2020 has been a demanding test of humanity’s mental, emotional, and physical perseverance with our worldviews taken apart, piece by piece, all behind closed doors in quarantine. Finding a balance in this new normal as we learn to conduct our lives amid the outbreak is a challenging undertaking. To cope, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore, in a message from her home, mentions that their staff counselors recommend that every individual formulates a ‘wellbeing’ plan. Accordingly, in an attempt to pull together a workable personal plan for quarantine survival, I contacted various holistic healers, yoga and meditation teachers, and art therapists that I had met over the years.
The following is a condensed tincture of their valuable suggestions for finding peace and staying positive while the world reboots and heals.
“Address fears and concerns productively” – Hillary Adrian Han, Dharma Healing International, Thailand
Speaking about the potential mental and emotional effects of this time, Hillary Adrian Han, co-founder and Director of Dharma Healing International, Thailand, feels that it can be a challenge to the individual. “Right now, living in quarantine within a confined space with a great amount of time on our hands can be like an invasion of privacy, conjuring up questions and disturbed thoughts that spiral the mind down a rabbit hole of fear” she warns. With COVID-19 overwhelming both traditional and social media, people are compulsively following every detail to their emotional detriment. This deluge of information is instrumental in creating a spiral of fear and uncertainty. Alex Vyazovov, Founder and CEO of Higher Yoga Academy Thailand, agrees that without consciously working through this external pressure, the stress can slowly trickle through, leading to conflicts, depression, and illness.
UNICEF staff counselors recommend setting up a ‘worry window,’ a specific timeslot to allow yourself to worry about things put on the back burner for the rest of the day.
“Be mindful that the pandemic itself is not as bad as the pandemic of fear” – Anton Kazantsev Restorative yoga and Yoga therapy specialist, Thailand.
According to Kazantsev, a 35 year veteran of restorative yoga, “there is an explosion of anxiety, fear, and panic with most of the countries in some kind of lockdown which is much stronger. At this moment, the first thing is to be mindful that we must accept the changed situation. There are positive examples like china, which demonstrate that it is possible to bring things under control. Another part is to look at the history of humanity, which has had many pandemics and humanity survived.”
“Shift your focus to some of the positive changes that are happening” – Mehnaz Ulmulk, Ashtanga Vinyasa teacher, Islamabad
“I see the signs all around me – nature is talking to us at this time. That doesn’t mean I don’t think what’s happening isn’t heartbreaking and that I don’t want this to be over, but the world has slowed down, and we needed to give the Earth a chance to breathe,” she says. It is indeed essential to seek out the good news. Clear water is returning to streams, pandas bred in captivity are mating, the ozone layer is healing, and global air pollution is falling. The key is to stay on top of the latest news but not fixating on it while focusing on positive updates.
The National Health Service (NHS), England suggests turning off breaking-news alerts on your phone and setting specific times to read updates.
Coursera, an online learning platform developed by Stanford professors, is offering free courses “with fact-based information about this global public health challenge” by consulting with specialists public health, epidemiology, and psychology. I have found focusing on science-based research to be very helpful in information hygiene.
“Keep your mind active” – National Health Service (NHS), England
With the world slowing down, many of us find ourselves with more time to ourselves than we are used to. Much like caterpillars, we are in a cocoon stage from which we can choose to emerge like butterflies if we use this time wisely and more productively. While it is a great time to pamper ourselves and do things that we don’t normally have time for, it can also be a period to rebuild, nurture passions, study, learn new skills, or a new language.
There are various Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and free educational websites collaborating with universities offering online courses on virtually anything that might interest an individual. Some excellent platforms to try include edX, Khan Academy, Coursera, and Ted-Ed.
“Stick to routines” – UNICEF staff counselors
Having structure, waking and sleeping at the same time is beneficial in regulating the body’s rhythm. According to Han, “a good night’s sleep during this stressful time can affect our immune system tremendously. Deep sleep stimulates physical, emotional, and psychic cleansing of your microbiome, mitochondria, your brain and neurotransmitters, hormones, and enzymatic functions. Deep sleep promotes the immune system, supports the metabolism and the process of autophagy. Eight hours of sleep each night cleanses the lymphatic system of the central nervous system in the brain and spinal cord, revitalizes the constitution, and stimulates the organs of elimination.”
Han suggests trying to get the morning sun upon waking up to regulate circadian rhythms in the brain and skin. The NHS suggests getting up and changing clothes at the same time you would normally for work.
“Work out at least one hour a day to release stress accumulated in the body” – Alex Vyazovov, Founder and CEO of Higher Yoga Academy Thailand
While regular exercise improves a plethora of mental and physical indicators, a currently pressing reason to get active is the relationship between access weight and COVID-19. Statistics from 177 British hospitals compared with studies in China examined by Edinburgh University, Liverpool University, and Imperial College London confirm that the “likelihood that severe complications will develop from COVID-19” is considerably higher in overweight individuals.
Practical tip: Walking outside while maintaining social distance is a great way to get some fresh air and remain connected with your neighborhood or community. If outside opportunities are not available, there are a multitude of online home workout plans available. Established fitness brands like Crossfit, Planet Fitness, and Nike Training Club are offering free indoor workouts on their websites, YouTube, and apps.
“Have a funeral with the unhealthy foods that you eat”- Hillary Adrian Han, Dharma Healing International, Thailand.
With vaccines and treatment development still in the early stages, a healthy immune is the best protection at the moment. “About 70% of immunity resides in the intestines, so the digestive system plays a big role in boosting immunity,” says Michael Albacete, Yogeshwara Yoga School, Thailand. Hence, increasing preventative nutrition for a robust immune system is suggested.
Albacete advocates avoiding a low nutrition diet like junk food and eating healthy fats, fresh, simple and local as much as possible. Vyazovov also recommends limiting the consumption of acidic foods like sugar, animal products, and processed foods, which weaken the immune system. He advises instead to eat more alkaline foods like fruits, nuts, legumes, and vegetables to speed up the metabolism and awaken body defenses. Tea with basil, turmeric, tulsi, black pepper, rosemary, or ginger is also helpful for alkalizing the body, according to Albacete.
“Engage in wellbeing practices” – UNICEF staff counselors
A mutual suggestion from everyone consulted about mental wellbeing is meditation or yoga to calm the mind, shift focus inside, and reconnect with your core.
If mediation or yoga is not a regular practice, it can easily be formed in the age of smartphones and tablets. Aqil Amin Sattar, CEO and Founder at AQ Fitness, Karachi says that with their fitness center closed and classes on hold, they are reaching out online. “I have been doing free live yoga sessions on my Instagram for anyone to follow. We are trying to play our part in terms of movement, meditation, and helping people feel a little better”.
Some other great free apps and live streams include Corepower Yoga, YogaWorks, and Downward Dog.
“Engage in hobbies and things you enjoy” – UNICEF staff counselors
Han suggests 2-hour slots—2 hours online, 2 hours offline, and to explore hobbies like painting, embroidery, and gardening. Art therapy is especially helpful right now, according to Sajida Hassan (Ph.D.), Clinical Child Psychologist, Hussaini Foundation Karachi.
“Maintain a healthy emotional diet” – Michael Albacete, Yogeshwara Yoga School, Thailand
“Stress strongly affects the immune system, so it is vital to maintain a healthy emotional diet,’ advises Albacete. Vyazovov also recommends protecting yourself and those around you from falling into depressive states and negativity by detoxifying the mind several times a week. “Think and talk less about the virus and restrictions related to it,” he proposes and suggests instead to choose positive thoughts.
When feeling panicked or stressed, Han recommends removing shoes and bringing your feet into contact with the Earth. “Grounding is known to remove harmful electromagnetic frequencies, negative thoughts, and unwanted microbes,” she informs.
Use breathing techniques to reduce anxiety and calm the mind. Ulmulk suggests trying cleansing breaths for at least ten counts, visually emptying oneself of anything that is unconstructive on the exhale and then envisioning renewed energy replacing it on the inhale. According to Vyazovov, ‘Alternate nostril breathing’ and ‘Square breathing’ are also well suited to the current situation.
“Stay connected, have video chats with your family, friends, and colleges. Open up about how you are feeling and ask others how they are feeling.” –UNICEF staff counselors
We are now more than ever, much more than our personal stories. We are all together and part of each other, so it is essential to concentrate on physical, not social isolation. Maintaining healthy relationships with loved ones is crucial in maintaining personal wellbeing in times of crisis.