In the April 2020 YALICHAT “Mental Health: Coping With Crisis,” specialists from across the globe gathered to take questions from YALI Network members in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the primary concerns of participants were unstructured days, generalized anxiety, and economic hardship. To address these and other issues, chat hosts put forward the following recommendations.
Stick to a Schedule
With many out of work and adapting to a new, isolated environment, the stressors of the pandemic are especially acute. Participants noted, among other challenges, the anxiety associated with feeling unproductive or unable to contribute to their communities.
To quell these stressors, Dr. Lauren Matthews Liu, a clinical psychologist, recommended following a regimented, daily schedule.
“Maintaining a healthy body is crucial to self-care,” Lauren said. “Be sure to eat well, get rest, and exercise regularly.”
Routines followed daily, Lauren insisted, will be crucial in living through and emerging from the pandemic whole and mentally strong.
Lauren also urged Network members to use this time to stay in touch with others, as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleeping well is equally important, insisted Dr. Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse, a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow and consultant psychiatrist in Zimbabwe.
“Have a regular time to retire to bed, and limit your screen time at night,” Chido said. “Also, avoid caffeinated drinks in the late afternoon and evening, and exercise daily, but not one to two hours before you sleep.”
Chido also encouraged Network members to develop a complementary evening routine.
“Whether it’s taking a shower or a warm bath, reading a book, or taking time for reflection, do whatever you find helpful. But be consistent.”
Focus on Your Breath
As Chido put it, mental health, especially in times of crisis, hinges on being still and learning to quiet one’s negative thoughts.
“Take deep, slow breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. This helps to steady your heart rate,” Chido says.
“Be present in the moment, be mindful of what’s going on in the here and now,” Chido adds. “Journaling can help, too, in expressing your thoughts and emotions.”
Set Goals for Yourself
With stay-at-home orders in place, planning for the future can be especially trying. But it’s that forward-thinking mentality that Honoré Nzambu, a coach, speaker, and teacher in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said is critical now more than ever.
Honoré also recommended Action for Happiness’ Monthly Action Calendars, online tools featuring a daily happiness prompt. Tools and activities like these, Honoré insisted, are key to staying busy and positive in the midst of the pandemic.
As Deborah Aba Eturu, a clinical psychiatric officer in Ghana, added, staying mentally strong starts with small steps and an attentive mind.
“Offering a listening ear doesn’t necessarily mean fixing every problem,” Deborah said. “Sometimes all people need is someone to listen to them without judgment. That’s an act of service and a source of inspiration.”
This blog post is part of a series developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about slowing the spread of the coronavirus here and visit our YALICares page to find out more about promoting a healthier Africa.
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.