As lockdowns in various parts of the world continue, it seems that mental health is emerging as a global issue with reports of increasing trends in depression, anxiety, insomnia and suicide.

Undoubtedly, the mixture of isolation, stress, health anxiety and financial woes will have devastating consequences.

What is more, it seems that Malaysia’s movement control orrder (MCO) encourages a more passive existence with lethargic trends on the rise as the world transitions from the physical to the virtual.

The developments of online shopping, gaming and digital streaming since the MCO commenced, compounded with excessive use of social media, have demonstrated that such behaviours are seemingly unavoidable in this difficult period.

Despite the ambiguous end date of the MCO, it is important that these behaviours are kept in control as the long-term impact of MCO remains unknown.

In these circumstances, certain addictions may develop; these include substance abuse, online gaming addiction, food addiction among other things.

It is becoming more apparent that society must be more cognisant of these challenges and make a more conscious effort to mitigate such pressures that is within their own capabilities.

Indeed, for as long as this virus remains within our horizons, accepting and adjusting to this “new normal” will not be the only obstacle to overcome.

It goes without saying that maintaining a healthy routine is extremely important for both the body and the mind in order to weather the mental effects of Covid-19 in the long run.

A number of research suggests that there is an intimate relationship between the brain and the immune system that inevitably affects our overall mood and behaviour.

So, while lethargy and gluttony can be more compelling in these times, instilling a pro-active, informed and varied routine-based lifestyle is better recommended and could help minimise the negative impact of the lockdown.

Thus, the principle of self-care cannot be overstated. This begins with good nutrition, sleep and physical exercise which is of utmost importance during this lockdown.

Firstly, a healthy diet is a fundamental component to boost the immune system especially in the time of a pandemic and is often associated with feelings of well-being.

However, for some, access to a well-balanced diet might not be possible – therefore it is also important to prioritise 7-9 hours of sleep a day, as the lack of sleep may trigger various psychological conditions such as depression and stress.

While this may be deemed unimportant in ordinary life, the same cannot be said in this unprecedented situation especially when one is restricted to their own home for weeks on end. Stress and depression can be paralysing in such conditions, exacerbated by feelings of entrapment regardless of whether you live alone or not.

In this way, physical fitness should also be part of a healthy routine as it releases chemicals like serotonin and endorphins which help to improve moods.

Furthermore, exercise has been known to reduce stress and overall mental health conditions.

Despite the lack of access to gyms or public parks, there are a variety of exercises that only require a small space. For example, yoga is renowned for a number of positive benefits including relieving stress, muscle tension, strain and inflammation.

The balance of these elements is especially key during the MCO but also beyond as the fabric of ordinary life has been ruptured. Thus, a healthy routine will help keep the mind and body grounded in the chaos of Covid-19 and its after-effects.

The pandemic can also be seen as an opportunity for self-improvement and self-reflection. Indeed, the lockdown has gifted the world with time and more importantly, space for creativity to flourish.

It seems like now is the best moment to indulge in more meaningful and engaging activities that include writing, reading books, cooking, arts and craft.

Free online courses are also available to pursue interests that were once side-lined by the haste of ordinary life.

Therefore, while a sedentary lifestyle is one that can be easily developed in these circumstances, it is important not to succumb to these patterns for the sake of mental and physical health.

A routine will not only embed positive day-to-day habits and prioritise self-care but it also helps manage the anxiety and stress that come as part and parcel in this pandemic.

This article first appeared in The Malay Mail on 19 April 2020


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