At a time when the world is going through a severe health crisis, it is important to take care of one’s mental health along with physical health. The outbreak of COVID-19 has meant that many countries in the world have imposed differing degrees of lockdowns to break the chain of contamination. However, these lockdowns can be both stressful and anxiety causing and hence, taking care of one’s mental health is crucial.

It is important to remember that everyone reacts differently to stressful situations and may be differently affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing panic, anxiety, loneliness, hopelessness, and depression amongst all kinds of people, but especially amongst the elderly, people with chronic diseases, people with already existing mental health issues, children, health care service providers, and caregivers.

Findings of studies
Samantha Brooks had conducted a study on the psycho-social effects of pandemics like SARS, H1N1, and Ebola. This study reveals that long periods of self-isolation can lead to rising trauma, rage, tiredness, and abuse (Brooks et al., 2020). While the practice of physical distancing is an effective strategy to combat COVID-19, it means that we have to be isolated. It is something that humans are not often used to.
In fact, data collected from Google trends (an online search tool that helps in understanding how many times a particular phrase or keyword has been googled in a specified time period) show that stress levels of people in India have increased during this period of lockdown. Along with it, search for therapists has also risen (Dantewadia, 2020). This is an indication of the fact that people are facing psychological problems.
As such, it becomes imperative to reflect on what we as individuals can do to take care of our mental health in these circumstances. Below is a curated list of tips and activities that can help us in taking care of our mental health.

Tip 1: Staying connected
As most of us are practicing physical distancing, it is useful to remember that we can still maintain social solidarity. We can stay connected to our loved ones through digital methods (phone calls, texts, video calls). Regular interaction will help us in sharing stories and experiences that may be similar and can inspire each other (World Health Organization, 2020). We must also stay in touch with people who have been dealing with issues of mental health before the COVID-19 crisis (World Federation for Mental Health, 2020). They require special attention in these times.

Tip 2: Building solidarity
One of the things that can help us keep our mental health in check during these times is realizing that it is a crisis of humanity and that we cannot fight it alone. Hence we should focus on building and maintaining social solidarity as COVID-19 affects all of us. We need to be both empathetic and sympathetic towards each other and think as a global community (Amitabh, 2020).

Tip 3: Maintaining positivity
Listening to positive stories can be an effective way of ensuring good mental health in times of crises. While there is a lot of focus on the increasing number of cases of affected people, it is also essential to talk about stories of people who have recovered, as well as about how people are showing solidarity with each other (World Health Organization, 2020).

Tip 4: Following a regular schedule
While we acknowledge that these are unprecedented times and it is difficult to be productive and efficient, at the same time, we must try and follow a routine as much as possible. It is better to take breaks from the news and follow one’s daily schedule as much as we can (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). But at the same time, it is also important to remember that even if we cannot be productive all the time, it is okay. The pressure of deadlines and accomplishing professional goals can further increase anxiety and worsen one’s mental health (Amitabh, 2020). Therefore, we should focus on maintaining a healthy work and life balance.

Tip 5: Doing exercise and eating a balanced diet
Even if we cannot go out, we can do some forms of indoor exercises like yoga. Climbing stairs can also be a form of exercise that can be done at home. Along with exercise, it is also important to practice healthy eating and consume a balanced diet (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). A good combination of exercise and food can keep one in good spirits.
Getting regular exercise and healthy food is particularly important for people who have chronic forms of illnesses like diabetes and hypertension. These are also the people who are at increased risk from COVID-19 and hence need special care.

Tip 6: Staying away from rumours and unverified news
Most crises lead to the spread of rumours around them and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different. We must stay away from rumours, sensational media coverage, and fake news (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, 2020). Wrong and misleading information can lead to increased anxiety and panic and hence it is advisable to believe only authorized sources of information. Social media forwards, quick home-based cures, and unverified data can only worsen the situation (Amitabh, 2020). At the same time, it is also important to take a break from watching news that can trigger us mentally and create panic.

Tip 7: Recognizing the importance of mental health
Most of us do not even realize that we may be undergoing issues of mental health and ignore them. But the fact is, in order to deal with these issues, we must acknowledge the importance of mental health. Only then, we will be able to understand how to take care of both ourselves as well as our loved ones (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, 2020).

There can also be varying needs for different categories of people, and thus everyone needs to take care of their mental health accordingly. For instance, children and adolescents require more attention from their parents as they are at home and their contact with people is reduced. Even amongst children, the ones with special needs require extra care (Lee, 2020). We have to take into account their mental health and deal with it accordingly. Similarly, people with chronic diseases and the elderly, who are more at risk, require constant empathy and care to be able to handle their anxieties.

There is also the need to think about people who have been suffering from mental health problems even before the onset of the crisis. They are especially vulnerable. The importance of mental health, thus, is very important in this situation.

Tip 8: Removing the fear and stigma around COVID-19
As mentioned above, we should be able to deal with our mental health issues and act as a global community. But that is possible only if we treat COVID-19 as just another disease and break the fear and stigma that surround it. It is beneficial to keep in mind that it can be treated and there is no reason to panic even if the disease is contracted. At the same time, we need to treat COVID-19 patients with love and empathy and not stigmatize them. If friends and family are already going through a major health crisis, and as such, need better care. Keeping fear and stigma at bay is good for our mental health.

Summing up
While recognizing the fact that we are going through an unprecedented health crisis, at the same time, we must be thankful to our health care service providers. This also includes mental health professionals. Similarly, we require due recognition of the importance of mental health as well as acknowledgement of the fact that all of us are in this together. A pandemic is a moment of crisis for humanity as a whole, an event in time that should make us think as a whole and maintain positivity and hope. We should stay away from unverified news and act towards removing the stigma attached to the disease. Only then, can we all achieve good mental health. After all, there is no health without mental health.

References:
Brooks, Samantha, R.K. Webster, L. E. Smith, L. Woodland, S. Wessley, N. Greenberg and GJ Rubin, (2020), The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence, Rapid Review, 305(10227): 912-920, accessed on 1st May 2020 from https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0140-6736%2820%2930460-8

Dantewadia, Pooja, (2020), Lockdown impact, as per Google, retrieved on 1st May 2020 from https://www.livemint.com/news/india/what-google-tells-us-about-lockdown-impact-on-indians-11587990564001.html

World Health Organization, (2020), Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 pandemic, retrieved on 30th April 2020 from https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/mental-health-considerations.pdf

World Federation for Mental Health, (2020), Mental Health and COVID-19, retrieved on 1st May 2020 from https://wfmh.global/mental-health-and-covid-19-appeal/

Amitabh, Utkarsh, (2020), It’s time you extended empathy digitally as well, retrieved on 1st May 2020 from https://www.livemint.com/mint-lounge/business-of-life/it-s-time-you-extended-empathy-digitally-as-well-11585582386790.html

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Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, (2020), Stress and Coping, retrieved on 30th April 2020 from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html#community

Amitabh, Utkarsh, (2020), Relax, it’s okay if you are not being productive, retrieved on 1st May 2020 from https://www.livemint.com/mint-lounge/business-of-life/relax-it-s-okay-if-you-re-not-being-productive-11586871430443.html

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, (2020), Stress and Coping, retrieved on 30th April 2020 from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html#community

Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, (2020), Minding Our Minds during the COVID-19, retrieved on 1st May 2020 from https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/MindingourmindsduringCoronaeditedat.pdf

Amitabh, Utkarsh, (2020), How a Pandemic Affects Mental Health, retrieved on 1st May 2020 from https://www.livemint.com/mint-lounge/business-of-life/how-a-pandemic-affects-mental-health-11587562021072.html

Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, (2020), Minding Our Minds during the COVID-19, retrieved on 1st May 2020 from https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/MindingourmindsduringCoronaeditedat.pdf

Lee, Joyce, (2020), Mental health effects of school closures during COVID-19, retrieved on 1st May 2020 from https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S2352-4642%2820%2930109-7