Managing your Mental Health During a Pandemic

‘I’m scared’ said Piglet
‘A story will help’ said Pooh
‘How?’
‘Oh. Don’t you know? Stories make your heart grow’

Life is so weird, so funny, so fleeting. Here today, gone tomorrow. For once in my life, in my journey to become a better version of myself, I created a vision board for the year, I planned my activities, my travels, my photoshoots everything, down to the letter T. I said new year, new me baby, this year I secure all the bags!! Guess what? Miss Rona strolls in with her red heels, patent leather jumpsuit and red lipstick laughing, not so fast baby. 

At first Coronavirus was something far-fetched, a disease for the Chinese, for the western world. There were rumors and myths going around that the Nigerian weather is too humid for the virus to thrive here, some said the virus cannot thrive in a black man’s body so there is absolutely nothing to be bothered about. We believed them, we bought into the rumors and so when other countries were getting battle ready, we watched, arms crossed with toothpicks in our mouths doing absolutely nothing. A few of us bought hand sanitizers and face masks but the element of disbelief existed in most of us.

All of a sudden, the carpet got rudely pulled off from underneath our legs, in the space of one week, our lives did a complete overhaul. One minute you’re wearing your miniskirt and adjusting your lipstick so you can be the baddest babe in the streets, the next minute you’re receiving an email from your employer saying although you have been diligent and loyal to the company, due to the global pandemic, they unfortunately do not have the budget to keep paying your salary. 

Coronavirus is not the only global pandemic we are facing, there is a mental illness pandemic going on too, and we need to talk about it. A few days back, the German state finance minister killed himself because he became deeply worried about the economic impact of coronavirus. This shit is serious. There is a surge in homelessness, people are more isolated than ever before, people are losing their jobs and their sources of livelihood, businesses are getting shut down, loved ones are dying or getting really ill from this pandemic. What does this fuel? A surge in mental health issues. I cannot tell you I know all the answers, because I don’t but here are a few things that have worked for me in managing my mental health in these uncertain times:

  1. Limiting my screen time: when you work online, it can be incredibly hard to limit your screen time, but I realized I was scrolling myself into anxiety by keeping abreast of everything happening in the media surrounding coronavirus. I started limiting my exposure to the news and curating my social media feeds to follow pages that make me feel good, happy and lighthearted regardless of the current pandemic.
  2. Connecting with friends and family:my schedule has generally changed a lot and as someone who usually thrives on social connections, the quarantine period has been quite isolating and depression inducing. As a matter of utmost priority, I ensure I call my friends and family. I take advantage of the video call option to see their faces and that makes me feel better.
  3. Creating a schedule:normally, my daily schedule involves going to work, having lunch at work then closing to either attend to meetings or hanging out with friends, since all that has changed now. I’ve created my schedule to be more like: wake-up, journal, exercise, work, watch fun videos, take an online class and talk to friends. The schedule doesn’t have to be set in stone, just something to add structure to your life and offer you control in the face of uncertainty.
  4. Keep myself busy: engaging in activities that distract you from current events can also be helpful. You can watch your favorite movies and TV shows, pick up a new hobby like baking or DIY crafts, join an online fitness class or read more books( I just finished Daughters who walk this path by Yejide Kilanko and that was amazing!).
  5. Getting information from only reliable sources; Some legitimate and reliable sources of COVID-19-related news and updates include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), John Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center. You will also want to verify information that you receive from family, friends or social media,” says the American Psychological Association (APA).

I also asked a couple of friends this question: Hey , as someone who constantly has to deal with how poor her mental health can be at times, I never once thought that a combination of the words, self & isolation, would be something that was recommended to me. How are you all coping and what are some tips you have for people struggling with mental illness ?

Here are a few practical responses I got, please feel free to share yours:

Joyous- I try to consciously do things I enjoy. So like I’m mostly on the phone with my friends, this group chat has also been great, I read affirmations daily to remind myself and honestly I check recovery rates of the virus instead of numbers of affected people. That kinda gives me hope

Bolanle-I know this is weird but I am enjoying the lock down. I normally wake up by 4:30am every day and leave my house before 5:30 for work. I have been exhausted for a while now. I’m grateful for it honestly because I have not had time to myself in a while. I’m sleeping a lot and taking online classes. Plus I’m just really happy to spend tome with my parents. I hardly see them even on weekends because I go for Acca classes.

Nittie- Oh well, I have this group which is quite interesting . Also I’m stuck in the kitchen making food so time goes by. Social media has been home from home. I read articles on medium when I have the time. Yeah! That’s been it so far❤

Dara- Reading books, Catching up on shows and movies on Netflix. Working out at home is also helping. If you live in a secure environment, you can take a run early in the morning or in the evening when the sun is out. Also, actually getting to spend some time with my family, doing fun activities with them. Conversations with friends, and generally making plans for the next few months when it’s over.

Salmah- Honestly personally I don’t really think I’m coping. I think it hasn’t really hit me and I’m just walking on eggshells. But I’m constantly taking deep breaths reminding myself that it’ll be over soon. And hoping and praying that it doesn’t hit me before its over.

Roseanne-For me, I’m not exactly a social butterfly so I’m almost always isolating even more than I’d like to admit. I take every opportunity I can get to work on myself mentally, be it the big stuff like reading anything or the small stuff like a new skin care routine because when my body is tight, my mind is right. So even when I’m alone, I can enjoy and bask in my own company. I also think routines are idiosyncratic and you just have to dig deep to find the thing or things that work for you and prosper from there + an all round attitude of positivity and attention to little details in your day to day life can make all the difference

Rena- Glad that we have a space to check-in and share here. Thanks for being so open. 💗I personally found that creating things to help others has been helping me a lot. Also talking to family and friends. I know people are still seeing their therapists virtually, which is also helpful. But honestly knowing your boundaries and taking note of your triggers seems more important right now. I felt worn out two weeks ago from the initial shock of interacting with so many people who were also in shock. So the following week I reduced calls and social media consumption.

Chioma- First thing that has worked for me is speaking! I love sharing my story. I love talking about various aspect of my self and my healing, somehow it’s helped me heal. I have also accepted that some times you may need medications to function 100%, I’d rather take drugs everyday than keep having suicidal thoughts. I engage in mindful meditation and yoga. I love working, so when I can, I drown in my work. However I’ve also learnt to cut myself some slack,(I used to feel guilty whenever I wasn’t working, like I was wasting time). I have very very few friends, but when I was in a relationship, I had someone I could talk to and tell everything to (downside to it, is you become too reliant on the person). But i have a pretty good support system (when I’m willing to open up). I’m big on journaling, so I write and affirmations too. I like to read on things about the universe, wonders of the world, kemetic history (quite fascinated with it).

Thank you all for sharing your stories with me and giving me the permission to share them here. If you’ve read this far, please feel free to share how you’ve been able to manage your mental health during this pandemic. Remember, you are not alone.

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