As the COVID-19 looms at large across the globe, effectively shutting down life as we know it (international and domestic travel, visiting friends and family, shopping, eating out, traveling by public transport, school, college, and office routines, etc etc), it is important to boost and maintain our mental health and general well-being. I have many friends and family scattered across various countries (shout out to those currently studying/working in the EU – I am praying for you!), and I know first-hand what it is to fear the effects of disease on your loved ones. I grew up with two doctors (pathologists, no less!) as parents, and dinnertime conversations almost always included a briefing on whatever illness was disturbing people’s lives at that point in time.

Fear mongering and false advise are rampantly spread on the Internet and social media. During pandemics and widespread disease outbreaks in the past, social media was never a factor in determining the spread of news and panic. But in 2020, social media is often the first source of information for many youngsters. And this leaves many of us constantly in touch with information – whether true or false – about COVID-19.

Social media is a tricky thing. We use it as an escape from reality, but right now, it is a surefire way of letting this scary new reality of a global pandemic into our daily lives. And yes, I agree we all need a good dose of hygiene and need to up our sense of community and look out for each other, but blindly scrolling through newsfeeds filled with posts highlighting death rates, more deaths, and the spread of COVID-19 does nothing for our peace of mind, and consequently, for our mental and physical health.

Note: I definitely am not minimizing the risk of COVID-19; I am simply pointing out that all we, the general public, can do is to isolate ourselves and take the WHO- and CDC- recommended precautions. BUT, who says we can’t take this time to look after ourselves – mentally, physically, and emotionally as well?

So I decided to give you all a glimpse into some of my activities and recommendations in this current situation that are wonderful at keeping the blues and worries (and hopefully the dear old virus) away. This is by no means meant to be preachy; take what you wish and leave the rest. Each of us deals with situations in our own ways 🙂

Physical Health:

covid3This is perhaps the most important of the trio right now, what with the combination of flu season, the temporary halt on most group physical activity (gyms, sports, etc), and COVID-19 wandering about the streets. Here are some of the ways I am trying to stay active and eat well while practicing social distancing:

  1. Eat lots of leafy greens and vegetables: Leafy greens contain high levels of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, yet are low in calories – perfect for my sudden drop in outdoor physical activity! One of my favourites is spinach (palak), which I enjoy cooking into a spicy stew with lentils (dal palak, for my Indian followers) or combining with paneer to make palak paneer.
  2. Experiment with colours in your lunch plate: include vegetables of all colours. Red tomatoes, orange carrots, green beans, pink beets – mixing and matching colours is not just an activity for artists or new homeowners! A variety of colours in your plate means a variety of nutrients entering your body and fueling your immune system, which definitely needs to keep up its strength during these times!
  3. covid2Try home calisthenics: Gym memberships are currently going waste, I agree, but your muscles don’t need to lose their conditioning. I try to exercise each day in some small way, be it through dance (for you Bharatanatyam dancers out there, running through adavus is a great exercise, and a brisk nritta piece like Alarippu or Jathiswaram is a wonderful way of working those muscles and your memory), taking brisk walks in the early morning or at night, or yoga/weightlifting. I personally enjoy following zumba videos and/or doing basic leg and glute exercises when cooped up in the house. Another fun way – do a workout with your friend with the help of WhatsApp video chat or Skype. Technology can be very useful in times like these.
  4. Chock up on supplements: My mother is a great advocate of Celin/Vitamin C, and I try to take one to two tablets a day right now. It keeps my immune system at its peak and wards off any morning sniffles or throat irritation that might develop into something more serious if allowed to fester.
  5. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Constantly moistening your throat with water is one of the WHO-recommended methods of reducing the risk of COVID-19, as water flushes the virus into your gastrointestinal tract instead of letting it go down the trachea and enter the lungs, where it can cause lung fibrosis. But scary words aside, we all could do with increasing our water intake, so fill up your water bottle or jug and keep it on your desk as you work from home.

Emotional Health:

Social distancing can be difficult for social animals like ourselves, but being selfish and meeting friends in person is really not a great idea right now. Viral infections, especially airborne ones like COVID-19, can spread quickly through interpersonal interaction, and in the case of COVID-19, we can never be certain if a person is incubating the virus until the 14 day incubation period has passed. So how do we all commit to staying away from people for 14 days while simultaneously keeping up social connections and our spirits?

  1. covid4Read more books: I love reading, but didn’t have too much time to indulge in it while at office full-time (especially given the amount of time I spend in field or travelling to forested areas). This self-isolation spree has given me the chance to crack open some familiar and new spines and dive into the fascinating lives of fictional characters or learn more about our world with nonfiction reads. Here are a few of my recommendations (please share recommendations with me too!):
    1. For fiction lovers:
      1. The Undomestic Goddess – Sophie Kinsella
      2. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
      3. Menaka’s Choice – Kavita Kane
      4. The Forest of Enchantments – Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
      5. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkein
    2. For non-fiction lovers:
      1. Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
      2. Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer
      3. I Am Malala – Malala Yousufi
      4. The Big Thirst – Charles Fishman
      5. Indica: A Deep Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent – Pranay Lal
      6. Anything by Ruskin Bond!!!! Highly recommend his works!
    3. For poetry lovers:
      1. Your Soul is a River – Nikita Gill
      2. Wild Embers: Poems of rebellion, fire, and beauty – Nikita Gill
      3. Anything by Rumi!!
  2. covid5Work on your relationships: Whether the relationship in question is that of family (father, mother, daughter, son, grandparent, grandchild, aunt, niece, nephew, uncle), friendship, or romantic in nature, it is important to keep the connection alive and kicking despite physical distance. For some of us, forced to stay away from family and loved ones, this can seem particularly terrible and cause us more stress, but thankfully, technology is advanced enough that we can stay in touch, sometimes more than necessary! I try to take each morning to connect with the important people in my lives – I drink my morning coffee with my immediate family members, speak on video chat (thank you WhatsApp) with my best friends, and send reassuring and funny messages to other friends and relatives. It is important to remember that we are all one global family experiencing this together. We are not alone, despite the illusion of isolation.
  3. Journal or write down your worries: As a child, I used to worry out loud to my mother, but as an adult, I find that journaling and writing out my thoughts in free-flow is a great way to get the worries out of my head and onto a paper, where they don’t seem as bad anymore. Writing also gives your brain a task to focus on, thereby taking away attention from the thoughts crowding around in there.
  4. Laugh more: My mother is a dire proponent of laughter yoga (as is Dr. J. Asthana from Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.), but I get my laughs in other ways. Whether it be by watching comedy movies, funny talks on YouTube, TV shows, listening to podcasts, or talking about light topics with friends, laughter is an instant mood-lifter. I find myself watching more comedy and light family films now than ever before in order to get some laughs at the end of a busy day of isolated activity. Some of my favourites are: Munna Bhai M.B.B.S., Lage Raho Munna Bhai, the Golmaal series, Khatta Meetha (the old version, not the new one), Good Newzzz, Khoobsurat (old and new), and a bunch of Hollywood rom-coms. Looking for more recommendations, so do ping me!covid6
  5. Talk to friends and family when you feel low: Remember, we are all in this together. The global community is coming together like never before, with strangers bonding over the shared experience of fear and health. But we can bond over other things as well, such as laughter, hobbies, and good conversations via the telephone, Skype, or even snail mail.

Mental Health:

covid8Finally, it is important to take care of our mental health while trying to stay at home and balance a new schedule. Some of us may have kids at home to manage, while others have to be careful not to pass any sickness to elderly relatives. Yet there are ways of making things seem more cheerful and manageable while we sit out the COVID-19 together.

  1. covid7Practice mindfulness and meditate: Mindfulness is the art of being completely in the present moment with no fears or thoughts about either past or future. Easier said than done, especially with the media tossing news in our faces each minute on our mobile phones, but so so important to practice. Mindfulness can be as simple as putting aside the phone and concentrating on a fixed task, such as cleaning one’s cupboard, writing a blog post, writing a letter to a friend, or making one’s bed. The concept: to be completely involved in that task. Your entire mind should be focused on doing that task as well as possible, and you’ll find that the day goes a lot quicker and stress stays away when your brain has dozens of other productive thoughts to keep it occupied. Of course, it is important to learn to just sit and not think about things, but that may take more effort. Meditation is one way of clearing the mind and centering yourself. I try to sit and think about nothing for at least ten minutes a day, and I find myself feeling much more positive about the global situation when I finish a meditation session.
  2. Educate yourself with the necessary information, but don’t overload: It is important to stay aware and abreast of the situation at hand, but please don’t endlessly click on Google links in search of further information. If the WHO and CDC can’t provide you with a given piece of information, I doubt that will give you anything actually useful. Be aware of Internet trolls, false information, sensationalism in the media, and WhatsApp forwards, but DO look out for bulletin updates by your local news or healthcare professionals and global organizations like the WHO and CDC that are hellbent on beating COVID-19.
  3. covid9Keep up with work: Not all of us are on an extended holiday, even though we don’t make the daily commute to work or school. Set a schedule for working from home and stick to it. Don’t be that person who wakes up at random hours, works for a bit while surfing the net and simultaneously watching a movie just because your boss isn’t breathing down your neck. The last thing you need is to go back to work after this isolation phase ends and find yourself neck-deep in tasks that should have been completed or almost ready to submit to an irate boss. My go-to method? Lists! I love lists! I make lists and timetables each day with my most important tasks, moderately-important asks, and tasks that can be pushed to the next day, and the amount of time I need to devote to each task in a day. This keeps me on track and ensures that I have a routine so that I don’t lie on the couch and snack on chips all day.
  4. Try a new hobby: Not all of us are maestros or wonderful artists, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try something that we have been meaning to try for a while but couldn’t find the time to pursue. For me, this hobby has been painting. I grew up watching my mother paint, and having a hidden fear that if I ever picked up a paintbrush, I would be terrible compared to my mother. But thanks to my unlimited time at home right now, I found the motivation to pick up a paintbrushart and stock up on canvasses and paint away. I am even channeling my love for Indian classical dance into my art with my latest venture “Bharat-art-yam”! Another new hobby? Solving logic puzzles. These who-dun-its are so absorbing that I find myself waiting for a break from work to sit on my bed and try a new puzzle. Yes, it’s geeky, and no, I don’t really care what people think of me 🙂
  5. Take a step back from social media: Yes, I know I was just advocating the use of social media for staying in touch with friends and family, but this is different. Mindless scrolling on Facebook and Instagram just sucks up productive time in the day and amplifies our fears about the current situation. Friends on the west coast of the USA are posting about lockdowns, people in Italy are posting about death tolls, people in Bangalore are posting about escaping patients and a lack of hygiene…the more I scroll the more my head spins and the more worried I become. Shut Facebook, turn to more productive pasttimes, and remember, this too shall pass.

So that’s it, folks! I could go on and on, but you probably should stop scrolling through posts (taking my own advice here) and get on with your days. Stay healthy, stay safe, stay sane, and remember, we are all in this together and this too shall pass. Happy days will come back again. Until then, persevere and let’s work together as a global community to get rid of COVID-19.



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