Human beings are often painted as rational and cognitive creatures capable of imagining beyond what exists. Reality can be revised and contextualized, histories can be re-interpreted to suit the needs of one’s time and so can our perception of health. Since there is more to us than just a body, we must look beyond the prejudices that have defined those with little understanding of the matter and accept an evolutionary perspective on the same. With this mindset, we now seek to accept mental health as an important criterion for ensuring a healthy lifestyle.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. This holds a valuable truth for us, one that cannot be undermined for the sake of reducing health to a visible representation of any form of distress or injury.
Nowadays, the way we experience and define mental health as changed. From a historical perspective, even philosophers like Aristotle considered ‘madness’ to be an aberration from the norm; the Stoics took this to the next level and declared everyone to be mad except for the sages who had ‘perfected human souls.’
This is not to say that the understanding of mental health has been compromised since early civilizations, but rather to assert that there existed a realm of understanding in health that has been noted to exist, since time immemorial and that is, as ambiguous as it may be in its representations, vitally important.
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The stigma surrounding mental health has been fuelled by meta-narratives of the feudal era, that associate any deviation from normal behavior or thinking to the Devil. However, over the years with increasingly empathetic attitudes in the field of Psychiatry and the development of positive mental health sciences under the discipline of Psychology, we find ourselves believing that there’s more to health than just physicality.
Research in the field of medical sciences has provided sufficient evidence to note that various health problems are connected, for example, mental health is strongly associated with cardiovascular risk exposures or the fact that obesity can be linked to depression, bipolar disorder, and panic disorders.
Certain non-healthy behaviors such as smoking are also associated with depressive and anxiety disorders. It appears that the reverse stands true as well, as adherence to healthy dietary practices is low in people diagnosed with diabetes and depression. Depression has also been observed to affect cell-making immunity, which translates as a higher risk for those affected with the coronavirus as they tend to be immuno-compromised.
Since mental disorders can delay help-seeking behavior, it’s bound to affect the detection and diagnosis of other diseases as well which poses a risk in the current pandemic. In the wake of these facts, I shall be discussing five ways in which you can ensure that your mental health is a priority in this quarantine.
1. Avoid anxiety-inducing practices
As important as it is to keep up to date with the latest news, in a recent study done by Dr. Samantha K. Brooks on the psychological impact of the quarantine and how to reduce it reviewed that longer periods of quarantine have been associated with heightened anxiety. For those diagnosed with social anxiety, there is a fear of a relapse post lockdown.
In order to alleviate the degree of impact, it is recommended to reduce anxiety-inducing behavior such as constantly watching the news that keeps markers on the death tolls and to limit conversations about this situation with those who you’re quarantined with. It is better to call far-away friends to induce a sense of unreality that can temporarily save your current environment from getting to you.
2. Keep yourself busy
According to this review, quarantine has also been associated with emotional disturbance, stress, irritability, boredom, and frustration. While these are factors that are normal in day-to-day life, prolonged periods of isolation can worsen them over time. Boredom and frustration eventually lead to distress and it is advisable to seek out ways to keep yourself busy, this is especially true for those who are in quarantine alone.
Psychotherapist, Kathyrn Smerling, recommends keeping small goals and building a reward system out of it to keep yourself motivated to do work. Therefore, to reduce anxiety, boredom, and listlessness it is important for one to follow comfortable routines at home.
3. Sleeping on time
There is simply no compromise when it comes to health. Irritability, frustration, and anger are increased when sleep is lost. Collecting sleep debt by binge-watching shows late into the night is not ideal for fun in the long run. Make sure you divide your time and keep your work-life balance intact. Getting 8 hours of sleep should be a bare minimum, and this should be non-negotiable as sleeping is also our body’s way of fighting off infections.
According to the American Psychological Association, you can sleep better by avoiding late-night meals and limiting stressful discussions right before bedtime. It’s also important to set up your environment in a manner that reduces your exposure to stimulating objects such as lights, TVs, and smartphones. Try avoiding checking the time regularly as it merely creates anxiety.
4. Exercising regularly
Exercising regularly has shown to positively benefit immunity as well as reduce depression by regulating your mood with the release of happy hormones such as serotonin and endorphins.
If you’re not in a habit of exercising and don’t think it does wonders for your emotional temperature, keep a diary that tracks your mood every day after exercising. Its also better to let the steam off by doing some aerobics instead of ruminating on distressing thoughts. Taking your mind.
5. Stay connected to your close ones
The fact that human beings are social animals is wisdom that stands the test of time. Liberman, a Professor in Psychology at UCLA describes how our social institutions are designed to encourage socialization- be it group projects in schools, or cafeterias at our colleges. He goes on to say that people feel social and physical pain very similarly which brings us to the point of staying connected in this quarantine by empathizing with the experiences of those around us.
Some ways of keeping connected are ensuring you are present at family dinners, calling friends close and far, and conducting family activities that can strengthen your bonds while everyone has a fun time. However, it’s also important to disengage at times and reflect quietly. You need not become a people pleaser and it’s important to step back and allow yourself some me-time.
The above-mentioned practices cover the basics of both physical and mental health, and although it should be no news to us, we often happen to neglect what’s necessary and important because ‘self-care’ is a mindset that not many of us have developed. It’s also important to not jump into any conclusions and seek the right channels of resources when it comes to treatment. There are various online health treatment options that can be easily accessed and allow people to speak to therapists over phone calls and video chats.
Every stressful situation is bound to take a toll on you, however staying resilient in these hard times is the key to overcoming the situation and developing a healthy mindset. And on a positive note, the pandemic has taught us that mental health awareness is more important than ever, and giving recognition to building altruistic attitudes in a period of uncertainty can actually ensure that we become more enduring and positive individuals.