Loss of jobs, financial crunches, depression, anxiety and insecurity about the future became a part and parcel of our lives in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic, wherein many are still in lockdown or self-isolating, affected the mental health of the masses substantially. Though the mental health implications of this unprecedented situation will impact everyone differently, it is vital to create a roadmap to recovery. So what are some ways to deal with this unique situation, and what are some healthy habits to incorporate to achieve mental stability?

TC46 asked Psychiatrist Dr Kedar Tilwe from Fortis Hospital & Hiranandani Hospital in Mumbai to address some burning questions about repairing your mental health in 2021. Here, he shares the lasting psychological effects of the pandemic, talks about the need for self-care and ways to deal with bad-news blues.

1. The anxiety-ridden reality of a pandemic continues in 2021. How has COVID-19 affected our mental health?

We have been subjected to higher loads of stress from multiple sources. As a result, there is an increase in anxiety, depression, relationship issues and sleep disturbances. Anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have also been seen in patients who recovered from the infection; the emotional burden of frontline workers and caregivers has also increased tremendously.

2. What are some long-lasting effects of the pandemic on our behaviour & habits?

A disruption of our sleep-wake cycle and work-life balance have been major longstanding concerns that we are dealing with since the start of the pandemic. There has also been an increase in the worries and constant need to clean which we are still adjusting to.

3. What permanent changes are visible in our lifestyle?

An intense connection with the virtual world and the over-dependence on technology for going about our daily life is one of the major transitions. Increased interaction with our immediate neighbourhood and the utilization of local services is also seen. The need to shift to home-based exercise routines and digital family get-togethers is also becoming a part of our daily life, along with the growing work from home culture. 

4. Why is self-care crucial, especially in 2021?

The physical stress produced by the virus (especially amongst the higher risk in people with comorbid illnesses) and the psychological stress caused by the pandemic makes it essential to ensure optimal self-care to enable us to keep moving forward in these testing times.

5. What are some ways to evaluate our mental health status at home?

Keeping a track of our mood swings, anxiety attacks, temper tantrums through a diary, and finding a solution to it can help. Learning to accept feedback from our family, colleagues and well-wishers is also important.

6. With information about newer strains of the coronavirus, how can we deal with the bad-news blues?

Keep your focus firmly on things that you can control and take care of your family. Watch the news from a reliable source only and that too along with the rest of your family; after which clarify, explain and reassure everyone to avoid misinterpretation.

7. What are some creative & effective ways to take care of our mental health during the pandemic?

Challenge yourself to learn a new skill or hobby. Practice relaxation, mindfulness, and yoga exercises.

8. What are some behaviours or coping mechanisms that seem comforting at the moment but can hamper our mental health in the long-term?

Binge eating, repressing emotions, not discussing your insecurities to appear stronger and alcohol as well as tobacco consumption to help release perceived stress, are the coping mechanisms that are likely to hamper us in the long term.

9. Could you share some habits to incorporate in our lives in 2021 for a better way to stay mentally healthy?

These are some habits that could really help calm your mind:

  • Adhering to a daily routine
  • Practising mindfulness or relaxation exercises
  • Maintaining a gratitude journal and expressing thanks whenever possible
  • Learning a new skill and hobby
  • Practising digital detox for at least an hour
  • Setting some personal and family time

10. When should one visit a therapist?

If you feel helpless, hopeless, alone or isolated, experience a sudden lack of motivation, have relationship discord or feel continuously stressed, and even if you just feel an urge to reach out and discuss a concern, do so!

TC46’s Guide To Staying Emotionally Strong In 2021

1. Stay Connected Digitally

Allow yourself some quality time to get on video calls with your loved ones. For those of you in relationships, connect with your partner and keep the relationship going strong with calls and video calls. With work calls, even though audio calls are fine, suggest a day or two in the week where everyone gets ready and enables the video button.

2. Stick To A Routine

Follow your dream skincare and haircare routine. Create a separate work area if you are working from home. Do not give up your daily in-house chores or activities like gardening, meditation, religious tasks.

3. Clear The Chaos

Do a Marie Kondo and clear the chaos in your house as well as your mind. Keep your living space as tidy and clean as you can. A cluttered space is an invitation to claustrophobia. Set up mental zones and stick to those for the designated activities.

4. Avoid News Obsession

With a section of the media sensationalizing the news for TRPs and traffic, we can lose the sense of reality. And this pushes us deeper into a panic-frenzy that’s just not good. Stick to credible and reliable sources only. Surfing news channels all day long will fill you up with garbage that might not even be true.

5. Deal With Your Anxiety & Depression

Contact your therapist and ask for a session over a phone call if you can’t visit them. You can attend a group therapy session online and get some relief. Remember to reach out if you need help and have a conversation with a loved one who understands the situation.

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