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Mindfulness, connecting with loved ones best way to fight isolation-induced stress: Isha Malik
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Mindfulness, connecting with loved ones best way to fight isolation-induced stress: Isha Malik

Amid the second wave of the pandemic and a massive surge in Covid-19 cases and lockdown in place, people in isolation are finding it hard to cope with the stress and anxiety that isolation can bring with it. Rising Kashmir spoke with RCI Licensed Clinical

Post by on Wednesday, May 26, 2021

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Amid the second wave of the pandemic and a massive surge in Covid-19 cases and lockdown in place, people in isolation are finding it hard to cope with the stress and anxiety that isolation can bring with it. Rising Kashmir spoke with RCI Licensed Clinical Psychologist Isha Malik. Malik, who is presently working as a Clinical Psychologist at GB Pant Hospital in Srinagar, speaks about ways in which people in isolation can deal with stress and anxiety. Malik also runs her centre, Mind Spa by Isha Malik, for assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems.



What can a person do if he/she finds self-isolation claustrophobic? 

It is common for people to feel claustrophobic while isolating themselves inside the same room for a prolonged period. Some tips to help cope with claustrophobia are:


1. Open the windows. Since the weather now is also pleasant, one can open the windows of their room to let some sunshine and fresh air in.


2. Practice relaxation, mindfulness and grounding exercises to help manage physical symptoms of anxiety or stress. 


3. You can also take a daily walk in the garden while properly taking care of Covid-19 SOPs so that you don’t feel you are trapped.


4. Keep reminding yourself that this is something temporary and necessary to safeguard others well-being. 


5. Even though you are physically isolated but do not socially isolate yourself. Try to virtually connect as much as you can with your family and friends so that you don’t feel alone in the room. The more you keep yourself busy the lesser attention will you pay to the physical sensations of anxiety and the lesser time will you get to think about anxiety-provoking thoughts.


One big concern for people during isolation is missing their dear ones. What should a person do in this situation? 

While physical contact may be limited right now, there are several ways to stay in touch with friends and family. Those in recovery need to stay connected with friends and family. Schedule regular video calls with your loved ones and use this as an opportunity to reconnect with long-lost friends from college, old colleagues or relatives you previously didn’t get time to connect with. By staying plugged in, you’ll remain cheerful and busy and it will help you remind yourself that others are going through the same thing that you are. Creating a group chat is also a good idea. Sharing old pictures and positive or funny experiences and stories can help uplift each other’s mood. You can even host a tea break with your colleagues who are also working from home or a virtual family get together. Try to avoid discussing too much about the pandemic as it can add to your distress.


What should a person do if Covid-19 induces insomnia? 

The loss of sleep due to Covid-19 is being called coronasomnia. It’s just like a series of vicious cycles. The more you can’t sleep, the more you worry about it and the more you don’t sleep.


Some tips to deal with it include:


• Try to preserve your normal routine even at home and strictly maintain a fixed sleep-wake cycle. Waking up at the same time every morning helps stabilize your circadian rhythm. (The circadian rhythm is how our bodies anticipate when it’s time to sleep and time to wake up.)

• Get some sunlight: It helps keep our circadian rhythms in the pattern so we produce melatonin at night, not during the day.

• Avoid daytime naps.

• Do some physical exercise during the day, preferably in the afternoon.

• Don’t eat dinner late: you have to give your body time to digest it. When you go to sleep, your body wants to shut down all the metabolic work, including digestion. So there should be a gap between your dinner time and sleep time

• Avoid Covid-19 related news consumption before going to sleep. It can trigger anxiety and thus make it difficult for you to fall asleep.

• Follow an unwinding ritual before going to bed. Schedule it one hour before your actual sleep time. Begin by turning down the lights. Bright lights will keep your brain from producing natural melatonin (a hormone that is part of our natural sleep cycle and helps us sleep). Turn off all electronic gadgets (especially your phones) at least half an hour before your sleep time. Try to relax by engaging in some non-stimulating activity.

• Try listening to some guided imagery audios or some relaxing music before going to sleep. Consistency is important. Practising meditation once a week won’t be effective.

• Don’t keep checking the clock. Calculating how much sleep you're losing can trigger anxiety and make it harder to fall asleep.


Many people complain of panic attacks during isolation, how to deal with that? 

The most effective self-help techniques to cope with panic attacks include deep breathing, grounding activities, mindfulness and guided imagery.


There are many videos and audios freely available online.


Some Grounding exercises can help you relax your mind when you are feeling anxious by seeking out sensory stimuli in your current environment.


Example 1

To begin, make sure you are sitting or lying somewhere quiet, where you are unlikely to be disturbed.

– I find this exercise works best if you either close your eyes.

– Take a big, long, slow, deep breath in, through your nose. Imagine the air going all the way down to your belly.

– Then, slowly, slowly breathe the old air out, through your mouth. See how slowly you can breathe the air out.

– Do this slow breathing, in through your nose and out through your mouth, 3 times.

– Now, notice your feet on the floor, connected to the earth.

– Notice the weight of your body connecting with the chair.

– Notice the back of the chair, supporting the back of your body.

– You are supported.

– Take another 3 long, slow, deep breaths.

– What can you hear in your immediate surroundings?

– When you are ready, you may like to open your eyes.

– Before rushing straight into the next moment, you may like to take your time. Give yourself some space. Let yourself remain in the present and feel what it is like to be right here, right now.


Example 2

5-4-3-2-1 technique: Look around and identify 5 things in your environment (room) which you can see. Notice what can you see close to you and at a bit distance. Try to notice small details of those things, e.g patterns, shapes, colour gradients etc.

Identify 4 things you can hear.


Listen to the sounds keenly. Notice which sounds are constant and which are coming and going. Notice if the sounds are soft or loud.


Identify 3 things you can feel/touch around you. Notice how the shirt you are wearing feels, the soft blanket on your lap, or silk stole around your neck, the hot air coming out from the blower or cool breeze through the window etc.


Identify 2 things that you can smell. Notice if the smell is strong or faint.


Identify 1 thing you can taste. Notice how it feels on your palate; if it is sweet or sour or spicy.


What activities can one do during isolation?

I know it’s not easy to deal with the psychological correlates of prolonged isolation but I am sure if you follow most of the recommendations enlisted below will help you feel much better.


Firstly set a basic safety plan based on WHO or CDC recommendations and don’t keep adding to it every day such that it becomes difficult to follow and therefore adds to your stress levels.


Aim to keep your room organized and clean. Avoid eating and working in your bed. Relaxing these boundaries just messes your routine and can make the day feel very long. A cluttered/untidy room can make you feel more uncomfortable/uneasy and add to the stress related to the prevailing chaos around you.


Excess media exposure regarding the current situation can trigger stress. Take breaks from social media and allow yourself to do things you enjoy, eg painting, listening to music, reading books. You can utilize this time to learn something new and interesting, for example, a new language, a new technical skill, etc. This is perhaps the time to read that book that you have been waiting to read for the last two years. Remember that the more you keep yourself busy, the lesser time you will get to think about things out of your control.


Remember to stay physically active. Spending the whole day at home can tempt you to move towards a lethargic lifestyle, which could further lead to negative thinking and fatigue, so you should try to maintain your usual pre-quarantine routine. Stick to or develop new healthy habits such as exercise, spot jogging, balanced nutrition, and quality sleep. These are all beneficial for your mental and physical health.


Being under quarantine is the best opportunity to dedicate time towards SELF-CARE. Set time for yourself to spend doing the activity which makes you feel really happy, relaxed and positive or do something you hardly manage time for during your busy work schedules (some long avoided pleasurable tasks). Reframe your thoughts e.g. “I am stuck inside” to “I can finally focus on my home and myself”. Remember that having something special to do during this time will help you look forward to each new day and prevent you from feeling low. Start a new quarantine ritual. For example, you can start a daily journal to jot down thoughts and feelings to reflect on later. Or take a walk every day at 4 pm in your garden, connect with your sister/best friend etc over FaceTime/ Skype every morning, or start a painting which you can add to every day. Adding any mindfulness activity (be it for only 5-10 minutes long)to your self-care regime would help you maintain your calm and distract yourself from the stressful situation. This could also be an opportunity to introspect within and identify the things you would like to work on to improve your interpersonal relationships, work skills, self-confidence etc. 


Stay informed rather than overloaded with information. Only go through news updates from verified and trusted sources rather than unreliable Facebook and WhatsApp messages. Avoid the temptation to learn “EVERYTHING” about the novel Covid-19. Stick to a set time (e.g. 10-15 minutes) and limit the frequency of your news or information consumption(watch or read the news just twice a day). Remember if you don’t set a reasonable limit it might slowly turn into addictive behaviour and for those already diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it might further worsen their symptoms.


Accept that some anxiety and fear is normal. COVID-19 is a novel virus and everyone across the globe is still learning about it. The uncertainty about the virus and the changes that are unfolding every day (e.g. travel restrictions, schools and offices shut down, disrupted plans etc.) can make most people feel a bit anxious. We need to accept that this kind of fear is quite normal, and it can even help motivate us to be proactive and take appropriate action to keep ourselves and others safe. Fear is contagious. If you act frightened or engage in panic buying, others will react in the same way. Remember all of us have a responsibility towards the rest of the community to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak sensibly.


Lastly remember you are resilient and be careful with the “what if’s”. Stress and anxiety cause people to focus on negatives and trigger “What if” questions, such as “How will I cope if I get infected?” or “How will I manage on my own family if I have to self-isolate?” These apprehensions can also lead us to think about worst-case scenarios. People are resilient and have coping skills they use every day but in stressful situations people often (catastrophize) overestimate how bad the situation can get and underestimate their coping abilities. In such situations, you should think of the difficult or challenging situations you have encountered in past and were able to manage successfully. Even if things weren’t ideal, recall what you did to cope with the situation. Remind yourself that you can handle stress and that if you feel you need support, you can reach out to mental health professionals. Remember our collective resources – a strong and resilient community. Try to replace your negative and catastrophic thoughts with a statement like, “This is a difficult time, but we will get through it together.” Keep repeating positive self-affirmations to yourself.


How does one feel better while dealing with the disease and being in isolation? 

Some tips to be followed can be: Remember it’s okay not to be okay. Don’t focus on productivity. Appreciate yourself for every effort because survival during the pandemic should be our priority. It's normal to be able to stick to your schedule and concentrate on work. So don’t be so harsh on yourself or feel guilty for not completing the tasks you had planned for the day.


Watch or read something uplifting and positive.


Try focusing on controlling the things that you can. Worrying about the uncertain future can make you feel more hopeless and helpless.


Figure out ways to help your community. E.g. donate, share positive messages on social media, virtually support others who are feeling low and are also isolated.


Consult a mental health professional if you feel you are unable to cope with your anxiety, depression, stress etc. Do not delay seeking help.


Remind yourself that you are not alone. Although your reactions and problems are unique everyone has been affected by the pandemic.


Try to create work/life boundaries.


What is the best way to keep the positive energy flowing during isolation?

Apart from the recommendation mentioned here, maintaining a gratitude journal can help. These days when all we are hearing and seeing around us is negative and anxiety-provoking, we forget to count our blessings. This leads us to feel more hopeless and sad. Think about (or write down) at least three people, experiences, or things you are grateful for or something positive that happened throughout the day. When we enter our rest mode with this positive energy of gratitude and love we get a longer and more peaceful sleep plus we also wake up with the same positivity. 



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