Self-care in time of COVID-19

Fear and anxiety about an outbreak can take a toll on our mental health and affect our overall well-being. We speak to experts for some insight and self-care strategies to help you cope.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought upon city lockdowns and social distancing measures to prevent transmission of the virus as health officials worldwide work to treat the infected. But while some people are seeing this as an opportunity to spend more time with the family or pursue hobbies they never had time for, others are experiencing shock, stress, anxiety and fear.

Fauziah Shah, who is founding president of the Association of Hypnosis Professionals, said, “Different people are dealing with it differently. There are those who are unsettled because of the loss of freedom and also loss of income.”

According to Buvenasvari Pragasam, managing director and registered art therapist at Solace Art Psychotherapy, prolonged anxiety and stress can have psychological and physical impacts. Self-care is now more important than ever. She emphasised that it is normal to have feelings of anger, stress and anxiety during this period, and that the important thing is to allow yourself to safely and naturally process these emotions.

Here are some self-care tips.

1. Maintain your usual routine, or create a new one

Even while working from home, you shouldn’t fall behind on your regular schedule. Building a routine can help bring some structure and set the tone of the day for you.

Fauziah also recommends going back to basics. “Do what you need to take good care of your body and mind — have an early dinner, then wind down and go to bed early so you can wake up early the next day feeling rejuvenated and refreshed.” 

2. Keep yourself healthy through exercise and proper nutrition

Carol Then, group fitness manager at Fitness First, shared that keeping yourself healthy comes in two parts — nutrition and exercise. “It’s more than just exercising. It’s equally important to be mindful of what your food intake is, especially now that people are ordering in more and eating more junk food.”

You also have to get creative when it comes to exercising, now that fitness corners have been cordoned off and gyms closed, she added. While finding time, space and equipment may be a concern when it comes to establishing a home workout regimen, it is not entirely impossible. “The key is to start small with achievable goals. Even 10 minutes of daily simple stretching or an easy core workout can help,” Carol said. “Yoga and bodyweight exercises are a good start, as you don’t need much equipment for those.”

If you’re used to weight training, you can take advantage of equipment rentals offered by some gyms, or improvise by using everyday household items. Carol has been using filled water buckets, backpacks and grocery bags to do her workouts at home (you can check out some of her workout sessions on her Instagram account).

3. Connect with family
and friends

Social distancing does not mean social isolation. Fauziah suggests connecting and socialising with family and friends through text messages or video chats. “Meanwhile, Buvenasvari suggests trying fun bonding activities like reading, playing games and creating art together with the family.

4. Organise your surroundings

You can also use this time to improve your environment and well-being by organising your home and spring cleaning. “This helps to give you a sense of mastery, achievement and order over things that are within our control,” said Buvenasvari. This can also be an opportunity for you to pick out useful items you can donate, such as unused clothes and books. “Cleaning can help lift your spirits — as visual clutter in your house is cleared, you may find that your mental and emotional state is also freed as there is more space in the house and many things become more manageable,” she said.

5. Try meditation or art-making at home

Meditation helps to clear your mind and calm anxieties. You can start with simple breathing exercises. Fauziah suggests finding a quiet and comfortable spot to sit and close your eyes. From here, focus on your breathing; as you inhale in, focus your thoughts on breathing in positive energy and imagine it circulating throughout your body, and as you exhale, visualise pushing all the negative energy out.

Keeping a visual journal can also help. This involves putting your thoughts and emotions not into words, but into drawings and art. According to Buvenasvari, a visual journal can help you process, release and contain difficult emotions (you can check out their Instagram account for art therapy activities you can do at home). 

6. Pick up a hobby or sign up for online courses to better yourself

If you’re the type who enjoys learning new things, why not try picking up a new hobby, like gardening or cooking and baking? These can have therapeutic effects and they are also a good way to bond with your family.

“Check online to see if there are free online courses you can sign up for,” said Fauziah. “If you have the finances, why not enrol in an online course of your liking? You’ll learning something new and get a new certification, too.”

7. Seek online counselling or help if needed

If you feel you are unable to cope with the anxiety and stress during this period, reach out to qualified professionals for help. Both Fauziah and Buvenasvari have been offering their services online to continue helping their clients, and there are many more helplines you can reach out to should you need emotional and psychological support (check out the full list here). 

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