With three-quarters of a million lives lost globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as a harsh reality. Due to the conflicting pieces of information, uncertainty, and fear of the unknown, people everywhere are increasingly seen to be distressed. While many people are stockpiling to prepare for the worst – as it helps them take some control of their lives amidst the unpredictability; more people are experiencing mild depression, anxiety, and panic. Social distancing, a crucial step right now to break the chain, is making people feel alienated and disconnected from loved ones and normalcy. Health-care professionals, first respondents, and others directly working on the ground, are equally prone to feeling distressed.

In Kashmir – a place already hit with the decades-old conflict – growing mental health crisis and continuous shutdowns since August 2019 with restricted internet connectivity, the COVID-19 crisis, and its lockdown, adds another layer of deep stress and anxiety. Young ones haven’t been to schools and colleges for about eight months now; businesses have shattered; and daily wagers are struggling for basic survival. Everyone doesn’t have the luxury of clean water, soaps, sanitizers, food, and the safety of staying at home.

Here, individual and community responsibility and accountability becomes key. Basic guidelines by the World Health Organization (WHO) on cleanliness, wearing masks when needed, sanitizing hands and surfaces at home, self-reporting if you are experiencing any symptoms is crucial. But while taking care of our physical needs, being aware of our mental health, emotional wellbeing, and psychosocial needs are as important in times of crises as it helps us to better care of ourselves and others, and make better decisions, crucial for constructive response to stress and chaos.

Different forms of art – storytelling, painting, doodling, music, poetry, and writing – and humor have been helping people globally to cope up with the crisis and inner healing.

As a peace-psychologist, amongst other things, I work voluntarily to provide psychosocial, mental health, and emotional wellbeing support to people in Kashmir and globally, helping people to – create peace internally amidst all chaos; respond to crisis through healthy creative expressions; and cope up with the stress through more mindful, empathetic, and empowering approaches.

On this World Health Day, here are some basic thoughts on health and wellbeing from psychosocial, mental health, and emotional wellbeing perspective that can be useful right now:

Wellbeing is holistic: Developing overall wellbeing is the key. The COVID-19 affects people more with weak immunity. Just like physical health, our mental-emotional, social, work-life, intellectual, and spiritual wellbeing is equally important and is interdependent. This is one of the key foundations of my peace-psychology work as when these dimensions are in balance, people can experience more healing. Hence, pay attention to all these dimensions. Brisk walking, stretching, or simple exercise helps. Reading can activate critical and creative thinking, helpful for problem-solving. If you believe in the higher power or God, don’t underestimate the power of prayer psychologically. Remember, you can seek professional mental-health support online, or on a phone call, if you need urgent help.

Self-care and emotional wellbeing: Managing our mental health and emotional wellbeing plays a critical role in managing our well-informed and aware responses to the crisis. In stress, our logical reactions are hampered. Hence, emotional intelligence is important for our decision making as our creative thinking goes hand in hand with our critical thinking.  Self-care and empathy are always essential. Learn from your past coping skills. Being aware of your emotions, thoughts, and reactions are the first step. Accept your emotions and find ways to express them daily. Different forms of art – storytelling, painting, doodling, music, poetry, and writing – and humor have been helping people globally to cope up with the crisis and inner healing. You can manage anxiety through experiential and relaxing stress management techniques such as simple deep breathing, guided meditation, grounding, and gratitude journals. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Safe spaces, not productivity: We are living through a pandemic. It’s okay to react abnormally to an abnormal situation. Productivity is not the goal right now; your wellbeing and safety are. Many are feeling isolated at home and due to anxiety and fear, energy drains to do anything. And we have to be mindful of not creating pressure for them to see this crisis as a challenge for them to create or excel. It’s okay to just be. Let’s mindfully create safe spaces in our circles and online platforms. For children, create safe routines and reschedule – they need predictability.

You can control how you, as an individual, can contribute towards your and the community’s safety and wellbeing by following the guidelines, self-care, and supporting others in need.

Facts not stigma: Choose a couple of reliable sources of information to help you differentiate between facts and rumors. Unnecessary information on social media can add to your stress. Only listen to experts and professionals. This can save you from potentially contributing to the dangerous stigma against COVID-19 patients, suspects, and survivors. They need our empathy.

Physical distancing, not social: Social distancing is the wrong term. It’s more about physical distancing. Try to stay connected socially with your loved ones through phones and online media. But be mindful – don’t be online round the clock – that can get toxic.

Working from home: This can be a new experience for many, causing stress, impacting the relationship dynamics and the use of space at home. Create healthy boundaries. Create your work-corner if you can. Stick to the working-schedule, so you have family-time, and space for yourself, including non-technology time for yourself and others around you.

Locus of control: Some things are beyond our locus of control. Create two lists – things you can control and things you can’t, and then focus on the former. You can control how you, as an individual, can contribute towards your and the community’s safety and wellbeing by following the guidelines, self-care, and supporting others in need.

Reflection: Everything has slowed down. People are spending more time with themselves due to social distancing. It has made them try to pay more attention to their health, and on what they are eating, drinking, and feeling. Instead of asking: why is this happening to me? You can engage with yourself reflectively by asking: how can I better understand or learn what is happening and possibly create some meaning out of it? Being mindful of our own emotions, thoughts, behavior, and responses, our responsibilities and accountability can help us create a new world together which can be more reasonable, empathetic, compassionate and welcoming for all.

I would like to dedicate this post to all the healthcare workers and professionals, first respondents, and everyone else directly working on ground and frontlines to save every single living being.

Question, if I may: How can you build better health for yourself and others around you, individually and collectively?

The author is a peace-psychologist and the founding executive director of her own NGO, Paigaam: A Message for Peace. She is also co-director of The Kashmir Institute.

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