-19 globally and in Ghana. In alphabetical order, they are:

I hope these ideas, tips and pointers are useful and help you manage your mental wellbeing during the CoronaVirus outbreak. Other things worked for you while social distancing? Leave a comment and let me know. Thank you for reading – and a special thanks to our health workers and scientists. May we overcome this together.

Jemila Abdulai is a digital skills trainer and coach, and the founder of Circumspecte. Connect with Jemila: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram / YouTube / LinkedIn.

This article was initially published on Circumspecte.com.

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