Virtual relief in a time of extreme uncertainty: Tips to stay on top of your game

– Keep your (1) sanity and (2) manage your happiness –

There are several things we cannot control about lockdown and Covid-19 – not knowing how long it will last can feel unnerving – but we can manage some parts of the day, and we must focus on these matters and not the things we can’t control. Reflecting on what we have control over is essential says Educational Psychologist Jacques Viljoen from Boston City Campus.

This situation is one of extreme uncertainty. We don’t know what will happen, how long it will last, or what things will be like when it’s over. One aspect we do know, however, is that worrying about it won’t change the outcome. Learning how to tolerate uncertainty is a massive part of building healthy coping skills for ourselves

(1)  Tips to keep your sanity

Margie Warrell, an internationally acclaimed keynote speaker & bestselling author, commented that our current battle should be human vs virus, and not human vs human; thus we embrace the words of Nelson Mandela that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

TAKE COGNISANCE OF YOUR CURRENT BEING

At the moment, we may be experiencing several different griefs. We’re grieving our loss of independence and individual spontaneity as more of our preferred restaurants and businesses close down, and we’re bound to stay at home. We are losing our comforting habits, and many of us are feeling alone and detached. It’s the loss of our everyday world that’s abruptly gone. It’s the loss of human contact. We’re also feeling anticipatory grief – that feeling we get about our uncertainty of what the future holds. There’s something terrible out there. Usually, it centres on death. How can we deal with our collective grief, and learn to live with uncertainty? Anticipatory grief is when our thoughts construct a future outcome that imagines the worst. In an effort to calm yourself, you need to come into the present.

Although the stages of grief aren’t linear and may not necessarily happen in a particular order, understanding the stages of grief could provide some scaffolding for this unknown world.

There’s denial, which we see a lot of, and common responses are: This virus won’t attack us; the infection affects only overseas countries. Thus people carry on partying the night away while lockdown was already enforced, others show disregard for lockdown measures and going on with business as usual. Sometimes there’s anger, and common responses are: you’re making me stay home and thus taking away my movements/ my employment/ my socialising. Street vendors are not able to carry on with their life-supporting businesses; we hear of arguments at home, we see differences in social media and critical comments toward people, groups, and government. This could generally be associated with sadness: I don’t know when this will end. Then there’s bargaining – Okay, if I confine to my home for three weeks everything will be sorted, right? Some people even find them turning to religion. And finally, hopefully, there’s acceptance. Typical responses like “This is actually happening; I have to figure out how to continue. Acceptance, as you might have guessed, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance, i.e. “I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually” etc.

STAY KNOWLEDGEABLE

Know how to safeguard yourself and others from COVID-19 and comply with the guidelines for social distancing.

Choose particular times of the day when you will get news updates, and ensure they are from reliable and trustworthy sources – avoid overexposure. Too much information can intensify stress. Reach for the facts, even the tough ones, because tension intensifies and fantasies thrive in the absence of knowledge. Try to keep matters in perspective – attempt to view this as a new and unprecedented period that might also have some gains.

ENCOURAGE HEALTHY HABITS AND ROUTINE

Get enough sleep, eat healthy foods and exercise frequently. Keeping a regular sleep schedule, with anticipated times to wake up and go to bed, is particularly crucial to maintaining a positive mood and fulfilling expectations, personal, work-related, or academically. Regular routines bring relief and stability. Keep your usual day-to-day actions and habits as much as possible – tell yourself that life is remaining, and ground yourself by creating agendas and setting goals.

Give priority to things you enjoy and even things you have meant to do but haven’t had enough time. Healing interventions, conversations, exercise, yoga, meditation and spiritual habits are good starting points, but also recognise the therapeutic impacts of art, handicrafts, music, journaling, reading, hobbies, and being helpful to others.

Make a deliberate shift to focus on the activities you are still able to do or those that you may have more opportunity to do if you’re at home more often. Focus on the actions that are in our control, like furthering your studies. Don’t procrastinate on expecting the worst. “While we can’t drive fear off with a big stick, we can learn ways to calm ourselves down and find a little peace of mind. Action is powerful, even if we start with just one thing.” Simran Sethi, NY Times.

KEEPING PERSPECTIVE

Try to see this time as novel and distinct, not necessarily bad, even if it something you didn’t necessarily choose.

In a situation that’s uncertain, it’s natural to have many ‘what if?’ questions in our thoughts. When we lack knowledge, our troubled mind will usually fill in the gaps with worst-case situations, which can leave us feeling confused, weak, or vulnerable. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to move your thought process from catastrophe to one that is more effective:

  • What are the elements within my power?
  • Am I exaggerating the probability of the worst-case scenario?
  • What approaches have aided me to cope with challenging circumstances in the past that could help me now?
  • What is a small practical step that I can take now?

Acknowledge your red flags – Emotions need motion. When you are able to name it, you are able to feel it, and it moves through you. We must acknowledge what we go through. One way to manage moments of distress is to identify critical thoughts or physical sensations that tend to contribute to our cycle of suffering and feelings of being overwhelmed. Our thoughts (“Why can’t I concentrate?”), emotions (frustration, worry, sadness), physical sensations (tension, upset stomach, jitters) and actions (such as compulsively checking the latest COVID statistics) each feed into and increase these negative emotional feelings.

One can expect possible difficulty in concentrating, low motivation and a state of distraction. Adaptation will take time. Go easy on yourself. As we plunge into this new swing of remote work and isolation, we need to be practical in the goals we set, both for ourselves and others.

(2)  TIPS TO manage your happiness

At times like these, we must avoid shaming, blaming, stereotyping, and isolating others, which only serves to worsen the current situation. After all, when fear runs high, the need for strength and courage runs higher.

If history has shown us anything, it’s that the worst of times can bring out the best in people — separately and collectively — drawing us to reflect broader and moving forward with wisdom.  Let’s concentrate on doing just that.

Invest in virtual Connections

It’s essential to stay in virtual contact with family, friends, neighbours and other resources, your adult children, and anyone who matters to you. Use text messaging, virtual meetings, video-chat, email and telephone. Spending virtual time with supportive family and friends can bring a sense of comfort and stability as it tends to provoke a sense of calm rather than turmoil.

Visible distancing does not need to involve social detachment. We’re all in this together, and we will get through it together. You could share fast and simple dinner recipes; you could begin a virtual book or movie club;  propose a workout over video chat; join an online group or peer forum, or enrol for an online course. People need to hear your voice — and vice versa. Show your friends, family, or vulnerable people in the community that you care. This may be more critical during times like these as it encourages a sense of hope, purpose, and worth. Talking through your concerns, thoughts, and feelings with others can also help you find helpful ways of dealing with or reasoning about a stressful situation. In the words of our President, Mr Ramaphosa – we need “to be courageous, patient, and above all, show compassion. Let us never despair. For we are a nation at one, and we will surely prevail. May God protect her people”.

CARE FOR YOURSELF

Practice self-compassion – This moment calls us to care for others and to be gentle with ourselves. Don’t be too harsh on yourself when you can’t close yourself off from your own fear and pain or that of the world. Fear isn’t fun, but it signals that we are fully human. Anxiety can be useful when it indicates a problem and motivates us to unite to solve it. If we make a deliberate effort to hold on to our humanity, it can bring us together.

Mindfulness techniques can be much useful in this kind of circumstances, where our routines are interrupted, and we may feel overcome by frustration and distress – acknowledge your feelings and mindfulness. We say to ourselves: ‘This is awful, and I’m going to be troubled about it, and I’m going to be annoyed about it, and I’m going to feel nervous,’ or what it is. This then enables us to move on and respond, ‘Okay, so now what necessitates to be done?’

Be fair to yourself and others – giving to others in times of need not only helps the receiver, but it enhances your wellbeing too.

Try the below support content that could benefit your mental and emotional wellness during this time.

Stay informed, safe, and virtually connected.

https://blog.calm.com/take-a-deep-breath

https://www.headspace.com/covid-19

 

Trusted websites for further information:

National Covid-19 website

National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NCID)

Covid-19 Toolkits

sacoronavirus.co.za (Online resources and news portal)

www.nicd.ac.za (National Institute for communicable diseases (NICD))

www.who.int (World Health Organization (WHO) website)

National COVID-19 hotline:0800 029 999