this is an opportunity to build mental resilience

The COVID-19 pandemic is not only costing the lives of tens of thousands of people all around the world, but it’s also causing harm to the mental health of millions.

Even before Coronavirus, the human population was already in the midst of a mental health crisis. And it’s safe to say that this pandemic will only exacerbate it. According to a recent report published in The Lancet, the mental health effects of the pandemic could “exceed the consequences of the 2019-nCoV epidemic itself.” 

Long periods of isolation, lack of job security, loss of loved ones, financial uncertainty, fear and anxiety related to the pandemic along with the everyday little stresses of our new normal are stacking up against our well-being and accelerating the mental health crisis more than ever. And that’s why it’s important that we take strong measures to protect our mental health. As Arianna Huffington points out, “Just as we’ve had to make drastic changes to our lives to stop the spread of the virus, we need to take urgent steps to safeguard our mental health, too.”

Many people in their pursuit to navigate in the new normal are unfortunately reaching for quick fixes that will only further worsen their mental and physical health. Consumption of alcohol, cannabis, tobacco and comfort foods such as Oreos, Goldfish crackers and chocolate chip cookies has massively increased. In addition, people are becoming less willing to exercise and/or become physically active. These are all bad signs.

It’s good that the conversations around mental health have been happening for quite some time, and a good portion of people are aware of how this pandemic might deepen certain mental health issues like anxiety, depression and addiction. We are fortunate to live in an era where an abundance of information is accessible to us and where we can devise strategies and come up with potent solutions for ourselves and our loved ones to respond to stress and anxiety and overcome the challenges that come up due to the new normal.

We can all take certain steps to manage our negative emotions. We can let go of our self-judgment tendencies when we think that we might be over-reacting to certain situations. We can focus on deep breathing when we feel panic and overwhelm. We can limit our news and social media intake. We can meditate or pour out our worries in a journal, and get in touch with the stillness within. 

Like we are stocking essential supplies in our homes, we must also build our inner reserves. We can transform this crisis into an opportunity to strengthen our inner fortress and build mental resilience. We can choose the path of personal expansion and self-renewal, and commit to sharpening our axe. We can work through our fears and develop strategies to navigate them. 

Preparation is the key to victory. Now is a good time to perform the Stoic exercise of premeditatio malorum and pinpoint things that could go wrong, and the losses that we may need to deal with in the future. The unexpected blows of fortune can be brutal and immensely painful, which is the exact reason why a wise person contemplates on them beforehand. When we train ourselves in advance, we prepare ourselves to face anything that may happen and work towards solving problems beforehand so that we don’t encounter them later on. This builds confidence and fortifies self-reliance. In simple words, we must hope for the best but also prepare for the worst.

We can use this crisis to purify and refine ourselves. To let our bad habits and behaviors wither way, and instead focus on becoming stronger and wiser, and a better version of ourselves. 

We can choose to reset our lives and work towards establishing ourselves in the new world. As the novelist Arundhati Roy writes in the Financial Times, “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”