When COVID-19 was just a whisper in the wind, who would have thought it would shake up the world and take us by storm, the way that it has today? One outcome of the pandemic has been a feeling of loneliness, widespread anxiety and fear.
Managing director of The LightHouse Arabia, Dr Saliha Afridi
Many are using this time to reflect on what really matters and finding that perhaps, the world we are discovering now is the world we will want to continue to live in, more than the one we left behind. Here, we speak to clinical psychologist and managing director of The LightHouse Arabia, Dr. Saliha Afridi, who explains the upside of staying home and says “you have to control your anxiety and not let it control you.”
What are some coping mechanisms you suggest for Covid-related anxiety?
Make some room inside of yourself for difficult emotions. A full life includes good days and bad days and then, some very bad days. We are used to living a life of privilege, comfort and luxury as well as used to having quick fixes to our problems. However, feelings are not problems to be solved, and some things are just experiences to be felt. COVID is a difficult life experience, and no one is going to come out of it unscathed.
Learn anxiety management techniques. There are many techniques based in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy that teach you how to cope with difficult emotions. Skill up. Life is full of anxieties and uncertainties - this is not about getting through COVID, this is about learning how to do life in a way that is calm even in the worst of times.
Lastly, know that anxiety is not the enemy. We should not want to get rid of anxiety. It is our anxiety that keeps us alive. If it wasn’t for our anxiety, we wouldn’t look both ways before crossing the street, or we wouldn’t wear our face mask on before going out during COVID. However, unless you learn how to listen to your anxiety and calm it down, you will continue to react rather than respond to the message that it brings you. You have to control your anxiety and not let it control you.
How can we all maintain productivity while at home?
Fill up your cup. This is even more true for people who are in caregiving professions or caregiving roles. Self-care is the oxygen that is going to get you and your family and loved ones that rely on you through this time. You do not have the luxury to choose whether you should care for yourself. It is an absolute must.
Dress for work. According to the Enclothed Cognition Theory, the clothes really do make the man or woman. Our clothes shape our attitude, beliefs and confidence about any given moment so if you are dressed in your pyjamas, you can imagine that it is how your mind will be feeling also.
Have a system for your home and your family. This means everyone meets once a week and we agree on the following week and what is needed. Have morning huddles with everyone involved to remind people of what is needed.
Keep it simple and stick to your old routine. People are thinking that this a time to do everything that they ever wanted, and they do not realise how much energy and internal resources are needed to remain calm and balanced at this time of change. Don’t add projects to your list until you have found a good rhythm to your days because you will end up overwhelming yourself.
Be kind to yourself and have a growth mindset during this experience. I hear a lot of people saying, "I don’t know how to do this." Of course you don’t know how to do this because nobody knows how to do this and no one has ever done it before. So, add the word ‘yet’ at the end of it and you create a growth mindset. “I don’t know how to do this yet” and then keep revaluating what you are doing until you get it right.
An interior view of Dr Saliha's home office
What are some strategies to shift our internal language and see the positive side of the circumstances?
Life is giving us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to slow down, to be still, and to have less external commitments. If we take the invitation, this would be the time to have in internal experience, to connect with ourselves, to build a relationship with ourselves that is not self-critical but self-compassionate.
Be very careful that the story you choose to tell about the experience is actually written using your language and not language that has been handed to you. When you use words like "isolation" and "social distancing", you are using language that is not yours and might not be your experience but it could be shaping your reality. Instead, say “I am going to stay indoors” or “I will stand two metres apart from people” because the human psyche seeks love, belonging, connection, and words like isolation and distancing will be very triggering.
One quick way to change your perspective is to say “I get to” instead of “I have to”. Saying “I get to cook” immediately reminds you of all the people in the world who might not be doing that right now because they do not have food. See how differently you feel when you say “I have to go hang out with my children” versus “I get to go hangout with my children.”
What can we all do to make sure our loved ones are okay during this unsettling time?
The best thing we can do is to stay consciously connected with them. This means we keep our conversations about things we can control and not sit and continue to speak about things that are not in our control while spending our days speculating. We have to remember that emotions are contagious and if we are being optimistic and grateful we will have an effect on people around us, and if we are negative we will also effect those around us.
Send them flowers, books, an at-home spa kit, immunity boosting kits or other things that they might enjoy. It is not only making sure that they are okay but making their day better and more positive somehow. A little thoughtfulness goes a long way.
Any additional thoughts?
There is a difference between alone and lonely. Just because you live alone does not mean your reality has to be lonely or that you are more vulnerable or developing mental health problems. Alone is an external reality, loneliness is an internal reality.
Also, solitude is different from isolation. Anyone who has done anything great in their life has had periods of solitude where they disconnected from people in their life and went into the desert, or a cave or the forest to connect with their inner spirit or a Higher Power. The Prophet Muhammed or Moses, Jesus, Buddha, or philosophers like Socrates or Nietchze or Jung, world leaders like Churchill or Obama or Gates - everyone takes time away from society.
You do not have to be compulsively connected to people all the time. This time could be a period of solitude and not one of isolation because solitude is an intention to have an internal experience alone.
Images courtesy of The LightHouse Arabia