How I Manage My Mental Health During the Pandemic

As if struggling to find long term employment was hard enough, 2020 threw the coronavirus pandemic into the mix. Probably, just to make things interesting. Like millions across the globe, Singapore went into a circuit breaker lockdown in March (I think). I thought I would be okay with staying home as a proud introvert. But being in constant lockdown and only being with my parents have proven to come with its own set of challenges. I swear there were days where I just go crazy between reading the news about a slow economy and the hastened spreading of the virus. It felt like I was stuck in a horrible nightmare that wouldn’t end no matter how hard the kick was. 

Being in a limbo of worrying about employment and perpetually trying to stay positive has been my 2020. However, this trying period has proven to me that I should be more active in managing my anxiety and depression. I’ve used every tool in my toolbox to make sure my head stays afloat and thought it might be useful to share what tools I used to remain sane in this period of insanity. It’s important to give yourself some level of control even in a situation where it seems to be out of your hands. So here it is, 6 ways I try to take care of my mental health during this pandemic. 

1. Deep Breathing Exercises

and Meditation 

Meditation has been a real game-changer for me this past couple of years. I try to meditate on a regular basis. Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day, I make it a point to sit down and get it done. I usually thank myself later because it helps clear my mind and reset my brain. 

I used to always wait until I’m in an emotional turmoil before I meditate. But my everyday meditation practices have equipped me with strength and stability to overcome any unexpected breakdowns. As an avid overthinker, it also allows me to have better control of my thoughts. I do find myself in this downward spiral of negative thoughts and I would catch myself before going down any further. Even just uttering the word “stop” aloud helps me from tumbling any further into a rabbit hole of self-doubt. There are many apps you can download or Youtube videos that you can find. Personally, I’ve been using Headspace for 3 years now and it’s been a kind saviour. 

2. Be mindful of

what you feed your brain

Your mind is an Eden and you should be mindful of what you allow in it. Just like how one would eat fruits and vegetables while staying away from junk food, you should be mindful of what you watch, listen, or read. To each its own but I am very careful of what I feed my brain to ensure that I either am mentally strong to overcome it or to just prevent a panic attack. 

Just like everyone, I have tremendous appreciation for TV shows and films. I could watch anything from cliche Hallmark movies to every Christopher Nolan film. But I’m particular when it comes to what I allow myself to watch because I get very absorbed into the emotions of the film or TV show especially if it’s as depressing as an episode of Handmaid’s Tale. I remember being absolutely depressed after watching 500 Days of Summer with my sister and couldn’t explain to her why I had remained silent throughout our lunch date and ride home together. I get into ugly crying sessions after watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. The extreme level of emotions in these shows makes great TV but it also sends me into emotional tailspins that take days to unwind. 

Now, I either avoid those “triggering” shows at all costs or brace myself mentally before watching them. I’m mindful to not watch them on any flights because I don’t want to add more stress to an already stressful experience. A great film or TV show is not worth me spending days later trying to get myself out of bed. 

3. Gaining control

with daily routines

Life as we know it is unpredictable and might not always be in our control. So I use my daily routines as a way to give myself some control in my life. What I like about routines especially bedtime routines is that it gives helps me calm myself in a mindless yet mindful way. In a way, routines are mindless as your body has been trained to move in a methodical way. However, you also have to be mindful of them since it sends a signal to your brain that you have control over yourself. 

Bedtime routines are nothing new and have been known to be a way to signal your brain to wind down and get ready for bed. It can be as simple as brushing your teeth and going through your skincare routine before bed. Make a mental checklist of what you want to have done and slowly check them off. 

I don’t allow myself to have too strict a routine because I can’t get rather impatient with myself if I missed out on something. This would then defeat the whole purpose of having a routine. I used to have full-blown mental meltdowns in my teenage years when my morning routine was disrupted by an unexpected late wake-up call. It’s important to allow routines to have some level of flexibility where you can adapt when necessary.

4. Read books,

instead of scrolling through

These days, I find myself away from Netflix and finding comfort in the simplicity of a book. My reading habit was something I cultivated only as an adult and have been supported by my monthly book club meetings. If anything book club has taught me, it’s that it’s not just about reading and getting through books, but it’s about engaging with the content even if it’s bad. Reading comes with a lot of concentration and little distraction which is great for an overthinker like me. 

There is a variation of genres for you to explore. Personally, I enjoy non-fiction, autobiographies, and self-help books. But I have grown to like fiction especially dystopian themed books and even a little sci-fi. Find what you like and then explore to other genres. 

As a typical millennial and a visual person, I sometimes find it difficult to remain focus on a book especially as compared to the fast feedback you get from Instagram and Twitter. What I do to encourage myself is to set goals when I’m reading. Whether it’s setting a target number of pages or committing to a set period of time, these little benchmarks will help you. Make it a priority and stick to it! Plus, I believe reading helps me become a better writer. 

5. Exercise

and breaking a sweat

I’m someone who has struggled with my weight and my appearance for as long as I can remember. I used to play everything and anything when I was in school but struggled when that structure didn’t exist in adulthood. I would start exercising or going for a run. Then, I  would fall sick and stop for a year. It has really been a journey of true-ups and downs. I decided to begin again this April but with a promise of not focusing on losing weight. 

For the past 3 months, I get up in the morning and sweat it out for a whole hour. I have always hated running with a passion. I promised myself that for that one hour I would do anything that would make my heart pumped. Whether it’s cardio or yoga, I have gratefully committed to this lifestyle and it’s been great. I feel more stable emotionally and I breathe better. I mean I still struggle through mountain climbers and vinyasa flows. But I have yet to allow myself to give up because of the stability it gives me.  

6. Cooking

and baking

This one is a bit iffy for me because it has sent me down both roads of happiness and an emotional tailspin, especially with baking. The latter is because of factors that I can’t control which leads to me feeling out of control. Unlike cooking, baking can be rather scientific and specific so I genuinely get upset that my oven breaks down as I’m about to bake or when my whipped cream is not whipping. I’m still working on it. 

But I have to say I have discovered a whole new level of love for cooking where there’s slightly more room for error and on-the-spot improvisations. I’m learning a lot about herbs, how to improve my cooking and cooking tools. Before, I just thought about following a recipe and ta-da. Now, I realize the specific reasons why you use butter instead of olive oil. And the importance of prepping your ingredients beforehand. It has given me great satisfaction as I continue to learn and grow my repertoire. 

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