As Told To Us by a Mental Health Professional
When the lockdown period began, I noticed that social media was flooded with posts about ‘staying positive’ and ‘being productive’ while staying at home. From a word here, to a post there – before I knew it – this concept of ‘positivity and productivity during a pandemic‘ snowballed into entire pages, campaigns and challenges! It spread through Instagram and Facebook like wildfire.
When I saw this, my first thought was: sure, this approach could lead to a temporary spike in motivation and optimism, but in other words – it could also be a distraction from allowing us to completely acknowledge and process how immensely challenging this period truly is. And on the days that we potentially struggle to cope with these ‘socially acceptable’ methods, we can end up feeling either guilt or shame – if not both.
Within the mental health sphere – there is an agreement that the effects of this pandemic consists of a shared experience of collective trauma amongst people. But what does that mean? How does it affect us? And more importantly, what impact does adopting positivity and pushing productivity during a pandemic have on our mental health?
Let’s begin with what it means.
It means that the uncertainty and anxiety this pandemic has brought about has put our brains and bodies into a state of stress – whether we are aware of it or not. And being in a continuous state of stress and trauma not only decreases our ability to deal with whatever is happening around us, but also function effectively.
How does it affect us?
As different beings it is important to recognize and acknowledge that we all absorb and respond to stress in different ways. For one, you could find yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious. For another, you can feel zoned out or spacey. You may find comfort in binge watching a familiar television show, working long hours, cleaning out your closet, sometimes crying or just trying to take control of whatever you can around you.
This is understandable, as under the current circumstances you are responding in the ways you best know how and are using tools that are available to you.
But what happens when we hold ourselves to the expectations of continuously exhibiting positivity and productivity during a pandemic?
In many ways, adopting a positive attitude has found to have a myriad of benefits that is directly linked to better mental and physical health. Moreover, having a positive approach can also help us get through difficult situations and contribute to living a more fulfilling life in the long term.
However, there are times when adopting such an attitude without adapting to the situation can impact our mental health. This can cause us to bypass our true feelings (a survival technique) leading to denial, dismissing or numbing of emotions, development of physical concerns and/or trauma responses.
Additionally, I also noticed that, another suggested method listed by many articles about being productive is to follow a set routine. For those of us who do not have a routine, this may seem like mammoth task. Like attempting to climb a mountain without having the correct tools, expertise and experience to do so. But even for those who do follow a routine, we have to take into account that besides our regular work, our energies are also being diverted towards many additional activities. These include cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, other chores and taking care of those around us. Thus, proving this to be difficult endeavor. And when we struggle or continue to push ourselves to keep going on as is, possibilities of burnout, guilt, shame, anger or even frustration can show up.
Thus, under the pressure of incorporating positivity and productivity during a pandemic – we are being told to hold ourselves to function at our optimal levels, but to what end?
And so, that leaves me to the last part: How can we cope with this increased stress?
At a time like this, what we require is more care, comfort and nourishment.
In terms of your daily life, list down some of the basic yet essential activities that you need to do during the day and begin from there. For example, brushing, bathing, eating and sleeping. Do a check-in every morning to see how much energy you have and define your schedule and tasks for the day accordingly. I find it helpful to list tasks or activities based on my energy ratings – low, medium and high.
Some of the ways you can cope is by exploring tools such as music, art or exercise that bring about a sense of satisfaction and joy. This by extension, also has neurological and psychological benefits. Find ways to access hope, like reading or listening to good news segments. Feeling it within yourself and spreading it with those around you, can improve your mood and enhance the overall quality of your life.
It is important to focus more on the things that replenish your energy banks and maintain your physical and mental health.
Furthermore, instead of criticizing yourself for feeling a certain emotion or responding in a particular manner, leave room to understand, validate and accept how you really feel.
Try telling yourself something like “this is hard and it is extremely difficult to be positive at the moment, and that is okay”.
Acknowledge the thought and emotion without judgment. And, ask yourself ”what are some little big things that have helped me cope during this time?”
But most importantly, attempt to practice and direct compassion and kindness to yourself for your daily struggles. Especially during this novel and challenging period.