Ways to Stay Emotionally Healthy During Difficult Times

Let’s change our perspective! Remember all those mornings your alarm went off and you wished for just 15 minutes more?  Well now is the time for that 15 minutes.

There are many questions, fears, insecurities and anxieties surrounding this time but there are also positives and the most important is that ‘we are all in this together’. We are all together in the overwhelming demands of having to work online, were some of us have never even heard of platforms such as Zoom and Google Hangouts, never mind doing a presentation on it. We all forget to press the ‘mute’ button, wondering why we can’t see the other person, we are all saying ‘can you hear me, can you hear me?’. Is it not just the best time to learn when mostly everybody is learning this?

We all face different challenges. Some of us are stressed about our studies, about falling behind, about not understanding work, or purely just not knowing what and how to study, will I make it.

Some of us may have had to sacrifice one household income. We fear contracting the virus or that our family contract the virus. Some of us are mostly all together in having to balance our children’s schooling in between our work duties and the household chores and keeping our marriages alive.  Then there are some of us being isolated and alone during this lock down.

Whatever your scenario, it has its challenges and vices yet also still that 15 minutes!

Some ideas on how to cope:

  • Manage expectations, of yourself and of others:

Understandably, a lot of the head space you usually have structured on specific routines is now being used up for other things. For many of us it’s being used to create new structure and set up new routines for yourself and your family.  It is also used for processing what’s going on around us and making sense out of chaos.  This chaos has now become our new normal. Lowering our expectations of productivity, a little bit and also for others would relieve some stress.  We cannot expect from ourselves and others to functional like our optimal selves in difficult times.

We need to understand some things: All of us manages stress in a different manner, some of us run from it (flight), some of us fight it (fight) and some of us seize to function (freeze).  We need to accept that everybody will be going through something different right now and will have different levels of stress. Let us not expect people to be their best selves right now, have a lot of compassion. People are hoarding in the supermarket because they’re afraid.

Expectations in terms of productivity can be changed by, keeping work sessions shorter than usual, work in short breaks, say 20-30 minutes’ work and a five-minute break. In times of stress our minds are clogged and our focus and concentration is likely to lapse.  Specifically working on subject matter such as mathematics where logical and rational thinking is crucial.  So often when we work, work, work for two or three hours we then see our productivity plunge.

  • Set some good foundations to help manage stress:

Routine is one of those good foundations. “Get up Dress up Show up” – this is what you would do when you are working, so stick to that routine.  Try not to stay in your pyjamas all day. It will start feeling like you are on holiday and you will have very little motivation to study or work. Create clear distinctions between work and non-work time and spaces. Find something to do that is not work and is not virus-related that brings you joy.

Make sure you get enough and also quality sleep. Sustain a routine around sleep and wake times and spaces.  Try not to work in your sleeping space and not sleep in your down-time space. Avoid blue lights and screen time before bed as that may influence the quality of your sleep.

Make sure you eat well. This is the time to have a prime immune system! Yet it may be difficult as when we’re up to here already with the levels of stress, leaning on alcohol, having cravings for sugar or fatty foods is a normal phenomenon. Unfortunately, these habits don’t necessarily help us maintain our best immune systems, or our best level of cognitive functioning.

Exercise!  However, wherever and whenever you can. Exercise releases feel-good hormones (endorphins) in your brain. These hormones assist in lowering our stress levels, helps us regulate your emotions and aids in improving our sleep.

Keep your social life going. Maintain the friendships you have and possibly make new ones.  We can create and maintain connections with others using online platforms.

Lend a helping hand.  You could use this time to reach out to others might be badly affected by the crisis. There are many sad situations. Some people may have lost their jobs, some may be stuck in abusive relationships within their homes. Talk to them, listen, and if it is within your means, offer your help, however small it may be. Helping others who are less fortunate than ourselves also helps you to put things in perspective.

Limit bad news intake. Being constantly exposed to gloomy news is enough to make anyone panic. Hearing bad news once is enough, not ten times of the same news in different versions from every gadget that you own.

Spend time outside.  If you have a garden or a balcony spend some time there.  This will assist you in not getting cabin fever.  Being in the sun for 20-30 minutes per day will increase your Vit D levels which helps to keep your immune system strong.

  • Know your own stress signals:

We all hold stress in different parts of our bodies. Some of us for instance hold tension in our jaws, shoulders, lower backs and/or joints. If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, try to understand your own warning signs. Actively relax those parts of your body that carry your stress. Exercise and stretching also assists in alleviating physical pain caused by emotional stress. It sounds trivial but these things really feed into anxiety and maintain it. Some people start to shallow breathe. Engage with belly breathing, it involves our digestive system, slows our heart rate down and brings us into a resting state.

You can also identify key thoughts, sensations and actions that contribute to your cycle of distress, for example frustration, worry, sadness, tension, due to compulsively checking the latest COVID-19 statistics. Acknowledge such disruptive behaviour and minimize it.  Actively seek to settle stress and tension in the early phases as this will help you maintain an effective level of functioning, which will help you get through difficult times.

  • Manage uncertainty by staying in the present:

There is a considerable level of justifiable stressors and uncertainty about the present and future out there. Uncertainty because we don’t know how long this difficult time will last, we don’t know what the future impact is going to be, we don’t know how many people are going to be negatively affected by this. So, there is a level of uncertainty and with uncertainty comes anxiety – about the illness itself, also what this means for society, jobs, the economy.  Although there is much uncertainty about the future it is not something we can control, we can merely control how we react on it. 

During difficult times we often get caught up trying to answer ‘What if’ questions – what if I get the virus; what if my children get sick, what if I fall behind and can’t catch up on my academics.  The worry itself, trying to answer these questions is quite pointless as you will be trying to respond to something that has not even happened yet. You can only respond to something that has happened and that you have facts about.  Such state of rumination keeps us caught up in a loop and keeps our level of stress up.

Therefore, it is best take each day as it comes. Focus on the things you can manage now.  Mindfulness and meditation can be great tools to use to remain in the present.

Use this website if you would like more information on mindfulness

www.mindful.org › how-to-practice-mindfulness

  • Re-evaluate the meaning of your life:

Difficult times often present hard but valuable life lessons that force us to re-evaluate our perceptions and the meanings we attach to our lives. Ask yourself: “Are the meanings and goals I’ve been living by before the crisis really worthwhile? What are the things that I’ve found to be really important through this crisis? And what are those that are not as important or precious as what I once thought to be?”



1. The School of Life (https://www.theschooloflife.com/) is an organisation dedicated to helping people lead more fulfilled lives - their youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/schooloflifechannel/videos) has a range of videos (many very psychologically minded) across several topics.

2. Some mental apps across a few topics: self-care (Woebot - https://woebot.io/), coping with self-harm (Calm Harm - https://calmharm.co.uk/#row1), mindfulness meditations (Insight Timer - https://insighttimer.com/, Headspace - https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app, Calm - https://www.calm.com/, or Stop, Breath Think - www.stopbreathethink.com), and for overwhelmed kiddos (Captain Calm - https://www.captaincalm.org/).

3. Daily webinar series on mental health and wellbeing during times of Covid-19- https://www.mygrow.me/healthandwellbeing/.

4. Coping with anxiety during times of Covid-19 - a series of articles across corona-related mental health topics: https://www.virusanxiety.com/

5. A highly-rated free course on the science of well-being offered by Yale: https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being…

6. Resources for explaining the coronavirus to younger children: where did everyone go (https://jonellisphotography.files.wordpress.com/…/where-did…)? and an illustrated explanation of the coronavirus (https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track…).


1. The Down Dog app - yoga and workout app (https://www.downdogapp.com/).

2. The Nike Training app - free and can be adjusted by duration of workout and intensity (https://www.nike.com/za/ntc-app).

3. Yo Yoga - SA yoga studio offering some free online classes on their YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCESpzHtu5RyQvyBXkf53kHg)

3. If you enjoy Russle Brand's voice, this is like doing a personal workout with his cousin: The Body Coach on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/thebodycoach1/videos) - he does daily videos which you can follow from the comfort of your own living room.

4. Cosmic kids - a yoga-based Youtube channel for younger kids (https://www.youtube.com/user/CosmicKidsYoga/videos)

A gentle reminder that it's also okay not to work out - if all you can do is get out of bed, shower, and change into a fresh set of PJ's, that's fine too! I encourage you to set yourself one goal a day - something that you've been putting off but you know will make you feel better - and do it. Give your body permission to rest and change during this time of restricted movement.


1. Free audio books from amazon in 6 languages - https://stories.audible.com/discovery.

2. 700 free educational texts from Cambridge press - https://www.cambridge.org/core/what-we-publish/textbooks#

3. Free virtual Visits to 17 European museums (just make sure to translate the page to English - a pop-up should come up) - https://www.demotivateur.fr/…/visiter-des-musees-sans-bouge….

4. Access to free online courses across several platforms: Harvard (https://online-learning.harvard.edu/catalog/free), Coursera (https://www.coursera.org/courses?query=free), and Futurelearn (https://www.futurelearn.com/courses).

5. Tabletopia - access to hundreds of online games that you can play with family (near and far): https://tabletopia.com/

Published by Annel Smit

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