Dear Beauts and Beauties.
Here are some tips on how to look after your mental and physical well-being during holidays, celebrations, and self-isolation.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic some of our holiday plans would have changed last minute and some of us have faced the holidays by ourselves. This is a challenging and potentially lonely time, but try remind yourself that it will pass. There will be lots of hugs, chances to see loved ones, opportunities to meet and celebrations in the future. Right now, we need to also keep reminding ourselves to be as kind as possible to ourselves and others.
Marking special occasions during the pandemic:
For many of us, this time of year is a time for finding joy in the planning and celebrating of various festivals and celebrations that bring families and friends together over the summer holidays. With varying levels of lock down restrictions in place across South Africa and the rest of the world, it is safe to assume that this year’s celebrations have been very different to those in years gone by.
We know that many people have been under the highest lock down restrictions for Diwali, Hanukkah, Pancha Ganapati, Kwanzaa, Christmas and New Year. Most of the religious festivals at this time of year celebrate prosperity, hope and light – and it is important that we hold onto the meaning of these celebrations all the more if we cannot mark them in the way we might have in the past.
Coping with the disappointment that you may not be able to mark an occasion in the usual way, particularly events which have special meaning, can be challenging. You may feel a range of emotions such as grief and sadness, which is completely understandable. Accepting the reality of our situation without holding on to the hope that maybe things will return to ‘normal’ in time, can help. If you can reduce the gap between your expectations of the ‘perfect holiday’ and the reality of what’s possible, you can plan how to balance safety and celebration.
We will have to be more creative in how we join in the festivities but, in years to come, talking about how we celebrated in 2020 and 2021 may well become one of our most cherished memories – precisely because we were asked to strip back and focus on the meaning.
Try and enjoy the festivities as much as you can;
While it’s natural to want to be with your loved ones in person, ensuring they are as protected as possible from Coronavirus may be the greatest gift you can give this year.
Speak to your family and friends in advance to decide on alternative ways that you can mark a holiday or special occasion. We all hope that by the time the occasion arrives that there will be some way of coming together, but the fact is that we don’t know. Making a loose plan is a good idea – but be prepared for it to change as well.
Perhaps you’ll decide to gather via online video link to eat a meal together or play party games. Or perhaps you’ll choose to support a charitable organisation together, raise money or get involved in helping others in your community, subject to the rules in your area. This can create a sense of belonging and purpose, reducing feelings of isolation.
Being kind and focusing on the good you can do can be a real boost to your mental well being. Kindness matters, particularly now when people may be feeling the effect of lock down restrictions more acutely. Even something simple like sending flowers or a letter about everything you like about the person and how grateful you are for them could really make a difference to someone’s day.
Taking the time to do a good turn for someone else can also reduce your stress, improve your mood and increase happiness.
Other pressures such as concerns about job and financial security, worries about the health of family and friends, or feeling low because you can’t be physically near people who are important to you, can often be heightened during the holidays. Similarly, if you are dealing with grief or bereavement, celebrations can be particularly challenging.
If you are feeling down, talking to people can lighten your load. Likewise, if you notice that someone you care about is showing signs of distress, ask them how they are feeling and what they need.
It’s good to keep in mind that while preparing a celebration can be a happy and exciting time for many, some people can feel under a lot of pressure to create the perfect experience for their loved ones. This can cause increased stress, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy which may be heightened this year with the additional barriers in place. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the extra demands of the season, try to balance your sense of obligation against your need for self-care.
Going for a walk, doing something you enjoy or mindfulness techniques like yoga, meditation or breathing exercises can help.
It is important to remember that not everybody has someone to celebrate with, and that some people may be experiencing feelings of loneliness and isolation.
How to celebrate during the restrictions
- Focus on kindness– try to divert your attention away from what you can’t have and instead focus on what kind things you can do for others and for yourself.
- Be there for each other – try to have conversations with family and friends about how you’re feeling, listen to how others are coping and act with empathy and understanding.
- Take time to be grateful – appreciate the joyful little moments. Reflecting on all you have to be grateful for can really lift your mood.
- Gift giving – if you feel the need to buy more gifts than usual – perhaps to compensate for celebrations being different this year – remember that this is a normal feeling, but not something you need to do. We’re all in this together and you and your gifts are enough. You don’t need to compensate for things beyond your control. If money is tight this year, remember not to stretch beyond your means and consider doing something creative or thoughtful rather than spending more money.
- Be aware of overindulging – regardless of whether we can have large celebrations or not, it’s important to keep an eye on what you’re drinking, eating and spending. Some people may turn to alcohol, food, shopping and illegal drugs to help cope with stress.
- Celebrating with children – why not start a ‘living history’ scrap booking project to commemorate how you celebrated in 2020? Explain that in years to come this will be an important document of how we lived. Similarly, older children and adults may want to journal their thoughts and feelings at this time. Additionally, this may be a time your children usually get together with cousins or their friends. You could try to keep them connected through video calls, so they feel included.
- Do something different– this year you could let someone you know that you’re thinking of them with a heartfelt, handwritten note. If you can’t buy stamps or get to the post office, you could always send a digital card through social media or email.
- Maintain traditions – you could try to stick to the traditions that you have in place. Whether it’s making a particular meal, or decorating your home on a certain day, by maintaining these traditions you can create a sense of normality.
- Stick to the rules– if you’re feeling under pressure from friends or family to break the rules, remember why we are in lock down. It is for the safety of everyone, including ourselves, to stick to government guidelines. By following the rules, we all contribute to a healthier society.
Look after your mental and physical well-being while you stay home
More of us will be spending a lot of time at home and many of our regular social activities will no longer be available to us.
It will help to try and see it as a different period in your life, and not necessarily a bad one, even if you didn’t choose it.
It will mean a different rhythm of life, a chance to be in touch with others in different ways than usual. Be in touch with other people regularly on social media, e-mail or on the phone, as they are still good ways of being close to the people who matter to you.
Create a new daily routine that priorities looking after yourself. You could try reading more or watching movies, having an exercise routine, trying new relaxation techniques, or finding new knowledge on the internet. Try and rest and view this as a new unusual experience that might have its benefits.
Make sure your wider health needs are being looked after such as having enough prescription medicines available to you.
1. Plan your day
We are all adjusting to a new, rather strange, way of life. This can be a risk to our mental well being. As tempting as it might be to stay in pyjamas all day, regular routines are essential for our identity, self-confidence and purpose. Try to start your day at roughly the same time you usually would and aim to set aside time each day for movement, relaxation, connection and reflection.
2. Move more every day
Being active reduces stress, increases energy levels, can make us more alert and help us sleep better. Explore different ways of adding physical movement and activity to your day and find some that work best for you. Even at home, there will be lots of ways to exercise and keep your body moving. There are awesome free exercise videos you can watch on YouTube. We also recommend this fabulous app https://www.jeff.fitness/
3. Try a relaxation technique
Relaxing and focusing on the present can help improve your mental health and lighten negative feelings. Try some different meditation or breathing exercises to see what helps. For example, sometimes we can be so tense that we do not even remember what being relaxed feels like.
Progressive muscle relaxation teaches you to recognize when you are starting to get tense and how to relax.
4. Connect with others
Staying at home, especially if you live on your own, can feel lonely. Find creative ways to keep in touch with co-workers, friends, family, and others to help you (and them) feel more connected and supported.
Explore ways of connecting that work for you, whether that’s by post, over the phone, social media, or video-chat. This could be anything, from sharing a cup of tea over video, playing an online game together, or simply sending a supportive text-message.
5. Take time to reflect and practice self-compassion
Make time every day to reflect on what went well. It’s important to recognize your successes and the things you are grateful for, no matter how small. Consider keeping a gratitude journal each day where you could write two or three of these things every night before you go to bed.
Mindfulness techniques may also help you focus on the present rather than dwelling on unhelpful thoughts (though they may not be helpful for those experiencing more severe depression).
6. Improve your sleep
Feelings of uncertainty and changes to daily life may mean you have more difficulty sleeping.
There is a lot you can do to improve your sleep. Aim to go to bed and get up at the same time each day, even at the weekend if you can, and try to get some natural sunlight (by opening your curtains and windows) where possible. This helps to regulate your body clock which can help you sleep better.
Wind down before bed by avoiding using your phone, tablet, computer or TV for an hour before bedtime.
Managing Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Resources from the WHO
WHO guidance on Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak as part of risk communication and community engagement technical guidance for COVID-19 response.
A one-page leaflet with ways to manage stress.
A document describing how best to manage social stigma, focusing on language, facts and stigma towards health staff.
Q&A about COVID-19 with Aiysha Malik from the Department of Mental Health on Twitter.
A range of resources providing in-depth information on the potential impact on mental health and other psycho-social aspects of COVID-19. Produced by the United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference group for Mental Health and Psycho social Support.
This article published recently in the Lancet provides a summary of the evidence relating to quarantine and its psychological effects from a review of 24 academic papers.
Prepared by the University of Newcastle it provides a thought-provoking description of uncertainty and models of understanding and managing it.
Written as an op-ed by staff of the Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health at the University of Cape Town the piece reflects on the impact of COVID-19 in South Africa, with a particular focus on mental health.
Written for the Harvard Business Review the article explores the role of grief in managing during the Coronavirus.
The IASSIDD have put together a wide range of resources focusing on those with intellectual and developmental disabilities including social stories, visual aids and others for parents, families, educators and children.
Children, Adolescents and Parenting
Messages for Mothers – a range of organisations including Embrace, the Perinatal Mental Health Project, Grow Great and Side by Side have worked together to form the Messages for Mothers Alliance. They provide a range of resources and information for mothers during this COVID-19 period.
6x one-page documents with useful practical tips for parents created by the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the Lifelong Parenting Health Initiative. These are also available in Xhosa and Afrikaans. Additional relevant resources from the same group are also available on Keeping children safe online, Family budgeting, Family harmony, Learning through play, When we get angry, Parenting in crowded homes and communities.
An easy to share one-pager with tips for parents developed by the French Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in collaboration with UCT, CARA, SAACAPAP, IACAPAP, and ASA. Now translated into Xhosa, Afrikaans, Zulu, Sepedi, Setswana, and French.
This illustrated book by Elizabeth Jenner and others is an engaging and easily accessible book for children. With pictures drawn by Axel Scheffler (of Gruffalo fame) it’s an engaging way for young ones to learn about Coronavirus.
A useful series of pictures and words explaining to children what they can expect if they go to get tested for COVID-19.
A one-page leaflet with ways children can manage stress put together by the WHO.
Produced by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard School of Public Mental Health this 3-page document describes how to talk to children at their developmental level and practical tips for what can be done as a parent
A one-page graphic with practical and simple strategies parents can use.
As part of the COVID-19 South African resource portal developed by the department of health this series of videos put together for South African chlldren covers a variety of subjects, including how to wash your hands and why we should stay at home. A great way of children to be told about COVID-19.
A children’s story on Youtube about social distancing.
Created in Belgium this is a short, engaging story told through words and pictures explaining to children what Coronavirus is.
Provides a broad range of information focusing on the mental health of children and adolescents. Also gives a large selection of excellent resources and links to individual country child and adolescent mental health associations with a focus on COVID-19 (e.g. American Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, British Psychological Association etc).
A podcast by the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health. Two experts discuss how the disruptions caused by coronavirus may impact on autistic children. They also provide tips on how to keep well as a parent, and reliable sources for coronavirus updates.
Produced by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network the 5-page fact sheet provides a range of information and tips for parents to manage during the COVID-19 outbreak.
A 19-page document by University of Reading and Oxford with advice for parents, carers and people that work with children and young people. Explores and describes a range of practical tips that can be used.
A wide selection of resources from the U.S. cased Child Mind Institute for families, parents and clinicians during COVID-19.
In conjunction with Philedelphia Children’s Hospital and others this Health Care Toolbox provides a collection of tips and strategies for parents.
Credible Updated Information sources for COVID-19
World Health Organisation website providing country and technical guidance, tips to protect yourself, trainings on COVID-19 preparedness, travel advice, and more.
Up-to-date announcements from the WHO.
Developed by the Department of Health this website provides a range of local resources, including information, videos, press releases and up-to-date news about COVID-19 in South Africa.
The Department of Health provides up-to-date information on COVID-19 in that province.
A map with an up-to-date total globally and from individual countries
A comprehensive website from John Hopkins University with a wide variety of information, podcasts, resources and news items relating to COVID-19.
This resource brings together COVID-19 content from across The Lancet Journals as it is published. All of their COVID-19 content is free to access.
This is Elsevier’s free health and medical research on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.
Resources for healthcare workers
A collection of podcasts, meditations, blog posts and talks this website provides practical, actionable ways for health care workers to manage during times of stress and anxiety.
Developed by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network this 7 page document describes the experience of secondary traumatic stress, understanding who is at risk, and strategies for prevention and intervention
A Health Care Toolbox with a range of tips and strategies for health care workers to manage during COVID-19.
Recently published in the Journal of American Medical Association this peer reviewed paper is entitled ‘Factors associated with mental health outcomes of health care workers exposed to Coronavirus Disease 2019.
Developed by the National Academy of Medicine this short document outlines a series of short strategies and tips health care workers can do during COVID-19.
Written by Professor Neil Greenberg and colleagues and published in the British Medical Journal this article set out measures that healthcare managers can use to protect the mental health of healthcare staff having to make morally challenging decisions.
Written by Professor Richard Williams from University of South Wales and colleagues this discussion document is intended to aid NHS leaders and clinical and general managers to create an agenda for discussion with staff in team meetings with a view to working out how they might respond to the needs of staff and provide them with support. The document has insights and guidance that is relevant and applicable to the South African context.