It’s not hard to see (and feel) how self-isolation can be a deep, dark pit for the mind. Beginning from our now unnervingly-concise daily agenda: me, life, four walls. Inject a dose of nervousness and a budding sense of helplessness, then repeat. Adding to the mental mayhem is perhaps a perplexing feeling of unfamiliarity…despite the seeming intensification of routine. From hitting an odd rut in motivation/productivity for no reason, to being estranged from support networks and an never-ending attempt at figuring out “new normal”; we’ve all been there and the list goes on. I remember pacing aimlessly around my house, then being suddenly transfixed by the idea that I was just like a caged animal. Just as I thought I’d found my footing, there I was in the middle of my living room (still in pyjama pants), reeling from the emptiness yet chaos of self-isolation.
Likewise, if you’ve found yourself grappling with your own mental wellness (in one way or another) now: your feelings are valid and you don’t have to wrestle alone. So from the community to you, with love, here are 5 ways to support your own mental wellness during self-isolation.
1. Join A Virtual Peer Support Community Like Asha & Co
Asha & Co (@asha.n.co) is a peer support community for women that promotes mental wellness through cooking, art and community gatherings. The community creates safe spaces for like-minded individuals with diverse life experiences to connect, grow and foster a healthy support system. Asha & Co also supports women who are in recovery from mental health issues and/or survivors of abuse. With the Circuit Breaker, Asha & Co has taken their #GrowthWarrior community virtual, hosting a steady stream of wholesome activities and resources on their Instagram. You can join their free live communal cooking, embroidery and doodling sessions, or get timely inspiration from their #GrowthWarriorShares posts. The page also provides important information on support services, particularly for family violence and mental health.
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Bonus: for this article, I caught up with Asha, the founder of Asha & Co, over email, for some personal advice on mental wellness during this time of uncertainty. Hear her thoughts:
How do you think self-isolation affects our mental wellness?
There is definitely a sense of loss and grief, be it in the form of control, normalcy, predictability. This is a collective traumatic experience that everyone in the world is going through. Livelihoods and routines are affected and unfortunately, when we talk about ‘self-isolating’, it’s not always Netflix and chill for everyone. There are among us, people who are stuck in unsafe homes with their abusers. They may find it even harder to seek help during this period, leaving them even more helpless than before.
Our mental wellness may also be affected by the information we’re absorbing daily. In a bid to stay connected, we read the news, social media posts and messages from friends/families, but that often ends up making us feel more distant and confused. Absorbing common language terms used during this period such as “self-isolation” or “social distancing” can make one feel more disempowered and isolated. (As compared to using terms like “physical distancing” or “safe distancing”, that are more empowering.)
What advice do you have for managing low moods/negative feelings during this period?
As someone living in recovery from mental health issues, I’ve benefited a lot from therapy. One of the valuable things I’ve learnt is that feelings and emotions are present for a reason. When we feel low or negative, there may be underlying reasons, or a buildup of experiences that causes us to experience such emotions. I think our body, mind and soul needs us the most during this period. I’d say listen to them when they’re dropping you hints. If the news of the pandemic is overwhelming and causing anxiety, turn it off and give your brain a break (read something uplifting, watch a comedy). These small, self-soothing activities can be very helpful in allowing us to take better care of ourselves during this period; instead of forcing ourselves to “feel better”, or allowing productivity to be a measure of our worth.
Many people might experience increased anxiety, loneliness and loss during this period. When/how do we know if we should seek professional help for these feelings?
This depends on the individual, because everyone has a different threshold and unique coping strategies. There is no one way to heal from trauma or the feelings that you’re experiencing. However, one of the common signs that extra support could help, is when you feel that nothing you do seems to be working. If it gets to a point where performing simple routines like basic hygiene and eating becomes hard, that is your body telling you that you don’t need to do it all by yourself — that you can accept/reach out for help. That said, I believe that everyone can benefit from therapy. You don’t need to wait until you’re sick, or have a mental health diagnosis to speak to a professional. It’s okay to ask for help and accept help when it’s given.
How can we support the mental wellness of those around us during this period (especially if we cannot be physically present)?
One of the ways we can support each other is by checking-in, whether through text, a phone or a video call. Check-in not only on the “quiet” ones, but also the ones you think are “coping okay”, “strong” or “normal”. Genuinely ask them about their day, or schedule a virtual lunch. Personally, I’ve been leaving audio notes for my loved ones. Sometimes I sing a funny song or let them know they’re amazing and that I love them. These small gestures are something they can always replay, wherever they are!
It would also be helpful to ask someone how they’d like to be supported. Some may want advice, while some just need a listening ear/act of service. For example, a person in recovery from a mental health issue may experience higher anxiety levels during this period and might not have the capacity to get food for themselves. If you know someone like this and it is within your capability, you can order some food for them as a way of letting them know that you care and that they matter to you. But remember, you can only take care of others when your own cup is filled. Don’t pour from an empty cup. It’s okay if you cannot help everyone. Do not feel like the world is on your shoulders. We do what we can, in small and consistent ways.
What is one self-care tip we can practice everyday?
It’s something we do unconsciously every day, which is to breathe! We can take a few minutes a day to be more conscious and grateful; breathing in and out slowly, taking in and appreciating the sights, sounds, smells, touching something that brings us comfort and calm etc. These acts of grounding are free and all you need is yourself to be present. Being aware of our breathing invites us to journey inwards.
We can also do a body scan to check-in how our body, mind and heart are feeling. This self care activity can be done anytime of the day. But making a conscious effort to do it consistently will help us catch ourselves more quickly before, or when we fall off balance. Before you go to sleep, tell yourself : “I love you, thank you”. To everything that caused you pain and unhappiness, say: “I forgive you, I forgive me. I’ll let go of these feelings that don’t serve me and I’m thankful for this experience.” It’s okay if we fail sometimes, as long as we wake up the next day, it’s still an opportunity to try again!
2. Use An App To Track Your Feelings & Relax
Probably one of my favourite ways to journey (and journal) with my moods — apps are portable, convenient and quite impeccably personal. While it’s important to bear in mind that an app should never replace professional advice, there are tons of expertly-designed apps available to help you better take charge of your mental wellness. The best part? Many of them are both terrific and free. Here are some we love:
MoodSpace combines techniques from cognitive behavioural therapy, mindful practices and positive psychology into a holistic self-help space. From gratitude journaling, to a thought diary and guided meditation, the app aims to create an experimental, research-driven self-help space with a gorgeous interface. (Psst! In view of COVID-19, the team behind MoodSpace has made the app completely free for the next few weeks.)
Wysa: Stress, Depression & Anxiety Therapy Chatbot
Positively one of the most intelligent, responsive and interactive mood apps available now; Wysa is a mood tracker and mindfulness coach bundled up in one anxiety-helping, mood-boosting and happiness penguin buddy. Powered by AI, Wysa utilises therapy-based techniques and empathetic conversation for stress and anxiety relief. Your buddy is available 24/7 and I especially appreciate how the promise of strict confidentiality means no log-in is required.
Calm: Meditate, Sleep, Relax
If you’ve heard of ‘mindfulness’ but haven’t had the chance to delve into the practice, Calm is likely one of the most convenient places to start. The app specialises in guided meditation, as well as restful sleep to alleviate anxiety and stress. You can choose from an extensive range of meditation programmes from forgiveness, breaking habits, to concentration and even, calming children. I especially like that you can also select the length of your guided meditation sessions, which start from just 3-minutes.
3. Brighten Up Your Instagram Feed
Maybe you can relate too, but the amount of time I’ve been spending on social media has increased exponentially since the Circuit Breaker began. With social distancing in place, it seems like everyone has taken to online channels to keep updated, connected and entertained. For something that has become so much more integral to our daily lives, social media has both its pitfalls and plus points. So I say, purge your feed of wild, toxic content and inject some positivity in their place with beautiful, constructive and encouraging posts. Here are some of our favourite accounts that combine art with positive thoughts — for an aesthetically pleasing, soothing and uplifting boost!
Danica Gim (@danica.gim)
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My Self-Love Supply (@myselflovesupply)
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The Just, Girl. Project (@justgirlproject)
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Natas R. (@natasillustration)
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4. Only Listen To The Right Information
Don’t subject yourself to fear-mongering with the overwhelming amount of panic-inducing fake news from dubious sources. Make sure you and your loved ones are receiving relevant updates only from trusted channels. These include the official Gov.sg Telegram channel for the latest government updates on COVID-19, as well as important fact-checks on inaccurate news. If you’d like to keep abreast of the latest pandemic situation in Singapore, bookmark this page for a concise, up-to-date report from MOH.
5. Reach Out For Help
Finally, when the going gets tough, always remember you don’t have to journey alone. Self-care can also mean allowing yourself that first step towards seeking extra help. Not out of weakness, but because we all deserve support when we need it. While it may be more difficult to access professional support services during this period, there remain open and often free platforms you can turn to for a hand. Here are some of them (this list is non-exhaustive):
The Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT) is dedicated to supporting young people with mental health concerns. The team provides access to mental health resources as well as confidential assessments to individuals aged between 16 and 30 years old. You may reach out to the team of passionate healthcare professionals via the webCHAT, email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (6493 6500). The team operates from Tuesday through Saturday, 12 to 9PM (excluding public holidays). All CHAT services are free of charge!
Like CHAT, eC2 is an e-counselling centre where you can speak to a trained counsellor online, via their ‘quick chat’ function. Users can also be assigned a fixed counsellor and make appointments for regular sessions. In light of the trying COVID-19 situation, eC2 has even opened a dedicated service to support those in distress during this period. All eC2 services are free of charge!
Run by women, for women, AWARE operates two helplines that offer empathy, support, information and encouragement. The helplines are operated in English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil, they are completely toll-free. To reach AWARE’s helpliners, dial:
Women’s Care Centre: 1800 777 5555 (Monday – Friday, 10AM – 6PM)
Sexual Assault Care Centre: 6779 0282 (Monday – Friday, 10AM – 10PM)
Singapore Psychological Society
For a comprehensive list of services available specifically for cases related to COVID-19, hop onto this webpage by the Singapore Psychological Society. Do note that this lists clinics and doctors who will charge for their services, although many are currently offering reduced rates/pro-bono consultations.
You’re on your way. Sending good vibes, always!