Lockdown—up until March 2020, this word didn’t exist in our vocabulary. Cut to present day, we’ve literally been locked inside our homes for the last five months, as we’re trying to get used to the ‘new normal’ and navigate towards the ‘next normal’ post COVID-19. From anxiety related to our job and financial security to being isolated from family and friends, it’s been an extremely stressful time for the world by and large. As we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, there are serious concerns about health; however, it’s equally important to talk about mental health that is taking a hit due to emotional and psychological disturbances.
“We human beings are naturally social animals and enjoy being in the company of others. When this fundamental principle of being human is disturbed due to the new norms, it invariably calls for various mental imbalances,” explains Dr. Arun Pillai, Wellness Director of Dharana at Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat & Spa, a health and wellness retreat in Lonavala.
“People who already have mental health issues are at a risk of slipping into depression during such times. The psychological imbalance may eventually affect the physiology of the person and create imbalance in hormones, the digestive system as well as the nervous system. So, ideally one should use the abundantly available commodity of time to gain the best out of it,” he adds.
Processing the ‘new normal’ From salads and smoothies to workout routines, you know all the hacks and DIYs to detox your body. But have you ever spared a thought to detox your mental health? As we deal with the new normal, one of the biggest concerns has been mental health. A generation that was anyway dependant on screens for everything—from hailing cabs to ordering groceries is now even more dependent on screens and technology. From work meetings to social gatherings, everything seems to be in front of a screen. Contrary to making our lives convenient, increased screen time is linked with new problems that we are often unaware of. This new dependence on screens, coupled with factors like increased household chores, anxiety about the future and isolation has ultimately led to more of the dreaded ‘S’ word in our lives—stress.
Here’s how you can make healthy choices and commit to your mental and spiritual well-being during these trying times.
What screen time actually does to you…Dr Pillai explains how this virtual lifestyle wreaks havoc in our bodies. “It has been agreed upon by scientists and doctors alike that every disease and health issue have an underlying psychosomatic connection—which means your mind and body are related. When a person is occupied without a human intervention (as is the case with virtual technology) it has consequences.” So, as you’re cooped in your home and constantly glued to the screen, here’s what happens to your body:
1. “When you’re processing the digital information overload, it causes stress and strains the mind, which triggers cortisol—commonly referred to as the ‘stress hormone’. The body has its own threshold, but with smartphones there’s no limit to usage. Thus, with overuse of technology, the production of cortisol and serotonin (the hormone that regulates our moods) is affected that further disrupts the hormonal balance,” explains Dr. Pillai.
2. Hormonal disruptions eventually affect the circadian rhythm in the body leading to physical ailments. Hormonal imbalances also create an acidic environment in the body—making it a hotbed for disease.
3. Excessive use of gadgets also eventually causes a drop in physical activities, leading to lifestyle disorders like gaining excessive weight, improper meal timings and a greater disturbance to mental health.
4. And last but not the least, you’re simply whiling away time on your phone when you could be doing something more productive.
Stress, the silent killerMental health practitioners the world over cannot stress enough (pun unintended) on the effects of stress in our lives. Researches have shown that there is direct connection between stress and lifestyle diseases such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and even respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments. “With India being identified as one of the depressed countries in the world, 6.5 per cent of the Indian population suffers from some form of serious mental disorder,” says Dr. Shweta Sharma, Clinical Psychologist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Gurugram. Evidently, addressing mental health is the need of the hour keeping the current scenario in mind.
Stress also affects interpersonal relationships believes Himani Khanna, Co- Founder & Director, Continua Kids (a centre of neurotherapy for uniquely-abled kids) who says, “Demanding work schedules build stress in individuals—stress to be able to execute the long task list of the day and the stress to perform. Continuous stress may lead to anxiety and sometimes depression of not living up to performance expectations. An irritable mood and challenging mental health will eventually reduce performance and affect relationships, both in the professional and personal spaces.”
10 ways to start a digital detoxWhile the world seems to have gone digital, shunning technology altogether is a remote possibility. However, it can be used smartly and in moderation. Follow these 10 simple ways you can unplug, relax and recharge:
1. Be mindful of the amount of screen time you have in a day. Make sure your day is scheduled and you have a specific time to check emails. Keep the use of gadgets to a minimum of two hours before sleeping as they can over stimulate your mind and interfere with your sleep cycle.
2. While we’re all working from home, you still need to make a conscious effort to pull yourself away from the screen. Apart from your mental health, long hours in front of the screen also have other implications such as computer vision syndrome, backache, bad posture and other orthopedic issues.
3. Ayurveda prescribes two fundamental principles—dinacharya and ritucharya. The former refers to a daily routine while the latter to a seasonal routine. Follow ritucharya by starting your day early. This is not only important from a spiritual point of view but also from a functional perspective, as you get extra hours in the day. Additionally, you will also sleep and eat early, which keeps your body in tune with nature. Similarly, eat fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, to nourish your body and mind.
4. It’s important to make time for physical exercise even though we’re bound indoors. Ideally an hour’s physical activity is recommended for any body type; however now that we have more time, try engaging yourself with 1-2 hours of physical activity in order to be healthy, not just physically, but also psychologically.
5. Similarly, make a conscious effort to get back to the hobbies you grew up with, whether it is reading books or painting. You can also look up interesting online courses for dance or other hobbies.
6. Be cognizant of your mental health. Take time out to meditate and practise breathing exercises. An hour of yoga and meditation everyday is sure to keep your energised and at peace.
7. Spending time in nature keeps stress levels at a minimum. However, if you’re currently living in a city, you can try the simple yet therapeutic practice of gardening.
8. Use this precious time to bond with your family and spend quality time together. Even if there’s more housework, take it as an opportunity to spend time together. Distribute the workload; get kids involved in simple chores like filling water bottles, watering plants and helping with simple tasks in the kitchen.
9. Keep negative thoughts at bay by focusing on things you like—cooking your own food or making a call to an old friend.
10. Last but not the least, exercise moderation when it comes to technology.
So, the next time you find yourself going into the rabbit hole of your smartphone, exercise restraint—you’re smarter than your smartphone! And as we battle the pandemic, remember we’re alone, but together and that eventually this too, shall pass.