When the ‘circuit-breaker’ measures were put in place, there is no doubt that our lives have been drastically impacted. Even travelling to work or school – what was once considered a part of our daily routine – is no longer the same. Rules and regulations are put in place too, such as the wearing of a mask is now deemed mandatory and not being able to speak onboard public transports. With such increasing obstacles, it is unfair if we do not acknowledge the effort Singaporeans have put in to manage and cope with these disruptions to our daily routines. While we have moved into the phased circuit breaker emergence period, it may be still some time before we can resume our normal lives.
To cope with being house-bound, some of us have chosen to take on a new hobby or to learn a new skill to pass time and keep ourselves engaged. Others have embarked on some self-reflection and have come to realise that they had taken their past freedom for granted. Whichever the case, we are all trying to keep ourselves mentally healthy in different ways, and this in itself is commendable.
However, with the recent announcements of the circuit breaker emergence phases, this may have once again taken a toll on people’s mental health, with their sense of relief that it’s ending being diminished abruptly. In light of this, we need to help each other ride through these challenging times as circuit breaker measures continue on. Here are some simple tips to help you keep yourself sane, and to adjust to the new “norm”.
First of all, start being grateful for your privileges in life. Gratitude will give you a sense of hope amidst these trying times, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are many things to be grateful for, such as the increased connection and bonding with your friends and family. As they say, distance makes the heart grow fonder. Have you found yourself wanting to reach out to others more than ever, be it through the phone or video conferencing platforms? Do you appreciate that you are not just stuck at home, but that you have a home that provides comfort, safety and security? During these times, also be grateful and appreciate that you are in good health. For those of you who are feeling artsy, perhaps you can create a gratitude vision board. Whenever you are feeling down in the dumps, write notes of affirmation or gratitude and decorate your walls. Take a look at them and remind yourself of the little things in life that keep you whole.
Another tip that is often overlooked is to set goals and a fixed routine. For some of us, staying at home is an excuse to idle, especially if you are not working from home or waiting for HBL to start. Contrary to what people think, that there is nothing much to do at home, there are in fact many activities that we can keep ourselves busy with. Make time for indoor exercise routines, do online crossword puzzles, read books, hang out with your friends on online platforms – you name it. Try setting weekly goals and track your progression too, and don’t forget to reward yourself for every milestone achieved. Believe it or not, stimulating your mind can definitely help reduce feelings of helplessness and to deal with cabin fever.
As the COVID-19 confinement continues, you may have a nagging question on your mind – “what have I managed to achieve”?
Tidy, clean desk draws, closets, and glove compartments; a surprising proficiency in a new language; the final 100 pages of War and Peace; an impressive yoga position; a dazzling new magic trick?
Several weeks into the confinement in Singapore and with several weeks to go before we can be physically social with our friends, some of us may be deflated.
When the confinement/circuit breaker started, we may have vowed to use all the new free time to do things we have never got around to doing.
Now that time is gradually slipping by – we may think that we still haven’t accomplished our goals.
As a psychotherapist, I listen to many people starting to stress that this opportunity of more time isn’t panning out the way they imagined – and that critical voice in their heads is telling them they are inadequate and unworthy.
Feeling Stuck in Shame
What I hear is the frustration of “stuckness.”
Clients tell me: –
I must be more productive
I should have achieved more since confinement began
I should be able to concentrate more and procrastinate less
I must have more enthusiasm, motivation and energy
Note the use of the words “should” and “must”. Our inner critic loves to remind us of all the things we should have done or must do.
It is important to be compassionate to ourselves and banish these words from our vocabulary – at least for the time being.
We may have overestimated what we could achieve in confinement; and underestimated the power of the inner critic, worry and low mood. These are preventing us from feeling satisfied with what is.
Perhaps we had the fond notion that confinement would be like a holiday – more rest, more family time, novel and interesting things to do, and relief from work and the other routines in life.
Reality may now be striking home. Anxiety about our jobs, income, and savings; fear about us and our loved ones contracting the virus; worry that food, masks, and other resources may be scarce; boredom at a routine in the cramped confines of home; the resurrection or development of old family dynamics, fraught with irritations, frustrations, disappointment, mistrust and anger. For some, isolation and loneliness may be an even more crushing weight.
Reframing our Expectations
What will help is kindness – and, in particular, kindness to ourselves.
Perhaps some of us are high achievers, driven by: concrete stretch goals, targets and objectives; KPIs; reports; numbers; test or exam scores.
But COVID-19 confinement is not the time to measure yourself in this way. It’s like drinking soup with chopsticks – frustrating.
I recommend that we redefine productivity and measure our day by whether:
we have achieved an emotional connection with ourselves and others,
got some exercise,
meditated for a few minutes,
did some yoga or Tai Chi,
read something (other than COVID-19 news or social media content);
did something creative, like photography, videos, painting, made some music, baked something new; and
spent “me time” – just sitting quietly, relaxing and enjoying being in the moment.
This confinement is not a competition – so we do not need to compare ourselves against others.
We must permit ourselves some numbing out to Netflix and videos – and not beat ourselves up if we eat some chocolate, cookies or chips.
Let’s also be realistic and recognise that our routines will be different – and that we won’t accomplish the same things in confinement. We will have accomplished things – but they just won’t be the usual things.
Manage your expectations, be gentle with yourself and kind to others – and you will find that there is meaning and purpose to your confinement.