Wellbeing in a Pandemic: IOM Hotline Psychologist Shares Advice on How to Manage Your Time, Anxiety and Health
To commemorate World Health Day we prepared an interview with a psychologist on how to protect your mental health.
On 7 April, we celebrate World Health Day in a state of déjà vu as if reliving the events of last spring, when we hoped that the COVID-19 pandemic would soon subside and everything would return to normal. But here we are again in spring and another lockdown. As can only be expected, this situation causes stress for everyone as our lives feel once again upside down and our old normal seems to get even further away. To help cope with the psychological challenges of the pandemic, IOM, the UN Migration Agency, launched a toll-free Emotional Support Hotline (0 800 211 444)* last year. As part of World Health Day, one of the IOM hotline psychologists, Pavlo Kuznetsov, is sharing tips for mental conditioning and practical steps to be kind to ourselves and try improving our wellbeing in these difficult times.
Accept the new normal
This last year has been a rollercoaster for all of us and some of us have repeatedly fallen into the mindset that everything is miserable and that there is no end in sight. We live in the hope that the future will be better than what we are experiencing at present. Therefore, when that future, the return to ‘normal’ we have been hoping for, seems further and further away, we continue to lament our past and get trapped in our memories of those better days rather than accepting our new present. But we need to understand that our ability to return to our previous norm is often impossible for various reasons. Often, some circumstances do not depend on us, such as a wish to be young again. The sooner a new norm can be accepted, the sooner one will feel comfortable. When we consider our experience of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, we find ourselves in a similar situation. Returning to the kind of life we had before the pandemic may not happen very quickly, and perhaps a full return will not happen at all. But this new reality should not stop us from living. Only once we accept this ‘new normal’ can our consciousness adapt, allowing us to make the best of it.
Overcome the delayed life syndrome
"Come the new year/Monday/after the move/when I finally change jobs … I will start doing …." Delayed life syndrome is a very common experience that I am sure we can all pinpoint in our lives. With COVID-19, many people are postponing their lives in various ways "until the lockdown and the pandemic is over", and many of us are treating our COVID-19 quarantine days as just another hurdle to get over, waiting for the perfect environment when we can start all those plans we have been formulating. The problem with the delayed life syndrome is that it doesn’t allow us to consider our present and how we can adapt those ideas we had of our future to start living and enjoying the present to the best of our ability. It is possible and healthy to start implementing your plans – perhaps not in the form and scale as it would be before the pandemic, but still, it is important that we take one step at a time to be able to move forward.
Of course, the question arises: where do we find the strength to accept the new normal and not get overwhelmed with the task ahead? Four simple practical tips can help.
We are social beings and we need active communication with family, friends, colleagues, neighbours. Physical isolation – for obvious reasons – has a negative effect on our ability to connect socially with others, which impacts our wellbeing. So, make sure you reach out to your loved ones, friends and colleagues to have that virtual coffee and catch up and allow yourself to feel more connected, even if at a distance.
Any physical activity, especially one that you enjoy, helps us feel better. Whether it’s a relaxed outdoors in nature or something more physically demanding, the main thing is not to isolate yourself in the house lost behind a computer or smartphone screen.
Listen to your body
Sleep plays a vital role in your physical and mental wellbeing. How many hours did you sleep on average this week? And last week? Last month? Maybe some of our negative emotions and experiences would be resolved by the simple act of ensuring a conducive environment for healthy sleep. Or, perhaps there are things in your life right now that you know are bothering you and you are just ignoring them as it appears easier. It may be as small as that uncomfortable chair or table that you have to work from all day, or the light bulb that blew and you haven’t replaced and is causing your eyes to strain and giving you headaches but we stubbornly persevere in the discomfort for another month, two, three, a year… Pay attention to these things and where you can make changes to make your body happier make them.
Today we have become increasingly accustomed to short bursts of information largely driven by the rise of social media. Although we are absorbing information, these short bursts of text do not allow our brains to engage our imagination. Try reading a book for 30 minutes or longer – it will help stimulate your imagination which can be a very powerful healing process and a good way to have some alone time and relax. These moments are really important to help our mind relax which can unexpectedly lead us to solutions for those issues that may be plaguing us.
* The IOM Emotional Support Hotline accepts free and anonymous calls from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. The Project is implemented by IOM and funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).