We often associate good health with physical fitness, but COVID-19 is a reminder that we must pay just as much attention to mental health and wellbeing. The World Health Organization has warned that an impending mental health crisis could result from the emotional stress, isolation, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Maintaining good physical, mental, and social health will give us the balance, stamina, and resilience we need for the long haul. But how?
I have been focusing on three key ways: keeping my body healthy, keeping my mind healthy, and keeping my social interactions healthy. The focus is not only to survive but find ways to thrive during this difficult time.
Taking care of physical health. Good nutrition is important to give me the energy I need to get through 12-14 hour work-from-home days and to juggle the myriad activities that we now need to do from home. I try to eat a well balanced diet with fruits and vegetables and avoid junk food and processed foods. While I eat healthy, I remind myself that now is not the time to go on a diet and that the few extra pounds on my hips give me the extra strength I need to get through the daily chores. I also make daily physical activity a priority—a solid workout on the elliptical and a brisk walk are perfect ways to get your daily physical activity, sweat out your anxiety and stress, and elevate your mood! Once again, while I am focused on fitness, I am not obsessing to get my body swim-suit or LBD ready. Finally, I prioritize a good night’s sleep—thanks to a hard’s day’s work, I fall asleep the moment my head hits the pillow, which rejuvenates me and recharges me for the next day.
Taking care of mental health. Like many, I spend my whole day focused on an endless list of external factors: virtual conference calls, solving crises, giving advice, motivating teams, answering urgent texts, and giving advice, while also juggling meals, laundry, and other tasks around the house. So I make it a point to reserve some “me” time. As an only child I always valued having a little alone time to daydream, to let my mind wander, to imagine, invent, and innovate. I don’t actually practice meditation, but I do get into a meditative state while cooking, gardening, reading, walking, or simply sitting on the patio to soak up nature. I find this recharges me, and my battery is full again to take on the next mountain of challenges. What I am still trying to do more of is limit my screen time and notifications, and to put “out to lunch” or “out of office” notifications in place on my calendar, my texts, my voicemail, WhatsApp, and any other way people try to reach me. I also like to reduce stress triggers by restricting the amount of time I watch news and avoiding spending time with those with negative energy. I also try to set priorities and not get overwhelmed by non-value added work. Now is not the time to reorganize the guest room closet or renovate the bathroom.
Taking the time to connect with others. While social distancing physically is important, you can avoid isolation by socializing and strengthening your relationships virtually. Ask your friends and family how they are doing and share coping tips with fellow teammates. I find that connecting virtually or on group texts helps to maintain a level of normalcy and connectivity. Finding purpose by doing something for others, or volunteering virtually, is also a good way to feel good by doing good.
All that said, remember that it’s okay to feel down. As South Asian women, we tend to bottle up our emotions. But it’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay that your kitchen isn’t as spotless as usual. It’s okay you haven’t been cooking gourmet meals for your family. It’s okay to say no to a social hour because you just need time for yourself.
If you’re feeling lost and emotional, consider reaching out for support or scheduling a remote therapy session. If you were already seeing a therapist before, don’t cancel your appointments now. We are all in this together, and while it may not seem like it now, our lives won’t be this way forever. But while they are, it’s so important to prioritize our mental health and to lean on each other for support.