I have always prided myself in being certain of most things. In organising my life and business around clear goals, specific plans and defined timelines. And like most overachievers, I have successfully managed to keep my head above the clouds. Mostly. I have also had my own share of struggles, confusion and disappointment. But for the most part, these have been relegated to the dusty well-worn shoe of the entrepreneurship journey and life happening.
So when Corona (Covid_19) happened, it seemed like another bad day in the office. A crisis in the making: Recognizable and therefore manageable. I, like many others, saw it as a passing storm. One to be weathered and overcome like the many other crises we had faced before and survived. Such as: running for months with negative cash flow, accumulating debt and scrambling for every morsel of business to keep the lights on. We had also seen the human face of not having enough to pay rent, put food on the table and the constant reminders from well-meaning family and friends that employment was a better struggle: safe, secure and reliable. So survival had been built in from the onset.
However, Corona is a different sort of animal. She came in small bouts and has managed to linger longer. Like a pebble cascading down a mountain side she has become a roaring avalanche. What started as a few small clusters of infection in China has grown into a full blown pandemic. Testing government and businesses everywhere but most importantly testing all of us. I have been sojourned in my small apartment for the last 4 weeks: eating, working, sleeping, washing my hands but for the most part waiting.
Waiting for better news. Waiting for worse news. Waiting for better days. Waiting for it to be over. Waiting…
Of course, I am the privileged few who can work from home.
But privilege does not confer the solace of mental peace. I have been worried, anxious and dazed. Initially, I plugged into the general enthusiasm of staying at home, avoiding traffic and having more ‘free time’ to indulge in the many interests and hobbies I had left unattended. I would wake up, go for a jog, come back, shower and then open my laptop to work for a few hours in the comfort of my sweat pants before invariably slouching on my sofa to catch up with Netflix. It became the routine, the new normal.
However, as the days have worn on, I have become less chirpy, less focused on self-improvement, more attuned to my own anxiety and stress. I have become what psychologists call the ‘worried well’. A state where you are healthy but slowly developing high levels of anxiety. Where every cough, itch, flu becomes another pronouncement one’s inevitable doom. An everyday clap back of our fragile mortality. Work has also suffered with my inability to focus, restlessness, neglect, missed deadlines, reduced creativity and problem solving has led me to fish on social media for every morsel of news and updates. An uncanny paralysis chewing itself at the seams.
But in the midst of these I have also found a lucid oasis to regroup and reshape my own state of mind. Trying to adapt to the new normal while safeguarding my own mental health. This is how I am navigating my situationship with some amazing tips from Emmanuel Essien, a psychologist:
- Create a daily schedule for yourself which should include regular daily stuff, leisure and daily work targets. Try to stick to it.
- Stop compulsive checking of chats, news sites, etc. If the barrage of forwarded messages is becoming too much, turn off your data or turn off your WhatsApp. Do something else instead. Work, see a movie, etc.
- If you’re feeling very panicky, talk to someone. Opening up helps a lot.
- Offer reassurance to someone in distress. It will help you as well.
- Decide not to believe every message forwarded on social media. Mass hysteria is a thing. It could get to you.
- Make sure you adhere to safety tips from standard sources e.g. the WHO.
- Get reliable information from standard sources only.
- Meditation, prayer, listening to calming music, etc. Do whatever works for you, to calm your mind.
- Be careful what information you share in front of kids. Children are prone to anxiety which can have more impact than we imagine because kids are very vulnerable. It is good to share simple, easy to understand information. Limited, to avoid panic, but enough for education and self-care.
- Spend time with family, playing games, joking, seeing a movie together, etc. Will distract from all the panic.
- Self-quarantine doesn’t have to be a hellish wait. Maybe revisit unfinished projects that have been pending for a while and give your attention to them.
- Get enough sleep! Very important. Go to bed at regular times. Staying up to WhatsApp or browsing the internet will only worsen anxiety.
But ask for help either from a professional therapist or from family and friends. For me, I have a weekly session with my therapist and I talk daily to my family and friends who have been a pillar of support and solidarity.
If you would like help there are amazing online resources provided by organisations such Wazi or Mental 360 that provide mental health support. If you are suffering from domestic abuse or do not feel safe at home, you can access useful information through rAInbow, an online chat bot or contact your nearest chief, police or hospital for support.
Ultimately, remember that it is OK not to be OK.