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Things You Should Do During The Pandemic To Cope With Anxiety And Take Care Of Your Mental Health

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

If you’re not sure how to handle the onslaught of news, panic, fear and anxiety about the coronavirus — you’re not alone. The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak means life has changed for all of us. It may cause you to feel anxious, stressed, worried, sad, bored, lonely or frustrated. 

It’s important to remember it is acceptable to feel this way and that everyone reacts differently — for most of us these problematic feelings will pass. Psychiatrists say there is a universal presence of anxiety due to the coronavirus, but specific categories of people are highly vulnerable. 

  • The first category involves those dealing with poverty and unemployment. 
  • The second category includes those with psycho-social issues such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, etc.  
  • There is also a small minority of people who have COVID-19 infection or have a family member who has tested positive, who have reported heightened anxiety.  
  • Many frontline workers, such as police, medical professionals and on duty workforce are also extremely susceptible to stress. 

We don’t know how we’ll be impacted or how bad things might get. And that makes it all too easy to catastrophize and spiral out into overwhelming dread and panic. But there are many things you can do according to medical experts to cope with the uncertainty that’s accompanying COVID-19.    

Stay Informed by Trusted Sources (Not Obsessively):  

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Facts will minimize your fear. It’s essential to be wary of where you’re getting your news. With all the headlines of news outlets there’s a risk of an infodemic where misinformation spreads. It can lead to increased anxiety and fear. 

Catherine Belling, PhD, an Associate Professor of Medical Education at Northwestern University, explains that for those with anxiety, imaginations can often jump straight to worst-case scenarios or confusion if you’re not relying on trusted sources.

Different resources work best for different people and that’s critical to keep in mind as well. Suppose you’re a parent wanting to talk to your children about COVID-19, for example. In that case, resources like comics, courtesy of NPR, can help explain the situation in easy-to-understand terms and a reassuring tone. You can also lookup to The World Health Organization and your National authority for reliable information.  

Reading about the political and economic implications of COVID-19 can also induce anxiety, Belling mentions. Just remember that ultimately only you can be the judge of what you need to know — and it’s okay if you need to set limits on that.  

Remember What You Can Control: 

“It’s not realistic to hunker down and cut yourself off from everything at this point because the harm caused to your life would probably outweigh the potential harm caused to you by the virus,” Belling explains. “The most control we all have is basic, unspectacular hygiene and being patient.” 

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Because things are uncertain, remember to hold onto the facts that we do have at our disposal. What we know: COVID-19 does not affect everyone equally. The CDC reports that if you’re older or have an underlying health condition — like heart disease, lung disease or diabetes — you could be at a higher risk of serious illness. The recommendation for these populations currently is the same: avoid contact with others who are sick and wash your hands frequently.  

When you feel yourself getting caught up in fear of what might happen, try to shift your focus to things you can control. For example, you can’t control how severe the coronavirus outbreak is in your city or town, but you can take steps to reduce your risk (and the risk you’ll unknowingly spread it to others), such as: 

  • Wash your hands frequently (for at least 20 seconds) with soap and water or a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. 
  • Avoid touching your face (particularly your eyes, nose and mouth). 
  • Stay home as much as possible, even if you don’t feel sick. 
  • Avoid crowds and gatherings of 10 or more people. 
  • Avoid all non-essential shopping and travel. 
  • Keep 6 feet of distance between yourself and others when out. 
  • Get plenty of sleep, which helps support your immune system. 
  • Follow all recommendations from health authorities. 

But overall, accept that so much of the COVID-19 outbreak is out of your control. And understand your anxiety comes from a place of wanting to make sense of uncertainty — which is human.

Anxiety hates waiting and thrives on not knowing what’s going to happen next,” Belling saysSo that’s the real challenge, and it’s where all the usual anxiety-calming strategies come into play.” 

Continue Your Mindfulness Practice:  

When you feel your anxiety creeping in, try to make it your cue to turn to some mindfulness techniques to help you feel grounded again. There are many different things you can do to ease any worry spirals. You can try tactics like the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise, use one of the 4 R’s to direct your anxiety elsewhere, find a quiet space to take a break or use different questions to combat the negative voice in your head that might be perpetuating fear. Whatever you do to practice self-care — whether it’s through meditations, exercise or your routines — try to keep up with those habits now more than ever. 

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Shifting the Narrative to Cultivate Hope: 

Cultivating hope in times of fear can be challenging, but there are ways we can shift our mindset to make our anxiety feel less intense.  

We do not see the stories of recovery,” said Ken Carswell, Technical Officer, World Health Organization. “We need to shift narratives away from the number of deaths toward the number of recoveries.” 

Instead of focusing on the number of deaths, we need to shift the narratives to the number of recoveries. There usually seems to be a scarcity of positive stories about coronavirus and those who recover. And an abundance of negative uncertain stories and headlines. A sense of hope instead of fear could allow leaders and everyday citizens to stay calm, making better cooperation with one another — a vital element in defeating this outbreak. Also, give yourself permission to imagine if the feared outcome does occur — meaning you get COVID-19 — that it could be handled and you could be fine.  

The whole meaning of anxiety is that it is uncertain, which means that it always includes the possibility that the best will happen,” Belling says. 

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As Aiysha Malik, a Technical Officer at the World Health Organization’s Mental Health and Substance Use Department explained in a live-streamed Q&A session this week, “It’s really important to think about mental health as part of the public health response to COVID-19.”   

She argued: “People who might be vulnerable to experiencing stress during this time might include people who have preexisting mental health conditions or substance use conditions or who might represent other vulnerable groups. We’re not just talking about protection from COVID-19, but we’re also talking about prevention of stress and fear during this event.”   

Don’t Forget Your Empathy:  

Sometimes, anxieties can manifest in ways that hurt others. Because COVID-19 first appeared in China, people who are or appear to be Asian are now the target of spreading xenophobia, racism and discrimination — and some are even experiencing hate crimes. This phenomenon isn’t new, but it’s an opportunity to practice empathy. If you see someone experiencing microaggressions, step in if you feel comfortable enough to do so.

Arm yourself with facts from the CDC and share that “being of Asian descent does not increase the chance of getting or spreading COVID-19”. Take time to listen to others who are experiencing xenophobia or racism right now. They are also going through the same things as you. 

Overall, remember that any anxiety you’re experiencing is normal. But by setting boundaries, cultivating hope, practising empathy and remembering what you can and can’t control, you can care for your mental and emotional health throughout this outbreak.  

You’re Not in This Alone:  

There is a resource developed by Shine and Mental Health America for coping with anxiety and mental health in this global climate of uncertainty.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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