This present atmosphere of uncertainty, financial insecurity, and the threat of an unpredictable illness have made many of us vulnerable to anxiety and depression
A Buddhist monk was walking on a dirt road when he heard the clattering of hooves and turned to see a horse galloping towards him. The rider seemed unable to control the animal. As they sped past, the monk asked, “Where are you going in a such a hurry?” The man yelled back, “Don’t ask me, ask the horse!”
Like the man on the horse, the mind sometimes seem to have a will of its own. It takes us to places unbidden, places we would prefer not to go because those thoughts leave us tired, anxious and unhappy. This is truer when we live in uncertain times, like the present. Living through a lockdown and without a sense of how things will change is leaving many of us stressed. Business is suffering, people are being laid off in droves, and we are all in survival mode.
Topping that is the looming worry about contracting the disease that started this all, covid-19. This present atmosphere of uncertainty, financial insecurity, and the threat of an unpredictable illness have made many of us vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
Anxiety and depression may seem unrelated but they are in fact two faces of the same coin. They have similar symptoms and often coexist. Given the extraordinary and unprecedented nature of the covid crisis, the number of people suffering from these conditions is going up. There is a silent mental health epidemic on our hands.
It is imperative that we make a conscious effort to strengthen our mental resilience as individuals and as a society. For that, the way that we think of mental health needs to change.
While we may find resourceful ways of staying physically fit with classes available online, we do not think of how we can maintain our emotional health by using the same device to speak with a therapist. This attitude needs to change.
We need to be proactive in looking after our mental health. And yes, while there is social stigma attached to seeking help for mental health, the only way this can change is when each of us accepts that we are human and can fall ill in both mind and body. Just as we can do things to make our bodies more resilient, we need to recognize that we can choose to make our minds more resilient too.
Behavioural activation is a simple tool you can use to help yourself. When we aren’t feeling our best, we tend to withdraw from activities that we enjoy. When we withdraw from activities we enjoy, our mood dips further, making it that much harder to do the things that would help us feel better. It’s a downward spiral that we often don’t recognize in ourselves, particularly when the going gets tough.
What makes this pandemic so hard to deal with is that our usual methods of coping with stress—socializing and/or exercising—are no longer available to us. We need to use novel ways to help ourselves. That’s where behavioural activation comes in. The rules are simple.
You need to schedule things into your day that you find pleasurable, meaningful and necessary. It is important these things align with your values. Pleasurable and meaningful could mean taking a walk with a friend in a park, both of you wearing masks and maintaining distance, or taking an online class in a dance form you’ve always wanted to learn. Routine would cover the basics like making sure the house is clean and there is fresh food on the table. Necessary would be what is essential for survival, such as tasks related to work and bills.
It is important to realize two things. One, all these activities won’t be fun but they will all add to making your life more positive.
Two, behavioural activation rests on the principle that you need to get yourself moving to feel better. This also means cutting out time when you aren’t doing much. Cut out the time you spend scrolling through social media feeds because it will likely leave you feeling lower in mood after. Low effort activities like watching TV are fine as long as you don’t use them to avoid doing something that you need to get done.
Most importantly, stick to the plan you make even when you don’t feel like it. It could take a week or two for you to find out whether what you have scheduled, particularly in the pleasurable and meaningful category, is working for you.
Finally, you will be able to help yourself in this manner if you have a mild case of anxiety or depression but if you feel that you are unable to help yourself, you must seek professional help right away. Counsellors and therapists are offering services works via Zoom and phone. Your mental health matters and there is no shame in asking for help when you need it.
Sujata Kelkar Shetty is the author of 99 Not Out! Your Guide To A Long And Healthy Life.