I’m 21 years old and this is how I’m tackling the mental health challenges the pandemic has thrown at me.
Author: 21-year-old Anesh wrote this guest blog for VicHealth. Anesh is a member of VicHealth’s Youth Expert Panel
Any coronavirus information mentioned is accurate at the time this article was first published (18 August 2020). For the most up-to-date information about coronavirus restrictions, please visit the source: www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au
As the pandemic wreaked havoc on the state of Victoria, it felt like my life had turned upside down.
In a matter of days, I was isolated from friends, my six-month exchange program in Europe went out the window, and my mind felt like a ticking time bomb filled with anxious thoughts.
For the first few weeks, my default state was to wallow in self-pity and remind myself how the universe had it in for me. It was a pool of quicksand which dragged me back down every time I tried to get out of bed before noon.
Assignments and exercise took a back seat while I binge-watched Inbetweeners and scrolled through social media.
After a few weeks of this lifestyle, I shared my frustration with my friends, only to realise many of us were in the same boat. This provided the trigger I needed to jump out of the ocean of pity I’d formed around me and take action.
How I got my life back on track
I’d dabbled in mindfulness and gratitude practices in the past, but never formed a habit. The more I read about the scientific benefits, the more I was convinced that creating a daily routine beginning with these practices would be worthwhile, especially to help me get out of the coronavirus rut I found myself in.
This is my explanation of what mindfulness and gratitude practices are, and what I learnt doing them.
1. Mindfulness meditation:
You can call it mindfulness, meditation, or mindfulness meditation. It just means you practise being ‘present’ and fully focused on whatever you’re doing, rather than getting lost in thoughts about other things.
What I learnt:
- I spend less time procrastinating and more time doing the things I love
It helped me cut down on the time I spent procrastinating by scrolling through news websites, and instead do more activities I found fulfilling, like spending time with my family and reading the books I always said I would. This was all because I found myself exercising more choice in the way I reacted to day-to-day situations – I was less impulsive and more intentional.
- It feels like a superpower that makes me immune to anxious thoughts
Mindfulness changed my relationship with my thoughts. It gave me the ability to see the temporary nature of every thought and helped me realise that just because a thought enters my mind, that doesn’t mean I need to take it seriously. This gave me the control to let go of anxious thoughts. Not having them consume me felt like a superpower.
- I stopped wishing for the pandemic to end and started living with it
If I’m lost in my thoughts, I might as well be anywhere, doing anything. Life happens when you’re not on autopilot, so I stopped wishing for the pandemic to end, and started living.
2. Gratitude practice (negative visualisation technique)
This is about thinking about the things you value most and imagining life without those things.
Initially, I was sceptical about this ancient stoic practice as it seemed artificial and forced, but I found it had a .
What I learnt:
- How to shake self-pity and feel content
It made me appreciate how extremely lucky I was and understand how things could be much worse.
- The importance of helping those less fortunate
It helped me connect with my intention to support those who aren’t as lucky as me. This led me to volunteer my time to help small business owners from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds who were affected by coronavirus (COVID-19).
Pitfalls and how to avoid them
Prioritising and taking time out of the day was tough, and in the context of a growing global health emergency, the practices sometimes felt like an ineffective use of my time.
On some days, I would spend a 10-minute meditation completely lost in my thoughts and this made it harder to find the motivation to practise.
But here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Avoid setting expectations and try withholding judgement, no matter how terrible a meditation session seems. Realise that benefits can’t occur overnight, just like learning any other skill.
- Realise that the quality of your mind determines the quality of your life, as it shapes every experience you have. I began to treat these practices as an operating manual to navigate the chaotic nature of my mind.
These are just a few practices that worked for me, and they may not work for everyone. I hope my experiences inspire you to learn new ways to support your mental health and take some time to make your mind a more resilient and peaceful space.
Learn how to support your mental health and wellbeing during coronavirus on our blog with tips from Beyond Blue.