In the early phases of the novel coronavirus outbreak and national lockdown, most people, employers, and institutions had a single-minded focus on stopping the spread of COVID-19. Six months into the pandemic, we’re all needing to pay closer attention to the many other physical and mental health challenges we face in a world under lockdown.
The tougher lockdown measures have been eased in South Africa, but life is still a long way from returning to normal. There is an atmosphere thick with fear and anxiety as many of us worry about the frail economy, our health and the wellbeing of our loved ones. A continued need for social distancing means that many South Africans are isolated and lonely.
As the World Health Organization puts it: “COVID-19 is associated with a range of concerns, such as fear of falling ill and dying, of being socially excluded, placed in quarantine, or losing a livelihood. Symptoms of anxiety and depression are common reactions for people in the context of COVID-19.”
What’s more, many people fell out of healthy living routines or stopped seeking routine medical support under the lockdown. As we move into the summer months and towards the end of a gruelling year, this offers an opportunity for each of us to take stock of how well we are managing our mental and physical health.
Here are six practical tips to consider:
1. Embrace routine
Even at this advanced stage of the pandemic, a regular schedule can help you to keep control of your mental and physical health, especially if you’re still working from home. Rather than letting the day slip away in a blur of chores and work commitments, create a routine that makes time for exercise, breaks, socialising (albeit via voice or video), eating (away from your desk) and a bit of fun.
2. Take a break from the news
It’s tempting, even at this point, to obsessively watch the news and social media for the latest death tolls, infection rates and vaccine developments. While it’s important to stay informed, it can also be good for your mental health to designate some media-free time each day. It’s also healthier not to have too much screen time when you’re preparing to go to bed at night.
3. Stay connected to others
If you’re still working from home, it’s important to find ways to stay connected to friends, family and colleagues. If you or people in your usual circle are still shielding, video chats remain a good way to stay in touch. If you do meet in person, try to stay outdoors and follow social distancing and facemask protocols. Isolation can lead to depression or increase your anxiety.
4. Enjoy the outdoors
Exercising is a natural drug, but one that boosts nearly every aspect of your physical health. It lifts your mood and boosts your energy. The best way to release some endorphins right now—especially if you’re not comfortable with enclosed spaces like gyms—is to get outdoors and hike, run, cycle, or play some tennis or football.
5. Think positive
It’s all too easy to slip into a negative frame of mind right now—in turn, causing a slide in your mental and physical health. Choosing an optimistic outlook can help you to stay stronger and healthier at this time. Many people find it helpful to keep a daily diary of reasons to be grateful. It can also help to reframe your negative thoughts as more positive ones—just like this handy chart from SumairaZ.com:
6. Be vigilant
We’re in a risky period of the pandemic because people are becoming complacent at a time when more of us are mixing more, with those from different households. With children back at school, many people returning to work and families, and friends socialising again, the risk of spreading the virus is growing. This is not a time to lose sight of the basics of handwashing, mask-wearing and social distancing. We all need to keep up these habits to enjoy a semblance of normality without infections surging out of control again.
During the Level 1 lockdown, we cannot relax our guard because the virus is still a major threat. However, we must also look at other aspects of our mental health and physical well-being. Whatever your personal circumstances, your mind and body deserve close attention during this stressful and difficult time.