Having Wellness of Mind
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
Awareness regarding mental health and receiving proper help when needed is a growing topic in Sri Lanka. The importance of this subject is especially relevant today, with the ongoing pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Sadly, this current wave of the pandemic has been the most devastating to the people. Not only have people who have been staying at home for weeks on end, feeling the pangs of being confined to one place, with barely any social interaction, but the deadly virus has quickly turned the numbers and statistics we hear on the news into names of the people we love.
Learning to cope with these challenges, and be there for the people and families who have been affected by these circumstances is a challenge of its own. Ceylon Today spoke with Founder and CEO of Arnaha Centre for Wellbeing Kavita Amaratunga Perera, a Clinical Psychologist and Researcher to glean some advice on how people can learn to manage and cope with the present challenges.
Essential for wellbeing
In the process of completing her PhD, Kavita has experience practicing in the United Kingdom and the Maldives and has been a practicing psychologist in Sri Lanka for the past four to five years, allowing her a broad, international perspective on the field of psychology. “I mainly focus on one-onone individual therapy, and my main area of specialty is in depression, anxiety and self-esteem based issues,” she explained.
Kavita shared that Sri Lanka is slowly, but steadily increasing in its awareness regarding the importance of taking care of one’s mental health. “I think everyone would agree that if we don’t feel good, we won’t be able to get anything done. With the pandemic, the importance of maintaining our wellbeing has only increased. I would say it’s one of the most important components in maintaining our health, our relationships, our productivity, and mental health is absolutely important and I think people are noticing that, which is a good thing,” she said.
Braving the lockdown blues
The subsequent lockdowns with each wave of the coronavirus infection have impacted the lives of everyone, in more than just economic terms and maintaining a stable livelihood. Not being able to go out and experience a sense of normalcy in life, have in-person social interactions, and simply being unable to experience life, as usual can have a major impact on people’s wellbeing. More often than not, people can fall into complacency and adopt unhealthy habits and routines during such periods. Of course, these aren’t the only major challenges that people face while spending lockdown.
Although having more time to spend with family members at home is a good thing, often the little things that hardly bother us in usual circumstances start to build up into major annoyances because of the circumstances. “Ever since we started at nursery, I don’t think we’ve ever spent this much time with everyone at home,” Kavita agreed. She notes that one of the most important things we can do to brave the lockdown is to take time and have an honest conversation with ourselves and have regular evaluations of our own mental wellbeing.
“I think it’s important to do it every day, irrespective of lockdown,” she advised. “Because of lockdowns, our routines have shifted so much, and our accesses to distractions and coping mechanisms have been significantly limited, so in those situations, it’s more important now than ever to be able to have an honest conversation with ourselves.” “Even though it’s a simple thing to say, it can lead you to uncover some major thoughts in your head that might be going on in your head. Ask yourself, ‘How am I feeling?’ ‘Where is my head at?’ and ‘What can I do to maintain my wellbeing in such uncertain circumstances?’”
Dealing with uncertainty
Kavita shared that as human beings, we often have a hard time dealing with uncertainty in life. As the pandemic continues to be a part of our lives, we are left with unanswered questions such as, ‘how much longer will the pandemic last?’ or ‘will I be able to survive financially if a crisis were to happen?’ With no clear cut answers, it would be natural for anyone to experience a little more anxiety than usual. “First of all, we all have to acknowledge that there is uncertainty instead of avoiding the issue.
If you can say to yourself, ‘yes, I’m worried about my career, my future, my family, my health,’ these are real worries, only exaggerated with a failing economy and healthcare system and if you can accept that all this is scary, and not feel guilty about it, that is a major step forward.” “The next step would be to focus on what we can control; my routine, my exercise, maintaining safety regulations, and evaluating things that we do have control over and working on them to start managing the uncertainty in life.”
Coping with loss
Another major impact the pandemic has brought to us is the loss of life. Losing a loved one to the coronavirus can be devastating on its own, but coping with the unusual circumstances that come with the situation can also deal a heavy blow on people’s mental wellbeing. “We’re not just facing death,” Kavita agreed. “We’re facing not being able to grieve together, having to think about the health of you and your family first before caring for a loved one who has lost a family member because of the pandemic,” she explained.
Kavita notes that many psychologists have connected the circumstances people face because of the pandemic - the fear of contracting the disease, the grief of losing a loved one - to that experienced in trauma, which is not something easily addressable. She shared that simply being there for someone can be a huge help. “Reach out to them, talk to them. Don’t talk about all the people who are dying, because it’s a mind game,” she said. “Encourage people, help them to have a good mind-set. Don’t just ask how you are feeling, but also give them a resource as well – a link to an interesting video for example- something to motivate and encourage people.” If there is grief involved, such as a death in the family, it’s important to give them enough space, make sure you’re not breaking your safety protocols also, and honestly, give meaningful support instead and be there for that person. Genuinely try to be there and don’t be afraid to direct them to proper resources if they need professional help.”
Getting help when needed
Kavita explained that psychiatry and psychology are two distinct practices and different from each other. While psychiatry deals with medical doctors trained in psychology whose primary mode of treatment is medication, clinical psychologists focus more on talking intervention, counselling and therapy. Both are effective in their respective fields. “Based on your needs, and what you think suits you best,” she explained. Kavita attributes social media to be the main contributor to the growing awareness of these treatments available and the importance of getting help when needed. “People shouldn’t feel stigmatised, simply for going to talk with a professional. We easily understand that we go to a gym to train our bodies, and speak to a doctor to address a physical illness. We’ve got to normalise that with mental health as well,” she said.
It’s okay to be concerned
“It’s absolutely normal to be anxious and in-over-yourhead because of this pandemic and lockdown. These are valid worries, valid fears, and valid health concerns. You’re not overthinking or going crazy inside. Control your routine every day, stay active and exercise. Have a daily routine, set yourself a few tasks each day and try to accomplish them. Doing those small things are the key to helping us survive the current situation,” she concluded. (Pix by Venura Chandramalitha)