For some, it can feel like we were barely holding it together—and then came a pandemic. Whether you feel flat, stuck or have mentally unsubscribed to 2020 since March, the year has truly put our mental health through the ringer. One in four Singaporeans felt that they weren’t in good mental health, according to Ipsos, who conducted a study to understand the headspace of Singaporeans during the early days of the Circuit Breaker. “It is interesting to note that more women expressed poorer mental wellness than men,” says Tan Hui-Ching, director of public affairs at Ipsos in Singapore. With the United Nations fearing that the insecurity caused by COVID-19 could trigger a global mental health crisis, director of the World Health Organization (WHO) shared that, “the isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil” cause or could cause “psychological distress.”
The process of overcoming challenges both internal and external can be a bit like doing the cha-cha, with progress often looking like taking two steps forward and one step backward. “This is normal,” assures senior clinical psychologist at Adam Road Medical Centre, Dr Jamie Lee. “Know that every step forward is a step towards growing resilience.”
Here are some healthy steps to help you cope, reframe, and perhaps offer a fresh mental script to tell yourself as you keep going.
1. Get real
Acknowledge that the situation is tough. “Give yourself permission to feel emotions like sadness, discouragement, anger and worry”, says Lee, who eschews fake ‘good vibes only’ positivity for the reality of the present. In short: it’s okay not to be okay. Feelings of exhaustion and overwhelm are totally normal and need to be processed. Certified life coach Pauline Howard of Bloom Coaching & Development says that cultivating acceptance helps you gain “clarity and control over the situation, which will eventually enable learning and growth”.
2. Surrender the illusion of control… or perfection
Comebacks aren’t instantaneous. Grit isn’t one-size-fits-all. Take the pressure off yourself by living in the present and taking it one moment at a time. Instead of focusing on how far you have yet to go, remind yourself of how far you’ve come and the proactive steps you can take to keep supporting yourself. Create visual reminders such as Post-it notes on your bathroom mirror of your strengths and small wins, recommends Lee.
3. Focus on positive coping strategies or ‘adaptive responses’
These include getting fresh air, exercise, meditation and eating regular meals. Pay attention to the early warning signs of stress and burnout such as disturbed sleep, anxiety, headaches and comfort behaviours like eating, boozing or a little too much retail therapy. Get intimately acquainted with your body’s warning signs of distress.
4. Keep going
The point is to identify your priorities and tick them off at your own pace, says Howard, who creates a daily to-do list of doable ‘baby step’ goals. “No need for big objectives and high productivity.”
5. Show up for yourself and others
Being vulnerable and sharing your scary, complex emotions with trusted loved ones takes courage, but can help you feel loved and supported, encourages Bloom. “Sharing can seem hard at first, but you will soon find that people will often respond better than you imagined to your authentic voice.” Don’t let your mind bully you into thinking that you’re not worth the support. Beliefs such as “I don’t want to be a burden” and “No one can know that I don’t have it all worked out” don’t help anyone, says Lee. Mr Tan of Ipsos adds, “it is important to recognise that the resilience of any society to overcome any crisis depends as much on their mental strength as it is on physical measures. As individuals, the help we extend to the community could start with a simple, ‘How are you?'”
6. Give grace to yourself
“Practice patience and self-kindness. By choosing not to react or lament, the experience and effort rewires the brain in a process called neuroplasticity,” says mindfulness coach, Tan Cheen Chong. Coming from a mindful place of calm will help you better uncover options to help you cope with your current setback.
7. Get help
Actively reach out when you feel an increase in the amount of distress you’re experiencing and when it has impacted how you function in daily life, especially if these changes persist for longer than two weeks. “Knowing when to reach out for professional help and allowing yourself to seek help are important components of resilience,” says Lee. “Seek help when you feel more distressed than usual with poor mood or heightened anxiety, and/or when you notice changes in sleep, appetite, abilities to concentrate and function in daily life.” With the help you receive, it’s important to prepare for changes and be open to constructive feedback from those who have your best interests at heart, says Howard. Call these hotlines as a first step if you’re in distress. It’s also important to be open to constructive feedback. “Developing resilience is more like preparing for a marathon than for a sprint,” says Howard. “The key is to keep moving forward in the long run, not to get to the finish line fast but drained.”
8. Don’t lose hope or heart
Hope for a better tomorrow while living in the now. “Hope is a wonderful thing in that it carries the vision of your life in its finest form,” says Serena Adsit, model and founder of Mint Management. “When you can see the life that you want, you automatically act in ways that will lead you there. In other words, hope to me is the faith that fuels you to keep going and that innate happiness and joy within you. “You have the choice to change and improve yourself at any point. Your past never dictates that special person you were meant to be, and as you keep rediscovering yourself and learning new lessons, your entire life is ahead of you to make it even more spectacular. Our life is a gift and everyone’s path is different, so it doesn’t matter how you start out, it’s how you finish.”
And if all else feels hopeless in the moment, we like to recall the immortal words of Netflix’s Queer Eye‘s Jonathan van Ness: “You are strong. You are a Kelly Clarkson song. You got this.”
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