With the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a range of restrictions on daily living was enforced across the world, throwing us into a space of fear, anxiety and uncertainty. All of this happened quite rapidly, and a lot has changed in the span of a few months. Children are going to school virtually, major events are cancelled, and “social distancing” has become a staple of our day-to-day vocabulary. Additionally, many families are experiencing the burden of financial difficulties, employment uncertainty, and worries about relatives and friends in other parts of the world. And then there’s the worst of them all: the fears of contracting COVID-19, having COVID-19, and losing life due to COVID-19.

The nature of the current circumstances make us more susceptible to mental health problems, affecting the way we think, feel, and relate to others. This vulnerability is exacerbated by blurred boundaries, the lack of opportunities for outdoor socialization, and either confinement with family members or isolation for anyone in quarantine. In this uncertain time, even people with the best mental health are finding themselves feeling stressed and demotivated. Across the world, there have been reports of increased rates of depression and anxiety, with mental health professionals citing this as an ongoing traumatic experience for all. With reference to specific illness, predictions indicate a rise in incidence/prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, health anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and mood disorders.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently issued a statement which highlights that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a “global mental health crisis”, which needs to be as much a focus of our efforts as the illness itself. Particularly vulnerable are those with previous diagnosis of mental illness, people who are living alone, households with low annual income, and younger individuals missing out on crucial formative experiences. Moreover, essential workers such as medical professionals, delivery personnel, and civil services are at the highest risk due to an increase in everyday exposure. It is thus expected that the impact of this pandemic on our collective mental health will continue to prevail long after restrictions are lifted. It is going to be a psychological challenge for all of us to return to a new normal way of living.

While things may seem grim at the moment, it is also worth exploring the unique opportunities that this time has provided us. Across the world, we are witnessing the interesting ways in which people are coming together to cope with this challenge. While we are physically distant from many of our loved ones, we may be more virtually connected than ever before. Difficult experiences have a strange way of putting things into perspective, and they allow us to reevaluate our priorities. Sewn into the human fabric is the ability to adapt and survive. Early findings from a recent study at University College London, which surveyed 75,000 people across the UK, have found that rates of anxiety have decreased since the start of the lockdown. People have started adjusting to staying home, which may be a reason behind the lower rates of apprehension. There are countless ways in which we can all try on a daily basis to cope better with this situation. A few of these are listed below:

Maintain a daily routine: While the external world is out of our control, a structured routine can give us a sense of agency and normalcy. This could include self-care and daily relaxation activities such as mindfulness meditation

Stay Connected: Keep in touch with loved ones whether through social media, Zoom calls, or the occasional phone call. There is real joy to be derived from human connection, solidarity, and togetherness

Seek tiny rewards: Every day, do at least one thing that gives you a sense of accomplishment, even if it is just doing the laundry.

Take care of your health: This includes the basics: healthy diet, regular exercise and good sleep. These work as major protective factors against both physical and mental illnesses.

Sanitize your internet use: Avoid an overload of information by actively choosing how you engage with the news and online media. Filter content and consume information from reliable sources that provide a balance between positive and negative messages.

Tap into your creativity: Draw, paint, sing, write, bake, read, make videos, play games, discover music, listen to podcasts or take an online course. In all of this, remember to be compassionate towards yourself. There is no need to do a lot of things at once.

Volunteer and donate: You can avail several opportunities to support people in this challenging time. In return, you will experience more joy, a sense of purpose, and meaning – a classic win-win situation.

Seek Mental Health Support: If you find yourself struggling during this pandemic, there are easily accessible options for support, such as online support groups, mental health apps, affordable online therapy, mental health hotlines, and – if none of these work – professional psychological help.

This pandemic is already shaping up to be an important shared experience for people, and there is a deep sense of comfort in knowing that we are not alone. We are all in this together, and our best hope is that we can all become more empathetic, redefine our notion of loneliness, and help create a more resilient future. It helps to remember the one thing that is inevitable: everything will eventually get better.

Aditi Bhatia is a Lecturer in Psychology and facilitates the on-campus Wellness Support Groups at MDX Dubai.