WELLNESS

A mental health toolbox to survive the Covid third wave

By Freddie van Rensburg 6 June 2021

Image: Pixabay

Preparation for a possible third wave, or a continuation of the Covid-19 crisis as we enter year two of the pandemic, needs to entail psychosocial work on ourselves; this requires scrutinising the interplay of our individual thoughts and behaviours in relation to the social factors influencing our lives. 

The essence of our survival of the third wave is perfectly encapsulated by Michael Nulty, author of Getting Beyond What Is: “Regardless of the situation we find ourselves in, we can choose how we respond to it. Even if we cannot change the situation itself, we can choose to change how we look at it and how we respond to it. And in our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 

The knowledge that comes from hindsight

The first tool to put in our toolbox is the ability, instead of merely reacting to it in a knee-jerk fashion, to choose how we are going to respond to this wave.

The advantage we take into the third wave is that we have the lessons of inappropriate reactions to the first two waves. With the knowledge of hindsight, we are much better equipped to choose our response. One of life’s fundamental truths is that we always have a choice – even if that choice is only to choose not to react to a situation, but to choose an appropriate response instead. 

One of the first choices we have when it comes to Covid-19 is acceptance. We can either spend our days fighting everything related to the virus, or we can accept that the virus exists and that we are powerless over the effect it has in our lives. We live in hope that the authorities are doing their best to keep us safe, and one of those measures is giving us the choice to be vaccinated. 

The other choice we have is to accept that there are protocols we need to follow to ensure our safety. That acceptance entails keeping our physical distance, washing our hands regularly, wearing our masks in public and sanitising our hands often.

The power of mindfulness and gratitude

Another tool, and one of the best choices we can make for ourselves daily, is to choose to stay in this moment, to be mindful, to practise mindfulness today. 

The fact is that guilt, shame and regret lie in the past, while fear relates to the future. In this moment, in the here and now, everything is as it should be. When it comes to the virus, we must choose not to project into the future, or we run the risk of being debilitated by fear. 

We cannot spend our days and nights worrying about getting sick and the safety of our families. All we can do is take the necessary precautions to stay safe and keep on telling ourselves that everything is okay, in the here and now. 

A third tool, which will stand us in good stead during the third wave, is the g-word: gratitude. When we live in fear and uncertainty we tend to focus on the negative; what we do not have, instead of what we do have. It will not do us any good to put our energies and attention on the virus and the limbo that it causes in our lives. 

Practising gratitude for what we have, daily, keeps us more positive and in the moment. Gratitude is the opposite of self-pity and helps us to deal effectively with adversity, assists us in building strong relationships and even contributes to enhanced health.

Togetherness

While on the topic of relationships, our next tool, and one of the most fundamental ways to survive the third wave and protect our mental wellness, is to work on our relationships. Do not isolate. Whatever you do, stay in touch with loved ones and people you care for and who care for you. 

Connection is the antidote to many forms of mental illness and has proven successful in helping people with depression and anxiety. Despite wanting to isolate as our mental health deteriorates, staying connected is counterintuitive, but the right thing to do for our mental health. 

Make a point of reaching out to at least three people a day via Zoom, SMS, WhatsApp, Signal, Skype, or any of the Google connection platforms. We can stay in touch if we want to, and the thing is, during a pandemic we need to.  

When we feel low, worried or under pressure in our quest to survive, we tend to get a bit self-absorbed. One of the best strategies to follow when we struggle, is to get out of ourselves and do something for someone else. By being of service to others we are helping ourselves to feel better about ourselves and our situation. This also links with our strategy to stay connected. Nothing works better for our mood and even our self-esteem than to do esteemed things. 

It is okay not to be okay

It is imperative to come to learn, and accept, that it is okay not to be okay. We are living in strange, interesting and scary times. If we constantly feel different than we normally do, anxious and afraid, it is important to acknowledge these emotions and accept that we are not currently living the norm. 

It will help us mentally if we can come to be kind to ourselves and take extra care of ourselves while things are so topsy-turvy. We should take the time to take extra care of ourselves. Despite the fact that now, with the line between work and home being blurred, we need to work even harder to ensure a healthy work-life balance and not neglect our overall wellness. 

We should ensure that we eat correctly and absorb all the nutrients we need to stay healthy. We can contribute to our overall health by getting sufficient exercise or at least working 20 minutes of movement into our already full days. In addition, our spiritual health cannot and may not be neglected. 

If we believe in God or some form of higher power, spending time praying and meditating and building a strong connection with that entity might help to give us strength and guide us through this difficult time. Remember, to pray is to talk to our higher powers, while by meditating, we listen. It is important that we listen. We cannot keep on asking and not listening for guidance and answers. Meditation is an imperative mental health tool. If you struggle to meditate, watch YouTube videos on meditation or download one of many free meditation apps on your phone and get cracking. 

It will also help us to not judge our emotions. Accept it when you are feeling sad, tense or anxious. Also indulge in happiness when it is there. Do not keep on questioning your emotions and judging them as good or bad. Just accept them for what they are. All emotions will eventually pass; keep on telling yourself that this too shall pass.

Negative self-talk is terrible for our mental wellbeing. Try to change the narrative in your head from negative to positive; we have the ability to change what happens in our head – use that power to your advantage.

Reframe the negative

Reframe the negative into positive. Consider something like: “I cannot handle the children for one more minute.” Reframe it to: “Despite the fact that the children are really difficult, it is only two more hours before their bedtime.” Now we see a way out; in our negative state we are locking the problem, while the reframe brings the solution/positive to the fore.   

Also be aware when your sadness becomes depression and ask for help if you believe you need it. It is worth repeating: Do not isolate. Stay in contact with your support system and use them to direct you to the appropriate help. Be patient with yourself and your loved ones when you, or they, go through difficult periods. It will stand you and your support system in good stead if you can make yourself vulnerable and ask for help. It will make it easier for them to ask for help when they need it. 

It helps a lot when we understand that vulnerability is not a weakness; nobody is perfect, absolutely nobody. You are not perfect and will never be perfect. Put that in your toolbox, accept it today and move on. We were all born perfectly imperfect. It is our imperfections that make humans pack animals. If we were perfect, we would not need other people in our lives.

Thus, you should not try to be a model citizen, who does not get affected by these uncertain times. Let go of the guilt and shame of not being perfect and indulge your inner vulnerable being. When experiencing feelings of victimhood or self-pity, sit down with a pen and paper and write a list of at least 20 things to be grateful for. By the time the list is complete, you will feel better already. 

Do your friendship circle and colleagues a favour and start a gratitude group, where you can share your gratitude lists and help each other in this way. 

Last but not least: overthinking and analysis paralysis are real. It helps mentally to get out of our heads and into our hearts. Stop trying to think yourself better and do things that make you feel better. We cannot do things that make us feel miserable and expect to feel better. 

Constantly following the latest death statistics will not help us to feel better. If the stats make you feel anxious, sad or bad, stop reading them. Knowing or not knowing the full details is not going to make a difference to your life. 

Following these few simple suggestions can help you and those around you get through the third, fourth and any Covid wave, as well as life, with more ease. Remember that life is going to happen, whether we like or agree with it or not. We might as well accept what we cannot change, sit back and enjoy the ride. We may even walk out after this storm as better people and better equipped for life than before. DM/ML

Freddie van Rensburg is a Specialist Wellness and Addiction Counsellor in Cape Town. He is the writer of two books; his second book, Life Anon: A 12-step guide to life for non-addicts, is available for R300 in the Daily Maverick shop.

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