On 6 April, I was privileged to talk to the folks of the Kaboutjie Facebook Group about Mental Health during Covid-19. Lynne Huysamen and I talked about strategies to keep us going and stay mentally healthy and happy, while also considering listeners’ input and taking their questions. This blog summarises the 15 tools of mental health I brought to the table for discussion.

  1. Accept general anxiety. The world is going through a difficult time at the moment and there is a general energy of fear, anxiety, panic and being overwhelmed. Considering our current reality, it is really okay not to feel okay. These are difficult and stressful times. Try to accept this at and accept your powerlessness over the pandemic - which I now call a panicdemic.

  2. Self-care. When we look terrible, we feel terrible. If you have not showered or combed your hair for a few days (or today) and you feel like crap, get up now, take a shower, brush your hair and put on some proper clothes. If your house or rooms looks as if a hurricane hit it, you are probably going to feel as if it hit you too. Tidy up around you. You will feel better when are clean and you are in a neat and clean environment.

  3. Routine. Try to get into some form of relaxed lockdown routine. Routine often gives us a sense of safety. Knowing what is likely going to happen next makes us feel safe in a world of uncertainty. Try to, at the very least, stick to a routine of eating and sleeping.

  4. Rest. Dealing with stress and anxiety take up a lot of emotional energy and make us feel tired. Make sure you get enough rest. Watching series all night and trying to cope the next day is not going to do you any favours. Make sure you get enough sleep and ensure a form of sleep hygiene. Also remember, that lying on your couch resting, is now counted as an act of saving lives. Be a life saver today!

  5. Limit negative influences. When we feel anxious, we are more vulnerable to fall pray to emotional influences in our lives. For this reason, if the news, social media or your family upset you, limit exposure to these things. You don’t need to be dragged down. Don’t do it to yourself.

  6. Spirituality. Try to connect with some form of higher being and try to give meaning to what is happening. Many of us have some form or religious or spiritual belief, but fail to engage with it to help us during this time. Spend time in meditation, prayer and practices like yoga. Remeber, it is all okay to pray and ask for things, but we also need to get quiet, so that we can listen to the answers to our questions.

  7. Self-talk. We all talk to ourselves. Most of us only in our heads, but a few of out loud. We often say things to ourselves which we shall never say to others. Why is it okay to call ourselves lazy slobs, while you will never call our friend that? Espcially in this time of uncertainty, our self-talk may get very critical. Make a point of paying special attention to what you say to yourself and know that your inner voice often lies to you. Discern the lies from the truth and stick with the truth.

  8. Connection with the outside world. Just because we are forced to physically isolate, does not mean we have to socially and psychologically isolate too. Stay in touch with your friends, colleagues and family. Commit to speaking to at least three people outside your household each day. Use WhatsApp video calling, Skype and Zoom (to name a few). You can at least see who you are talking to and make a real connections. Being in your own head, when you are in a negative space, is not healthy and is looking for trouble. Talk to others.

  9. Work on yourself - if you want to. A lot of us have more time now than ever before. This is the perfect time to learn a new language and read the book you never had time for. If you want to, you can use this time positively, and walk out of lockdown an intellectually, spiritually, physically or emotionally richer person. If you have no need to do this, then feel no pressure - don’t. Do some exercise! Movement (exercise) is good for mental health. There are so many online exercise apps and videos now, your options are unlimited.

  10. Have a positive attitude. With all the negative energy in the world, it is easy to become negative. Being dark and moody is not good for you and those around you. Focus on the positive. There is always something to be positive about. If you find this difficult, be positive that the sun will (most likely) rise again tomorrow. Don’t think of lockdown as another 14 days. Think of it as today, then tomorrow you think of it as for today and so on.

  11. Stay present. Our guilt, shame and regrets lie in the past, and our fears lie in the future. Right here, right now, everything is in order. Stay here, in the now, where things are okay.

  12. Gratitude. An attidude of gratitude goes a long way toward good mental health. There is always something to be grateful for. Focus your attention on that. If you feel down, sit with a pen and write a list of things you are grateful for. If you don’t feel the gratitude - write what you know you can feel grateful for. Take the action toward gratitude and the mind fill follow.

  13. Affirmations.
    Talk yourself into a good space. Tell youself the following: “I can do this” and “I know this too shall pass.” If you need to, say these affirmations over and over again like mantras. By doing that, you are basically rewiring your brain to what is possible. You can even meditate on these mantras, while focusing on deep breathing.

  14. There is nothing like perfection. Don’t try to be perfect. Nobody is perfect and nobody will ever be. We are created perfectly as we should be and that means we have flaws. As humans, we are born incapable of fulfilling all our own needs, that is why we are pack beings. Don’t try to be everything for youself and others - you cannot be it all. Ask for help when you need it. It is the right thing to do. Be kind to yourself.

  15. Do something good for others. Doing something for someone else always make us feel better, and feeling better is great for our mental health. Even in lockdown we can do this. My neighbour called me the other day, before she went to the shop, to ask if I needed something. I bought R99 worth of data for a friend today. Call someone who live on their own and ask them how they are doing. Despite our personal circumstances, we can always to something for someone else and not expect anything in return.

The live feed talk was about 90 minutes long, but these were the main points we pondered. I know these things work, but they only work if you work it. Practice mental health and you will have mental health. Melodie Beatty, in her book Codependent no More writes that we keep on thinking about scary things and then wonder why we feel anxious. Take control of your mind today and see how positive lockdown can be.