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5 challenges (and solutions) for mental health during lockdown

We’ve made it through the first few weeks of lockdown. Even if you’ve settled into your new routine of working from home, you might still be facing additional challenges that could affect your mental health.

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Here are some challenges you may be facing and possible solutions.

The challenge: Your emotions are on a roller-coaster ride

The solution: It’s natural to feel frustrated, angry or lonely. According to David Kessler, founder of grief.com, part of what we’re experiencing during the Covid-19 pandemic is different forms of grief.

“We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realise things will be different,” he told Harvard Business Review. “The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively.”

His advice for handling this emotional roller coaster is to understand the stages of grief, which aren’t linear and may not happen in the order set out below. “It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world,” he says.

Stage 1 Denial: This virus won’t affect us.

Stage 2 Anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities.

Stage 3 Bargaining: Okay, if I distance myself socially for two weeks everything will be better, right?

Stage 4 Sadness: I don’t know when this will end.

Stage 5 And, finally, acceptance: This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

Acceptance, he says is where the power lies. “We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.”

The challenge: You’re feeling disconnected or lonely

The solution: Whether you live alone or with family, you may have reached a point where you’re feeling disconnected or lonely. This is not a good place to be. Social connections give us pleasure and influence our long-term health. Dozens of studies show that people who have social support are generally happier, have fewer health problems and live longer.

Fortunately that’s where technology comes to our rescue. These days there are an abundance of video-calling platforms that helps us to stay in touch, such as FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or WhatsApp.

One of the newest additions is House Party. The free app lets you to host a virtual party with up to eight people. Once you’ve added your guests to your party, you can either catch up or pass the time by playing games like Heads Up or Trivia.

The challenge: You’re constantly distracted

The solution: Working from home comes with many distractions, whether it’s the children, pets, chores or the fridge. And being cooped up day in and day out makes them more difficult to resist. For writer Rachel Bodine, taking a break every hour or two helps her to manage distractions. “These breaks help me avoid burnout, especially when I’m working on a difficult project,” she told Business Insider.

Sticking to a routine can also help you to cope with distractions. Taking care of your own basic needs is one of the basic principles to managing your mental health in a crisis, says Itai Danovitch, chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. To do this, he suggests creating a daily schedule with clearly marked blocks of time dedicated to working, relaxing, exercising and eating.  

The challenge: You never switch off

The solution: Without a commute to and from the office, the lines between your work and personal life can quickly become blurred. It’s important that you learn how to switch off and unplug at the end of the work day. If you don’t, it will feel as though you’re working 24/7 and this can lead to burnout.

Because your home has become your office, you never technically “leave” work unless you deliberately switch off. Make it a habit to sign out of your email (on your computer and phone) and, if you’re able to, close the door to your home office. If you’ve set up office in the dining room, make a point of shutting down your computer and putting it away or closing it until the following morning.

The challenge: Your children are misbehaving  

The solution: If you’re struggling during lockdown, spare a moment for your children. Their lives have also been turned upside down and they might not understand what is happening. “Adults need to be mindful of the emotions children will be feeling during this time,” clinical psychologist Candice Cowen said in an interview on 702. Just like you, children will also experience feelings of sadness, anxiety and depression.

“Too much time on their hands can lead to destructive behaviour, such as fighting with siblings, getting up to mischief, or teens spending too much time on their phones or computers,” she says. Cowen believes that children function best when they have a routine, which also helps prevent boredom and destructive behaviour. Once you’ve drawn up a day planner for them, make sure you also stick to it, from getting dressed and having breakfast to brushing their teeth, doing schoolwork and playing.

Communication is as important. It’s important that you explain to them that lockdown is not an extended holiday. They need to keep learning; you need to keep working. Do they have questions about the COVID-19 pandemic? Answer them as honestly and as positively as you can.

Be safe, bank from home

Although we all have to do our part and stay at home during lockdown, it doesn’t mean you can’t do your banking. Use the Capitec app to pay people and accounts, buy airtime or electricity, email bank statements and manage debit orders.

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