How are you dealing with the pandemic while you’re home?

Picture credits: Private School Review

It’s been more than 8 months now since the whole world has been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is causing deaths of many people on a daily basis. It has economic implications too because of which GDP of the countries are suffering, people are losing their jobs, etc. Above all these issues the pandemic is taking a surprising toll on people’s psychological well-being. According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in late June 2020, 40% of the adults in the US reported struggling with mental health crisis or substance use. According to a study conducted at University of Oxford, researchers found that anxiety, depression and insomnia are the leading mental health issues recovered patients from COVID-19 are dealing with. They further found that 1 in every 5 recovered patients from COVID-19 reported having a first time diagnosis of anxiety, depression or insomnia.

The times are hard. Staying home most of the time and not been able to meet our closed ones including friends, family members and colleagues can be very challenging. Therefore, it is more important than ever that we keep ourselves psychologically fit. It is not easy working at home. It is not easy studying online for months. Overall, it is not easy to accept these new realities. But we humans are very resilient and there are some things we can do every single day to ensure our good mental health.

1. Build a routine
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Having a routine is the most important thing right now. By building a routine we allow ourselves to have some structure during the day. Routine helps us remain focused and not get distracted by the unimportant things. Rachel Goldman, who is a psychologist and clinical assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine says, “When people don’t have a routine or structure to their day it can cause increased stress and anxiety, as well as overwhelming feelings, lack of concentration, and focus.” Having a routine does not mean we should have a very strict schedule. The rationale behind a routine is to give a structure to our day so that we have some sense of control over it. Furthermore, routine is more than crossing off our to-do lists. There should be sufficient time for self-care as well. When people have a regular routine their stress levels are low, they are much more productive and are able to form good daily habits. In the end what matters is that we follow a routine that works best for us and not forget that everything takes time.

2. Moderately consume the news
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We are living in the 21st century where gathering information is not a problem anymore unlike older times when information was still scarce. The real challenge is to eliminate what is not important and relevant and consume what needs to be consumed. We all suffer from information overloading. This is why it is more important than ever that we consume information moderately especially the news related to the pandemic. We do not realize it but news affects us unconsciously and the negative affect it has on us comes out in form of our behaviors. Just the way excessive sugar is toxic for our bodies,’ news is toxic too. We do not feel any changes taking place in our bodies so we keep on consuming news mindlessly without realizing that it is harming our minds. There is so much the media is feeding us 24*7 and it is not relevant at all.

3. Eat healthy food items and exercise regularly
Picture credits: Archana’s Kitchen

Keeping healthy eating habits and exercising regularly can definitely keep us both physically and psychologically fit. So many people are complaining gaining weight as their routine has been completely disrupted. Guess what? Whatever routine you are having is a new reality and you might as well adjust to that. According to a report published by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on 27th March, 2020 good nutrition becomes very crucial before, during and after an infection. While eating healthy food does not prevent anyone from contracting the virus it becomes important in supporting a strong immune system. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, eating nuts and whole grain foods, avoiding too much sugar, fats and salt, drinking plenty of water can be among the first steps towards a healthy diet. We are supposed to move our body parts and they work better if we remain physically active. Some research suggests that elevated levels of aerobic activity (exercise that significantly raises our heart rates) may be associated with greater reductions in depressive symptoms.

4. Connect with people
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The pandemic has changed how we interact and connect with people. Fortunately, we have technology because of which we are able to know about the well-being of our loved ones even if they are thousands of miles away from us. It is important that we understand social distancing is physical distancing and not emotional distancing. Since we should be physically distant during these times in order to avoid the spread of the virus we should keep in mind to stay connected with each other. Call your friends from time to time. Call your family members from time to time. Keep a close check on them even if it is virtually. Ask them about their activities, jobs, studies, etc. Keep them in a loop so that they do not feel isolated. A key finding in one of the latest studies was that time spent consistently with the family members was related to better mental health. People spending more time with parents and siblings face to face or via video/messaging was related to less loneliness and less depression. So, don’t forget to connect with people on a regular basis.

5. Get a good night’s sleep
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Sleep is something which should never be compromised with especially when times are stressful. An adult human body requires 7-8 hours of an uninterrupted sleep. Sadly, people sacrifice their sleep because they wrongly perceive it as a luxury. Sleep is not a luxury. It is a necessity just like the air we breathe in. No matter how stressed you are for whatever reasons make sure you get a good night sleep every single day. Sleep empowers an effective immune system and heightens our brain functions. It further enhances our mood. Try to remember the time when you didn’t get enough sleep at night and you were all cranky the whole day. Make sure you sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Avoid your screen time at least 1 hour before going to bed. Prioritize your sleep and you are prioritizing your life.

The Man Who Fell Out of the Bed

Video credits: Nathan Brown

Would you believe me if I told you there was once a case of a young man who was admitted to a hospital for some tests and at night suddenly fell out of his bed?

Of course you would.

What if, this time, I told you the young man refused to go back to his bed and told the doctor that he had a feeling of a “lazy left leg and also the leg wasn’t his but someone else’s?

Probably it would be hard for you to believe me this time. If not hard at least you’re confused.

The case is real and talked about by Dr Oliver Sacks in his famous book “The Man Who Mistook his wife for a Hat”. Dr Oliver Sacks was a neurologist and an author. He had spent almost 50 years working as a neurologist and wrote many books including The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia, Awakenings and Hallucinations among many others. The New York Times referred to him as ‘the poet laureate of medicine’. He was well known for his series of non-fictional books on interesting cases in psychiatry and neurology.

The Case

As mentioned before, this interesting case is of a young man who came to a hospital for some tests. While asleep at night, he woke up all of a sudden. He had expressions of anger, alarm, bewilderment and amusement. Dr Sacks was still a medical student at that time and he was called in immediately. The patient complained that his left leg felt lazy and it wasn’t his leg at all. It belonged to someone else. He complained of his own leg as ‘a severed leg, a horrible thing!’ After some time he realized what had actually happened and said: it was all a joke!! He further said that it was a New Year’s Eve and half the staff was drunk. He was confident about one of the nurses stealing a leg and slipping it under his bedclothes while he was fast asleep. He got so angry that he started seizing it with both hands. He tried to tear it off his body but failed every time. He kept denying that it was his leg and when asked where would be his own leg be then, he said, “I don’t know. I have no idea. It’s disappeared. It’s gone. It’s nowhere to be found…”

What actually happened?

Recent research especially in neurology has a diagnosis of the case. It’s called “parietal ataxic hemiparesis”. It is believed this happens when there is damage to the right parietal lobe in the brain. The parietal lobes are located behind the frontal lobes and above the temporal lobes and are responsible for processing the sensory information, understanding spatial orientation and body awareness.

Parietal ataxic hemiparesis is considered to be a very rare condition. In some cases it has been seen that anti-epileptic drugs are effective in remedying the symptoms. Rehabilitation has also proven to be helpful in alleviating the symptoms where a combination of physical and mental exercises are used. 

Human brain is very complex. It is full of mysteries. There is a lot that gets governed by our brains that we don’t even know about. But after reading about such interesting cases I realize how far we have come with our understanding on human brain.

Are you building your competence or character?

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Competence is very crucial in today’s world. If we do not possess sufficient knowledge, judgement and skills it will be hard to perform well at our workplaces. These days a lot of emphasis is being put upon building new and variety of skills. Quite frankly, it makes sense because we are living in an era where nothing stays the same for very long. Every now and then things are changing rapidly due to constant innovations in science and technology. And if we can’t keep pace with such innovations and keep ourselves competent enough to land a good job, survival will be very hard.

What about character?

Does it matter in a world that pressurizes us to put our whole energy into building our skills and careers? Or simply, it doesn’t matter at all?

From my limited experience of the way this world works, I believe people do not give much thought to building their characters. Everyone is busy in a rat race. Everyone wants to be ahead of everyone else. It looks like people are losing their basic human values including kindness, gratitude, love, forgiveness, etc. Building a good character is not primary anymore. Rather it has become secondary.

Tasks either reflect competence or character

Jay Shetty who is a former monk, coach, author and a podcast host has written his first book titled “Think like a Monk”. In one of the chapters, he talked about how tasks that we do on a daily basis either reflect our competence or character. If I am an academician and I am focusing on improving my critical skills, statistical skills and teaching skills then my job will be a reflection of my competence. This will show that I am skilled at my work. What about jobs/tasks that are not related to our work? Like washing dishes, cleaning the washroom, brooming, doing grocery every week, etc. Do they not reflect our competence? They might do but more importantly they reflect our character. We undermine these tasks thinking they are below our level and why should we waste our time doing them when we could be doing something more important like making another report or studying.

In one of my previous blog posts I wrote about me doing all the household work alongside my mother. All this time I felt frustrated from time to time because I had this belief that I was just wasting my time. I felt I should be investing my time in doing something more important and better like learning new skills. But after understanding that some tasks actually help in shaping our character I realized I have been so wrong about my perception. I might read a chapter of a book in the time I am doing household chores. As it turns out, life is not simply about making myself the most competent person but also building a good character.

Look, a broom is trying to teach you something

While listening to an audio book by Jay Shetty I came across a very valuable point he made in his book. He said while he was a monk in an ashram in India he learned the importance of exhibiting flexibility through a broom. And he is very much right because we can learn that lesson too. When we are trying to clean our houses using a broom we often forget that without showing some flexibility it will be very hard for it to do its job. It is so interesting to realize that a broom is only able to reach the corners of our houses because it is flexible.I believe every task that we belittle is trying to teach us something. We need to change our perspectives. That’s all.

It is a good thing if we are millionaires. After all we deserve to be because we had worked very hard for it. Being financially stable is very important because lives cannot be sustained without money. We need money to fulfill our basic requirements. And we can be financially independent if we land a good job. Good jobs can be landed if we show the company/organization that we will be valuable at work. To be able to show our worth we actually have to be worthy and our worth is a result of our competence. However, we must never forget our worth is not limited to our skills and workplaces. Being someone of  a good character should be one of life’s purposes too.

The Art of Being Enough

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This post might just change your life. But more importantly, I want it to change mine. In other words, you can say out loud that I am writing this short essay for me.

Every moment of our lives we are striving for more. We want more achievements, more money, more friends, more social approvals, more gadgets, etc. It seems like ‘more’ is guiding our lives. We do not take a pause, look around and think if everything we have is enough. We are always competing: competing with our former selves is a good thing (but it should be done in moderation too) while keeping an unhealthy competition with others is an invitation to self destruction and no self satisfaction. Nothing is ever enough for us. You might assume contentment equals no progress. I disagree. Being content in life provides a stronger platform to get closer to our goals and dreams. People who are content in life find better ways to pursue new goals.

Wrong: Contentment= No progress

Right: Contentment= Better progress

My elder sister is a successful woman. She has a stable job which she enjoys a lot. Recently, she has purchased a car. These are considered to be the measures of success; just to name a few. I have attributed her success with her salary and possessions. They are the external measures of success and they matter. But she has a quality that I believe can be referred to as her “internalmeasure of success. I will call it “the art of being enough”. My sister is ambitious. She knows what she wants in her life and then she goes after it. That’s how we all approach our lives too, right?

I don’t think so.

What sets her apart from the many people I have met is her ability to stay content. Her ambitions are loud but they are not loud enough to keep her dissatisfied with her accomplishments and life overall. She is not trying to do ‘everything’. She does ‘something’ and she gives her best in that. She knows when things get ‘enough’ for her. I admire such people.

I often talk about gratitude in my blog posts not because it looks cooler but because I personally believe how important it is to be grateful in life. Few years ago I would say I wasn’t a grateful person. But that changed with time. Now I say it out loud that I am a grateful person and whenever life throws mud at me I try to remind myself of all the things I have. Still, I have this constant feeling like something is missing. I could say it is because I am an over ambitious person. Also, I am very competitive (please bear in mind that I try my best to keep a healthy competition). For the past few days I have been wondering about it and it crossed my mind how I can learn a simple skill of being satisfied and content from my sister.

Why so serious? It’s just life

I have always been serious in life and my sister has always been jolly and carefree. That way she enjoys her life.

Does it mean she is not an accomplished person? Does it mean she has no bigger goals and aspirations? NO. She is a very successful person not only because she is well educated, she has a car, a place to live and other essentials but also because she practices an art of being enough. She strives for more and better things in life but at the same time she knows when and how to put a full stop to her desires. She prioritizes experiences and having diverse experiences in life makes life more worthy.

Seriously, it’s only life. Why be so serious???

Ambitions can be a double edged sword

I know well enough the cost of being over ambitious. There have been profits, not going to deny that. But I have bear losses too. And those losses are realized only when it gets too late. I believe we must all have higher goals in life. Having bigger goals motivate us to realize our potential. Taking risks alongside is crucial too because without risks nothing changes; not even our circumstances. If there is no contentment everything seems futile. There shall be zero satisfaction.

 Is it a good life? A life where we have almost everything yet we tell ourselves we have nothing? I know that’s a difficult question because at the end of each day we want more. That’s a harsh reality. Even though it is a harsh reality should we just let ourselves suffer? Probably not.

Practice the art of being enough

It is not easy to go against our pre-wired biological mechanisms. It is not easy to go against our own human psychology. But that doesn’t or shouldn’t mean we don’t make changes.

Like my sister, I am trying to stay content in life. I plan things out. I imagine my future and try work accordingly. I keep higher goals for myself. In the midst of all this, I tell myself whatever I have right now is enough. With that little dialogue with me I start believing not only what I have is enough but I am enough too. When we start believing that we are enough we are much happier. That further motivates us to go one step further and further and so on and so forth. If only I am ungrateful for everything that I have do you really think I will be motivated enough to take a leap of faith and go for another goal? I will only be stuck with self-loathing and self-loathing is always our foe.

There are no limits to human desires and that’s the fundamental cause of our suffering according to Buddhist philosophy. I don’t think our goal is to eliminate our desires and become void beings. Contrary to that ,our goal should be to keep our desires in check and whenever we get a signal that our desires are getting out of control we should take a pause and reflect.


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When I am in my zone

And I listen to a song

I go back in time.

There is clarity in my mind.

Emotions come forth

Yet I am full of hope.

Music takes me far away

While I enjoy finding my way.

Syed Sumbul