Feeling overburdened by a lockdown and the necessity to switch to e-learning on the spur of the moment? Clinical psychologist Desiree Dickerson advises staying connected and caring.
I’m a clinical psychologist who specializes in mental health and well-being in academic settings. I was supposed to run a resilience and well-being workshop for doctoral candidates in Sweden in mid-March, but instead found myself in my flat in Spain on day eight of quarantine with two little children. My feeling of resiliency, like that of many others, is becoming increasingly shredded.
How do we maintain our own mental health and well-being, as well as that of our community, when our minds are consumed by the spread of the coronavirus and its impact on our health, loved ones, home countries, economy, and students — not to mention our research program, funding or employment status, and an abrupt transition to e-learning —
Following are some suggestions that have come up in meetings I’ve had with academic leaders and students about how to respond to COVID-19:
Keep your expectations in check.
This isn’t going to be the writer’s retreat you’ve been hoping for. The possibility that periods of isolation could result in exceptional output suggests that we should raise rather than lower the bar. Do not underestimate the mental and emotional strain this pandemic will place on you, or the impact it will have on your productivity, at least in the short term. It’s normal to have trouble concentrating, feeling unmotivated, and being distracted. It will take time for you to adjust. Relax and take it easy on yourself. As we adjust to our new routine of distant work and solitude, we must be realistic in our aspirations, both for ourselves and for those we supervise.
Manage your stress level in a proactive manner.
Prioritize your sleep and practice proper sleep hygiene to build a strong foundation for your mental health and well-being (for example, avoid blue lights before bed, and maintain a routine around your sleep and wake times). Eat well (be aware that you may be tempted to use alcohol or other indulgences to cope with stress — this is understandable, but it can be harmful in the long term). Exercise will lower your stress levels, assist you in better emotional regulation, and improve your sleep.
Recognize the warning signs.
Identifying important ideas or physical sensations that likely to contribute to your cycle of anguish and emotions of being overwhelmed is one strategy to handle moments of discomfort. Our thoughts (“Why can’t I concentrate?”), feelings (frustration, worry, sadness), physical sensations (tension, upset stomach, jitters), and actions (such as checking the latest COVID statistics obsessively) all contribute to and amplify these negative emotional spirals.
De-escalating the cycle and regaining control can be accomplished by addressing one part of the loop, such as intentionally reducing physical symptoms (I employ box breathing: breathe in for four counts, hold for four, breathe out for four counts, hold for four, then repeat).
Your best buddy is routine.
It will assist you in managing anxiety and adjusting to your new reality more swiftly. Create clear boundaries between work and non-work time in both your actual workspace and your mind. Find something enjoyable to do that is not work-related or virus-related. Working in short bursts with defined breaks will help you keep your thoughts clean.
Compassionate towards yourself and others
Much is beyond our control right now, but how we say to ourselves during these trying moments can either provide a tremendous buffer or intensify our pain. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, large thoughts like “I can’t do this” or “This is too difficult” come to mind. Many of us will be under a lot of stress as a result of the epidemic, and we won’t be able to be our best selves all of the time. We can, however, seek for assistance or contact out when assistance is requested.
Keep your connections strong.
Even the most introverted of us require some form of social interaction for our mental and physical well-being. Many working groups have set up virtual forums where you may contribute or simply listen in on the conversation. Virtual coffee gatherings, online reading clubs, and co-working spaces have been created by staff teams so that you can work in the (virtual) presence of others. We are socially isolated, but we do not have to feel alone. Make an effort to reach out to anyone who may be feeling particularly alone.
Staying in the present moment is a good way to deal with uncertainty.
Take each day as it comes and concentrate on the aspects of your life that you can manage. Mindfulness and meditation can be quite beneficial.
This will most likely be a difficult period for all of us, and it will put many research institutes’ mental-health policies and practices to the test, just as much else in the world is. We may safeguard ourselves and those around us by embracing appropriate mental-health and well-being measures and leaning on others when necessary.