By Herbert Zirima
The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated measures to contain it have largely led to restrictions on movement and human interaction. As such, the pandemic has undoubtedly affected the “normal” way of living, be it at home, work or social gatherings.
This disruption in “normal” life should provide us with an opportunity to explore new possible ways to adapt and survive into the future.
We need to boost our mental health in this COVID-19 era so as to minimise the impact of the virus and the “social distancing” in our lives and to develop a healthier and more resilient “new normal” for the present and the future.
Let us explore some healthier new normal habits that we can adopt for good mental hygiene to beat COVID-19.
Value and empower those around you
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the necessity of having people around us.
This has been revealed by the fact the restrictions placed on us in attempting to manage the pandemic have isolated us from those that we love when we really need them such as at funerals and during illnesses.
As such, we now need to value, be supportive and responsive to our communities — our families, neighbourhoods, workmates, societies using the available communication lines.
Studies have shown that the most effective public health messages in slowing the spread of COVID-19 virus are those that focus on considerations of duty and responsibility to family, friends, and fellow citizens, not just our own personal agenda.
It is now critical for us to check on our relatives and friends.
We should normalise sending positive messages to our vulnerable family members, we should normalise checking on those that we love every morning.
The positive affection that we express to them will most likely help them to survive either the physical illness or the mental fatigue and illness exerted by COVID-19. We have an opportunity before us to establish an even stronger and more resilient global community, one that practises both physical and mental hygiene.
Now is the time for individual and collective action to shift to a healthier “new normal” for all.
Focus on what you can do
In this COVID-19 era, we need to normalise mental health solutions that require little to no technology.
It may be necessary for instance to go outside and appreciate nature (as allowed by your national guidelines) at a slower pace and get a daily dose of physical exercise, relaxation and vitamin D.
We should strive to put into action most of the things that we plan to do.
Practise in these next few weeks to be more mindful and supportive of those around you.
We can all learn to be more flexible and accept what we can do with the present rather than what we cannot do.
Let us focus on things that we can do and achieve and avoid unnecessarily lowering our self-esteem by focusing on things that we cannot achieve.
Be selective on what you mentally process
Do not allow yourself to be subjected to too much news about the pandemic especially from unreliable sources.
This COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that a lot of information that we receive especially on social media is not necessarily reliable.
You will need to be selective about what you “take in” and mentally process.
Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media.
It is good to be informed, but hearing about the pandemic constantly can be upsettling.
Consider limiting news to just a couple of times a day and disconnect from phone, television and computer screen for a while.
Closely linked to this is the need to create time for yourself.
You may need to normalise creating time for yourself by taking time off from the phone and avoiding doing things physically that you can easily do online.
Explore the new mental health toolkit
COVID-19 is bringing massive attention to the growing resources available online.
Let’s explore and master the full breadth of opportunities for meaningful social connection, mindfulness, self-care, distance learning, telemedicine and others.
There is no time like the present to review our use of technology in general and mental health technology in particular.
Computer and phone applications will not magically grant wellness, sleep or an end to poor mental health, but they are tools that we can learn to use with wisdom.
Normalise being positive
Most people are feeling overwhelmed and even helpless in the face of the pandemic but shifting to a more positive outlook can help get us through these tough times.
This, of course, is not always so easy to do, it takes a conscious effort.
Some of the things that you can do to build a positive attitude include surrounding yourself with positive people.
It is completely unnecessary to have pessimistic people around you, they will drain your psychic energy and will most likely make you feel as if you will not make it through the challenges that you are currently facing.
It is also necessary to practise gratitude, that is, a culture of appreciating the positive things in your life, you may need to write down the things that you are thankful for everyday.
In a nutshell, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with an opportunity to explore a new normal for our mental health.
For most people, it is actually an opportunity to value mental health as it has been proven now more than ever that mental health is a critical ingredient to recovery from physical illness.
In our new normal for mental health we need to be always connected to those around us, we need to be positive, focus everyday on what we can do to take action and explore a mental health toolkit based on technology that is available.
We would also need to create time for ourselves by taking time off from phones and television.
Herbert Zirima is a registered educational psychologist and a psychology senior lecturer with Great Zimbabwe University. He is also the vice-chairperson of the Allied Health Practitioners Council of Zimbabwe. He writes here in his personal capacity.