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"In January 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of a new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. WHO stated that there is a high risk of COVID-19 spreading to other countries around the world. In March 2020, WHO made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic."

WHO, public/ government authorities are acting to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. This is a time of immense mobilization of all our resources to contain and even mitigate the impact on the people. The Covid-19 outbreak, which threatens to impact our physical health, has already impacted the mental health of many of us. The uncertainty, the fear, the threat of the illness and even death of those close to you and yourself, the loss of income due to curfew/lockdown, difficulty keeping family fed and procuring required medication can indeed take a toll on a person who is not prone to mental health issues, even more so for a person who has mental health condition has to figure out a way to weather the storm from this two pronged attack from COVID-19.

I have been having mental health problems silently for the past few decades, diagnosed in the last six years. I am on medications as I suffer from GAD, OCD and depression. It took me years to come to somewhat of a truce with my condition. I acknowledge it and allow space for it, when required instead of fighting it tooth and nail (a futile exercise); and it reminds me on and off, that it is there, my room mate in this mind of mine and we have to respect each others space.

When I first heard of the COVID-19 out break in Wuhan, I was concerned reading the news but not worried per-se. COVID-19 was still far away from my idyllic island home. Come March shit got real. Sri Lanka announced curfew to contain the pandemic from taking firm root here. I watched day by day as the news came in, counting the numbers, that were adding up, people quarantined, those with full blown COVID-19 being sent to IDH. News of loved ones living abroad as the pandemic took firm root and then spread insidiously through Europe, the UK, Australia and the USA. Loved ones who are able, who were heading back and then being sent off to quarantine centers, others who were students stuck abroad and unable to make it home. Worrying about my elderly Mother, Mother in Law and Domestic, who couldn’t afford to contract this disease as it was deemed deadly to those above a particular age.

I slept with my phone next to me, constantly checking on messages, and the news was dark. It gave a countdown of the people affected, the areas under risk and was a chilling countdown which seemed of apocalyptic proportions. The moment one area seemed under control, you heard of another person or two, affected elsewhere. Watching the situation unfold in Italy and in Spain was scary. The FB posts, watching BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera and then wading through all the messages that came on whatsapp, some useful information, but most fake news, fear mongering and gossip. This coupled with curfew, and the hunter gatherer in you that had lain dormant since caveman days kicked in. also the many messages from your hometown, of people who were on daily wages struggling to manage, requesting help and you sitting at home trying to move mountains while stuck to solid ground just shattered all equanimity.

At first I coped quite well, realizing this was the will of God, and he would not burden humanity beyond its capacity. “We are all born and we must all die one day” – I hung on to this as well until the ends frayed. While realizing that this was what previous generations and times had gone through, many times and survived, and that we too shall survive this, and had to quickly come up with coping mechanisms to keep that uncomfortable bubbling in my stomach and mind at bay. They are:

  1. Limit your time watching news, and this goes for all types of social media- Although you have this massive urge to keep checking on what is happening, control it to twice a day, or less.
  2. Try to stick to your usual routine Pre Curfew and pre COVID19
  3. Exercise!!! I cannot emphasize the importance of daily exercise on your mental health. There are many people conducting online workouts, handing out home workout plans. Remove the towels and dust the cobwebs off that treadmill, orbitrack and use it
  4. Eat healthy- now is not the time to go on a junk food binge. Stay healthy and have a small treat every day, availability of sweet treat permitting.
  5. If you are working from home, resist the temptation to go straight from bed to desk. Exercise, shower, dress (albeit comfy clothes) and hit that work. Please time yourself or you will find yourself over extending
  6. Take a proper lunch break, tea break before heading back to your desk
  7. Breath – whenever you find yourself stressed, take some deep breaths and calm yourself. Practice meditation and Yoga
  8. If you have children who are stressed- speak to them honestly and simply. Explain the situation and tell them with curfew and lockdown they are not likely to catch this infection. Make them feel safe. Try to get them some study packs, art packs and other online subject matters that would interest them. Do not think that you have to keep them entertained 24/7- IT IS OK FOR CHILDREN TO BE BORED. They don’t have to be doing something every second. Cut yourself some slack. This is unprecedented times!
  9. Listen to music, watch movies, read a book
  10. PRAY
  11. Sleep – lay in bed and chill without guilt
  12. Write down your thoughts.
  13. Help people who need help, but don’t kill yourself over it
  14. It is ok if you don’t run a 5 star Michelin restaurant in your kitchen – go basic
  15. Adapt- no coconut? Add dairy milk/powdered milk. No coffee? Switch to tea.
  16. Take it easy with the booze.
  17. Pick up a hobby you always wanted to try or
  18. Just chill, sit still and enjoy the quite (unless kids are screaming)
  19. Make it a habit to not worry about things you cannot change
  20. If you are on medication- take them religiously. Now is not the time to taper off.

Remember, we are all in this together. Take care and stay safe.

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