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Story | Education
6 May 2020

Op-ed: Maintaining good mental health during the COVID-19 lockdown

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Dr. Javaid Sheikh, Dean and Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, a Qatar Foundation partner university, speaks about the importance of connecting, keeping a routine, and giving life “a rhythm and purpose”.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted normal rhythms of daily life all over the world. Since the beginning of the pandemic, based on health professionals’ recommendations, authorities all over the world have restricted physical interactions to limit the spread of the virus.

Dr. Javaid Sheikh, Dean and Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar.

While such ‘physical distancing’ is succeeding in slowing the spread of the virus, it has understandably led to an increasing sense of isolation and loneliness in many people. We humans are social beings and usually require consistent social interaction to keep in good spirits, either with family and friends or with our colleagues at work.

Maintaining close contact with your usual social networks is not only possible, but absolutely crucial to maintaining a positive frame of mind during this challenging time.

Dr. Javaid Sheikh

Fortunately, with so many advanced communications tools now available to us, physical separation does not necessarily have to mean social self-isolation. Despite the unfortunate fact that the media have generally adopted the term ‘social distancing’ instead of ‘physical distancing’, there is no need for you to be socially distanced. Indeed, maintaining close contact with your usual social networks is not only possible, but absolutely crucial to maintaining a positive frame of mind during this challenging time.

I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is to regularly pick up the phone to chat with friends, family, and colleagues, to use video calls to see friendly faces, and to keep in contact through messaging apps, emails, or another form of electronic communication. Clearly, these things are even more important if you happen to be physically isolating by yourself rather than with your family or housemates. Likewise, if you know of someone physically isolating alone, it is definitely a good idea to regularly drop them a line to check how they are getting on. It will certainly be appreciated.

Along with continued social interaction, perhaps the other most important measure that anyone can take is to create a regular daily routine.

Dr. Javaid Sheikh

Along with continued social interaction, perhaps the other most important measure that anyone can take is to create a regular daily routine. This includes getting up at a specific time in the morning as if you are still going to work, exercising regularly even if it is just a brisk walk outdoors, taking a shower, and dressing in your regular clothes instead of staying in your pyjamas.

It is also helpful to take short breaks in between completing online assignments and calls and interact with friends virtually. And a balanced diet is essential to keeping a sense of wellbeing and calmness, and for preventing the mood swings that typically accompany eating junk food full of carbohydrates and preservatives.

Limit screen-time in the evening and stay away from your cell phone, computers, or TV for at least an hour before you go to sleep. Ideally, you should have your dinner at least 2-3 hours before your sleep time. Try to go to sleep at a regular hour, as you would normally do before the pandemic hit.

All of these small measures can have a great positive effect, helping you to continue to feel your life has a rhythm and a purpose. If you are caring for children during the lockdown, take a proactive approach by organizing plenty of games and activities to keep them busy and stimulated.

These measures are effective for everyone, but are particularly recommended for those with pre-existing mental health conditions. If you or a loved one has a mental health condition, please be assured that you can still contact health professionals for help during this period. The healthcare system of Qatar is modern, highly-advanced, and was extremely well-prepared to deal with the coronavirus crisis; measures have been put in place to continue to provide core services during the lockdown. If you need health-related help, contact your doctor – they will be able to provide the guidance and assistance you need.

According to Dr. Sheikh, people need “consistent social interactions” to keep their spirits up – a challenge amid COVID-19.

Similarly, if you are taking medication prescribed to you for a mental health condition, be sure to continue doing so during this period of physical distancing. If you are running out of medication and are concerned about going to the pharmacy, please be aware that Hamad Medical Corporation has expanded its excellent pharmacy delivery service and may be able to help you.

Likewise, if you do not have a history of mental illness but feel unusually anxious, stressed or depressed, make sure you seek medical help. Please do not think you have to suffer in silence because of the current situation.

Above all, stay connected – and stay safe.

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