How to manage your mental health in tough times
Posted on 1 July 2021
Everyone has faced challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic – whether financial, physical or mental. Two psychologists share advice on how to maintain your emotional wellbeing in tough times.
Almost everyone is taking strain during these unprecedented times. We are grappling with feelings of grief, sadness, uncertainty, loss, despair, fear, and/or anxiety. Difficulties in acknowledging or recognising your own needs, and fear of being seen as “weak” might prevent you from seeking support. But, as Harsha Maharaj, a clinical psychologist at Mediclinic Sandton says, “practising self-care– and paying attention to your own needs – is essential in order to stay strong and capable during COVID-19”.
People often confuse self-care with pampering yourself – or being selfish about your needs and wants. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Ronel Groenewald, a counselling psychologist at Mediclinic Kimberley and Mediclinic Gariep. “Self-care is a broad term that encompasses just about anything you do to be good to yourself. In a nutshell, it’s about showing yourself the same kindness and respect that you do to others.”
Self-care also entails knowing when your reserves are running low, and stepping back to replenish them, so as to avoid the possibility of burnout. “In essence, self-care encompasses all the actions and attitudes that contribute to maintenance of your physical, emotional, psychological, social, spiritual and professional wellbeing,” Groenewald explains.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have huge amounts of free time – or money – to practise self-care. It can be as simple as sitting quietly by yourself for 10 minutes before preparing for the day ahead, or starting the evening meal. “It’s not about booking expensive pampering sessions or planning exotic holidays,” says Groenewald. “Self-care is different for different people. For some, connecting with their community is important, for others, a more solitary aspect of self-care is more useful. Some might benefit from more physical activity while others will feel better if they choose to concentrate on eating healthily and mindfully.”
In addition to ensuring you get enough sleep, exercise, healthy food, downtime and fresh air, Maharaj has helpful suggestions for looking after your mental health:
- Find something to take your mind off things. This doesn’t mean hiding or denying your feelings. It’s vital to examine your emotions and learn what’s really troubling you. But sometimes taking your mind off your emotional pain for a few hours can refuel you for the days ahead. Watching a comedy, enjoying a good meal or engrossing yourself in a book, crossword or an activity you enjoy, are all brief distractions that can remind you of the good things in life.
- Schedule time for thinking. Instead of allowing emotional pain and stress to consume you, set aside a fixed amount of time every day to focus solely on your issues. By devoting a full 20 minutes (or longer if you prefer) to this, you can fully immerse yourself in your problem and consider healthy ways to ease your pain. Having a set, regular time to turn things over in your mind helps prevent your emotional stress from affecting your whole day.
- Learn how to meditate. The practice of meditation can help you deal with painful emotions in a healthy way by helping you to sit still with your feelings without judging whether they’re good, bad, right or wrong. In this way you learn how to practise self-compassion and accept your feelings just as they are. That’s a solid first step towards healing.
If you’re still struggling, consider getting professional help. Therapy (and medication if necessary) can restore your balance and help you manage daily stresses and strains more effectively.