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Harnessing Your Mental Health In A Pandemic With Mamta Saha

Your mental health is just as important as your physical well-being and checking in on it can help you to understand particular emotions and feelings you may be experiencing that are unusual to your person. COVID-19’s public health actions such as social distancing, not being able to see friends or family, lockdowns, self-isolation along with global current affairs have left many people with increased feelings of distress and anxiety, and learning how to cope with these feelings can make you and the people you love more resilient in these unpredictable times.

To help you along your way, looked to Mamta Saha, a Dubai-based psychologist, Ted Talker, and podcast host, with many other accolades under belt, for her expert advice. Where Mamta’s podcast and social media channels cover a variety of social topics we can all relate to and learn from, we wanted to delve deeper into how a year in the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our psyche and how we can navigate our mental health, as well as the mental health of our loved ones…

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During the pandemic, in what ways have you seen the mental wellbeing of people being impacted?

I think the initial stages of the lockdown were really hard on people. Many found it challenging to cope with the grief and isolation, and others found it difficult to deal with job loss and financial insecurity.
Overall people started feeling more stressed, agitated, and restless. However, a year ago, there was also hope. Hope that, on a mental health level, the pandemic would allow us to slow down, be more mindful, and have more time to reflect. In my clients I noted:

  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Overwhelmed
  • Sensitivity
  • Anger

Image via Workstars  

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Why should we look out for in recognizing negative changes in our own mental health or that of others?

It’s important to look out for these changes so that learning about these can help to take action. I believe early intervention can help ease or reduce the severity and suffering of emotional distress and can make it easier to be there for ourselves and our loved ones. It’s also very important for to remember that we cannot always prevent a crisis from happening. Common signs to look for within ourselves, and others include:

  • feeling easily irritable
  • dramatic changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • isolating from friends and family
  • feeling disconnected
  • sudden drop in functioning
  • loss of interest in activities
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How do we help others who seem to be struggling with their mental health?

We all go through tough times and having the support of our loved ones makes these tough times a little easier to get through. Research supports that having friends and family is a vital part of helping someone who is struggling with their mental health. Sometimes it might seem obvious that they are going through something. During these tough times it is important to be supportive, understanding, and as patient as possible.
Validate their feelings: Another important thing to keep in mind is to make sure that we validate their feeling and emotions. People want to feel heard, especially when they are struggling. Just listening non-judgmentally and saying, “That sounds hard” or “I can understand” can help.
Ask how you can be there for them: you will often be surprised about how easy it is to be there for someone, sometimes it can be as simple as offering a listening ear or helping them with their daily tasks like getting groceries with them or accompanying them for a walk.
Respect others’ boundaries and their ability to solve their own problems: People are vulnerable when they face difficult situations, and sometimes some people look to others to solve their problems for them. These days, I try to respect other people enough to let them come up with their own answers. I respect others’ boundaries by supporting their autonomy, being there for them but staying out of the way when my opinion isn’t needed. I make sure that any ideas for possible solutions come from them. I offer useful information without telling anyone what to do.

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What can we do for ourselves to ensure that we are staying on top of our own mental health?

I think this is a crucial part of our lives. Taking care of our mental health requires making conscious decisions. You have to find out what works, what drains your emotional and mental vitality and what makes you feel energized. There is no short-cut or easy way with taking care of mental health, but it does not have to be a very complicated process either.
Meditation: You can start by meditating for just 5 mins a day. Don't worry about accomplishing anything or reaching some sort of enlightenment when you do it; just the fact that you're taking a few minutes to calm down and focus on your breathing is a big step.
Stop glorifying being busy and get some rest: In today’s times it is very easy to fall in the trap of always staying occupied and busy.
Affirmations: Often when we are struggling, we can easily forget that we have the power to reframe our thoughts. The point is to remind yourself you have options when you're blinded by negative thoughts that tell you there's nothing that will help you. These can be simple reminders ("You are loved"), to help you regain focus when you're struggling with your mental health. Affirmations have been backed by science for having a powerful impact on a person’s emotional resiliency and state – making them less prone to feeling triggered.

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Obviously, issues including anxiety and depression have been common issues that people are facing daily, especially since the beginning of the pandemic, what coping mechanisms/exercises can you recommend?

My bespoke 5 Steps below
Mind – notice your thoughts. Embrace them, challenge them and have a chat with yourself. Ask yourself what is in your control?
Body – Move, exercise, walk, yoga, Qi Gong. Notice any stiffness in your body, send that stiffness love and healing through your breath and notice it ease.
Heart – trust your intuition, journal, unload the emotional sandbag. Practice writing from the heart, being led by what your heart wants through your writing.
Breathe – Count in for 4 seconds, hold for 5 second and breathe out for 6, repeat for deep relaxation.
Truth – Ask yourself what is true. What is the truth right now? Am I ok, am I safe? We can often create panic from a story we tell ourselves in our heads. This story is not necessarily always based on the truth. Ask yourself what the truth is and you will lastly, acknowledge the pain and how hard it must be for you, ask for help and seek the support you need to feel better. Recognize that these feelings are all a part of being human and you can get through it.

Image via Mindful 

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Your social media shows that you are a strong believer in affirmations and meditation, why is that?

Yes. We live in a very stress driven stage, especially now there is a lot of uncertainty that surrounds us our anxiety can be further aggravated. Negative thoughts contribute to anxiety, depression, fear and many other emotional symptoms, as well as having an adverse impact on your immune system. I spent over 50 hours reading journals that talked about the benefits that affirmations had on people from all walks of life. I was compelled to create my own. They have changed my own life and the life experiences these words, images, or attitudes are used by your brain to overcome negative thoughts and reprogram your mindset. It’s important to remember positive affirmations or any type of self-talk shouldn’t focus on negatives, denial or not believing something happened. Affirmations help us respond and react to our feelings in a more positive way. For instance, with the constant uncertainty around the pandemic you can say, "I believe in my ability to get through tough times," or "I will not stress over things I cannot control." I believe that when you can focus on the best in yourself, your potential strength can come out and you can better cope and find solutions to life's problems in a healthy manner.

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What is meditation?

Meditation is considered a type of mind-body complementary medicine. Meditation can produce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind.
Meditation can help calm the fight-or-flight response — in which your heart races, your blood pressure increases, and you breathe more rapidly — by helping return your body to its "rest-and-digest" phase, also known as the restorative response. The mental health benefits of meditation include better focus and concentration, improved self-awareness and self-esteem, lower levels of stress and anxiety, and fostering kindness. When we slow down our brain we are better placed to grasp how we are feeling in the moment in order to do something about it.

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How do we meditate effectively?

Here is a quick way to incorporate simple meditation into your daily routine. (Make sure to silence your phone and turn off the television so your attention isn’t compromised).

  • Find a quiet setting where you can sit with your eyes closed for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Close your eyes and identify three things you’re grateful for.
  • Relax your body by taking deep breaths as you hold these three things in your mind.
  • Use your belly to inhale slowly and deeply through your nose.
  • Exhale forcefully through your mouth to release your stresses away.
  • Soften your face and let your shoulders relax and move away from your ears.
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How can affirmations change our outlook and what’s the best way to implement these into our daily routine?

Carefully constructed positive affirmations can “rewire” our brains to break negative thought patterns. Similar to exercise, positive affirmations can actually increase the amount of feel-good hormones in our brains. Positive thoughts create positive emotions, which can change our physiology and improve our mental, emotional, and physical health. Affirmations are more than simply repeating words, however.
Though the process may seem silly if you’re new to it, affirmations have the power to drastically improve lives by freeing people from their own negativity and self-doubt. Using affirmations is a practice of recognizing and changing your thoughts daily. Eventually, positive thoughts can transform your cognitive patterns and negative thoughts may become less prominent. The more you can consciously choose your thoughts, the better your life can be.

  • Set affirmations in the present so they remind you of what you can do them now. For example, “I have all the necessary skills required for this interview”.
  • Try saying affirmations upon waking up and getting into bed, for example.
  • Be patient. It may take some time before you notice any changes, so stick with your practice!
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Lastly, what small things can we do in our busy lives every day to make a positive difference to our mindset?
  • Appreciate ourselves for how far we’ve come.
  • Spend a little time in the nature every day without any digital distraction.
  • Treat yourself with your favorite lunch, massage. You deserve it.

You can purchase Mamta’s daily affirmations on her website, and follow her on Instagram @saha_mamta for more useful tips on maintaining your mental wealth.

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