By Dr. Kayathri Periasamy
The current worldwide health situation is ambiguous, novel and unpredictable, and have forced the small things that make up our community to change. Since mid-March, we have been told to socially isolate from the family, friends and colleagues we were regularly in contact with. The economic disruptions that Sri Lanka is forced to go through at the moment have caused many individual-level disruptions. To top it off, the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 has conditioned us to be extremely fearful, anxious beings as life slowly returns to a sense of normalcy; and we set back into our old routines of work and education.
This sentiment is especially true of individuals who were deemed ‘at high-risk’ to develop and succumb to the more fatal symptoms of COVID-19; the elderly and those with Chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems and obesity. While this holds true, this mostly applies to people whose medical conditions are not controlled properly. It is generally seen that even during normal surgery or a common flu, it is the ‘uncontrolled’ medical conditions that cause serious complications.
Sure, the new normal feels scary and unknown, but let us not forget that mankind has navigated through numerous ‘new normals’ in the past such as wars, famines, financial crises, the digital era, post 9/11, and even other pandemics such as Dengue. But over time we have always adapted to living with each of these new realities. This is not to belittle some of the woes certain industries are facing nor the many deaths that have occurred, but we are constantly learning and will certainly win over this problem too. After all, challenge drives innovation.
So how do we build self-resilience to not just survive but thrive amidst a global pandemic?
- Take full-control over your chronic medical conditions. Work closely with your family doctors to keep track of your body’s progress and have a month’s supply of medicine at any point. If you have reservations about visiting hospitals or clinics during this time, patients can contact doctors through reliable remote consultation and channeling apps such as oDoc, MyDoctor.lk, Ayubolife, echannelling, and Doc 990, through which you can keep regular contact with your doctor, get prescriptions for new medication, discuss lab reports, and make hassle-free appointment. This is practical in particular to those with NCDs such as diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure as well as those dealing with mental health conditions. The elder members of our community also can develop severe complications and hence should be more careful with COVID-19′ precautionary measures as any infection in the elderly carry the chance of complications.
- Identify whether your worry is a ‘real problem’ or a ‘hypothetical worry’. If you’re experiencing hypothetical worry, then it’s important to remind yourself that your mind is not focusing on a problem that you can solve right now, so find ways to let the worry go and focus on something else.
- Postpone your worry. Worry is insistent – it can make you feel as though you have to engage with it right now. Postponing hypothetical worry allows us to build a different relationship with our worries. In practice, this means deliberately setting aside time each day to let yourself worry (e.g. 30 minutes at the end of each day). While odd at first, it also means that for the other 23.5 hours in the day you try to let go of the worry until you get to your ‘worry time’.
- Notice and limit worry triggers. Most of us feel a constant desire to follow the news or check social media for updates on the pandemic. However, you might notice this also triggers your worry and anxiety. It is best to limit the time that you are exposed to worry triggers each day; listen to the news for only a set time each day, or cut back on time spent on social media.
- Practice mindfulness and self-compassion. Learning and practicing mindfulness can help us to let go of worries and bring ourselves back to the present moment. For example, focusing on the gentle movement of your breath or the sounds you hear around you, can serve as helpful ‘anchors’ to come back to the present moment and let go of worries. Worry can often rise from a place of concern. A traditional cognitive behavioral therapy technique for working with negative, anxious, or upsetting thoughts is to write them down and find a different way of responding to them.
- Foster a balanced routine that helps keep your mind and body active. Maintain a regular schedule to give structure to your day, whether you are stuck at home or are going back to work. Include activities that keep both your mind and body active. Try learning something new with an online course or challenge yourself to learn a new language. Also remember to eat healthy, engage in 30 mins minimum of exercise daily, sleep adequately, and cut back on smoking and alcohol consumption to maintain peak mental and physical performance. Good health helps you be resilient to change and adversity
- Practice gratitude. At times of uncertainty, developing a gratitude practice can help you to connect with moments of joy, aliveness, and pleasure. At the end of each day, take time to reflect on specific things that bring have brought you joy. Start a gratitude journal or keep notes in a gratitude jar and encourage other people in your home to get involved too.
- Rely on reputable news sources. It can also help to be mindful of where you are obtaining news and information. Be careful to choose reputable sources and limit your exposure to negative news cycles that will only result in worry.
(Dr. Kayathri Periasamy is a consultant physician MBBS (UK), MRCP (UK), Board Certified in Int. Medicine (U.S.A). She is the founder of Healthy Life Clinic, Colombo 03.)