SAMbhawna TELE-health

A leap towards brighter tomorrow

How to keep calm and focus on mental well-being

By Osheen Saxena

A Clinical Psychologist by profession, She is currently a full-time PhD Scholar at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore, India. An amateur writer, animal lover and a beginner at playing violin, she enjoys exploring new escapades in life.

Edited By Dr. M. Thomas Kishore, Additional Professor of Clinical Psychology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences

When a crisis like COVID-19 happens, it is very natural for us to feel anxious and worried. But it is also important to stay calm and take care of oneself and others in a situation like this.
I will take you through few steps to achieve this.

  1. Accept and be Mindful of the situation

Pain and suffering comes in various forms. Diseases, natural calamities, wars, relationship issues, economic crisis and so on. When there is a challenge like this, our anxiety and stress levels will naturally shoot up, and our natural instincts will kick in to avert the crisis. All of that is OK to a certain extent. But, if the distress crosses its limit, we will not be able to think or act effectively. Therefore we need to understand what is bothering us - is it the magnitude of the problem? Risk to self? Risk to the loved ones? Helplessness about the situation? Or a combination of any of these as well other issues. One powerful method that is there in our ancient wisdom and it is being rediscovered by scientists is, training mind to be accepting and being mindful of personal experiences. It is also called, ‘acceptance and mindfulness’.

SOLUTIONS THE MIND COMES UP WITH (which often don’t work well):

Our mind feels that believing in our thoughts or taking them seriously is going to help. Ironically it also feelsthat ignoring, denying, or suppressing negative thoughts will make the negative experience go away.  But the truth is, it neither is helpful nor necessary. Both are maladaptive ways of handling negative experiences. According to Steven C. Hayes (, these are termed cognitive fusion (former) and experiential avoidance (latter). He says we can deal with both by acceptance (of the situation as it is) and commitment (to action guided by our values). In simple terms, he talks about being present, opening up and doing what matters.


The adaptive approach is acceptance. It means to simply drop the struggle and have a willingness to experience unpleasant thoughts or feelings, without attaching meaning to them. The way to be happy is to not reduce the problems but tochange our relationship with them.

But how do we do that? One word, mindfulness. To be mindful about how we’re feeling about everything without adding interpretation to it is the key.

  • If we are mindful, we can carry out necessary activities in the day without thinking about the past or the future, for example, instead of worrying about contracting the virus, we can spend time with our family at home being completely “present” in the activities we may be doing, whether it is eating with full awareness, having a conversation and being fully present and not “zoning out”.Rather than worrying about how fast the virus is spreading in the nation and spending time reading new pieces of information being circulated on media, simply enjoying spending time with your child, giving them a warm hug and being able to connect with them.. More than anything, being mindful that our worries are merely that – “worries”. They are just passing thoughts, and not necessarily true. We do have negative thoughts, but that isn’t proof that all those thoughts are indeed based in reality.Being mindful is wonderful and helpful …but often rare.
  • There are many mindfulness workbooks and exercises available on internet, which may be helpful. One workbook which has a list of interesting mindfulness exercises is here which you can use to plan the lock-down week.
  • You can also put your phone to better use and use apps like Headspace to practice mindfulness using simple 3-10 minutes audios.


2.Self-Care: please yourself unapologetically!

Let’s be honest. We are not very good at taking care of ourselves. We feel that indulging in short-term pleasures is the key to self-care. But in a literal sense, self-care goes deeper than that, and it is very relevant at present in the current public health scenario.

Emotionally, we are in a state of fluctuations between denial, ignorance, optimistic biases, occasional worries, to overwhelming state of frenzy and panic. We need to choose a mid-path for an optimal emotional and mental well-being.

So, let’s discuss the what’s and how’s of self-care. Self-care is the act of putting an effort into appreciating ourselves and caring for ourselves- our mind and our body. It varies from person to person.

  • It could be as simple as moisturizing our hands and feet before bedtime, drinking enough water,
  • Taking breaks from stressful work and relaxing the mind once in a while
  • If someone often experiences internal self-criticism it could be as simple as forgiving oneself and practicing self-compassion.
  • If someone’s a perfectionist, it could be as simple as taking time off to relax and enjoy “just being”. If someone worries excessively about the past (or the future, which most of us may be doing) it could be something like practicing being mindful of the present moment and appreciating it, and consciously detaching oneself from one’s thoughts.
  • If someone’s excessively health conscious, it may even be enjoying that one cheat meal.

Self-care is very subjective, and it blends in with the kind of person you are, and the kind of things you need.So, go head and define it for you and please yourself unapologetically!

3.Innovate @ home

This list is practically endless, there’s always so much to do at home. Without dreaming about being outdoors, one can be highly productive at home and indulge in many things apart from Netflix and chill.

  • These could be DIYs (do-it-yourself products), or engaging in a hobby such as reading, writing, music, or karaoke’s.
  • If you like Art, there are these designs known as mandalas which could be drawn or coloured (freely available online). Mandalas are known to produce a calming or relaxing effect (as well as improves concentration).
  • This is the time to enjoy the indoor hobbies, we did not have the time for otherwise.
  • Exercising is another thing we may find enjoyable (and healthy) to do. It also makes us happier by releasing happy hormones (endorphins). Give exercise routine a twist and try partner exercises which will also lighten up your relationship.
  • Finally, you can gear up on your skills! It’s always exciting. For instance, you could learn a language on Duolingo, or do a course or Coursera, learn a new dance form from YouTube tutorials, or simply dance your worries away.

4.  Fighting negative thoughts and worries

After discussing sort-of vague ways of countering unpleasant thoughts, such as “being present” or self-care, which are so subjective, lets discuss a straightforward way.

  • We need to be aware of the tendency of our minds to fall into the error-mode, thinking irrational thoughts and worse, believing them. We need to be aware of and identify whenever our mind makes an error in thinking, these are known as thinking or cognitive errors.

One example is black and white thinking, i.e. perceiving things to be all good or bad based on few good or bad things happening. For instance, we may feel that the world is “doomed” when we read one piece of news of more people tested positive or deaths. We may see the scenario as doomed or “black”, when indeed it is grey, i.e. there are also news of people recovering. Similarly, we may engage in an error called selective abstraction, i.e. we may wrongly conclude about the situation being worse than it is based on only negative news reports, while ignoring the positive reports. There are others such as catastrophising, for instance, on having a common cold/flu, we may react disproportionately negatively by believing that we indeed have contracted the virus. We may engage in fortune telling, by predicting negative events in the future based on no or little evidence; we may engage in over-generalization, by generalizing that since one has a flu and fever, it definitely must be coronavirus, which we all know isn’t true. Discounting the positive, minimization or tunnel vision are similar distortions in which we only focus on negative aspects of a situation, ignoring/denying all the positive, and this is also a biased (and therefore, incorrect) way of thinking. To keep our minds sane currently, we need to be aware of when we make an error and prevent ourselves from misinterpreting the scenario and thinking about it in worse terms than it is. That’d save us a lot of cortisol (stress hormones).

  • It is also important to time and minimize the news content you and your family watch per day. The social media is loaded with COVID information and unfortunately, we can only read it but cannot do much about it (apart from staying home). So better limit the amount of information you absorb.
  • Another aspect of worry is possible income loss. It is a hard reality which we all are facing today.

But we can choose either to be bogged down with it or prepare us to be fit for job once the economy comes back on track again.




5.   Dealing with existential thoughts

“What if I get the illness?”, “What if I die?”, “What is the meaning of life?”, “Is the world coming to an end?”

Thoughts such as these are called existential thoughts, when we question the reason for our existence, often with a negative overtone.

  • It’s possible to have thoughts on the lines of existentialism, or pondering over the meaning of life, or heightened feelings of fear and “what-if’s”.
  • While, it’s also possible, on the contrary having an overly optimistic bias regarding our likelihood of being vulnerable to the pandemic. Either of the extremes is not healthy, and if existential thoughts do come, welcome them and deal with them with humour, again. Lots of memes to the rescue.


6.   Written Catharsis

Spending time with family is a blessing but there is no denying that it can get overwhelming too and you may be missing your workplace and colleagues.

  • Express yourselves, vent, journal-it-out. All the time you’re getting for brooding, let it out on paper and it’ll be cathartic.
  • Keep the mind happily engaged by journaling, because we know how important it is to not lose our calm and stay sane, to fight the crisis in our best mental capacities.



7. Keep the kids in the house entertained


If you are a family with kids, this is for you. It’s always fun – ok not always – but often, to have kids around. Sometimes they can make a mess. But keeping them engaged and happily engaged is something that might keep you happily engaged and busy.

  • This is a gifted time for you to try home schooling techniques which every parent is exploring.
  • Apart from usual games, surprise them with unusual activities like baking a cake! Here are some recipes for baking which you can do with children.
  • You can also watch some educational documentaries – a really good one is called Cosmos.
  • You can have story telling sessions, or can also engage them in some DIYs.
  • You could also indulge them in reading. Mangas (Ancient Japanese comics) are a good option, which are fun to read with lots of pictures. There are audible stories, and book collections available online such as,Amarchitrakatha.
  • Additionally, you can follow these links to engage in computer coding (2nd link)(freely available now).


Perspective matters – we can either see this as a rough phase of life forced upon us or choose to see if as an opportunity to learn ourselves better and cope with difficult time in a way that can lead to a lot of personal growth. We may also end up understanding ourselves better in the process – from how distractible we are (when we try mindfulness), to what really truly counts as a self-care routine for us (maybe we can even take this as an opportunity to form a habit of caring for ourselves – in the healthy way – not by binge watching Netflix). We can also learn about what errors we make while we think, to whether our way of coping is really the most adaptive and healthy. Apart from a greater self-insight, we can learn other things like maybe a new language, a dance form or the “supposedly” simple task of calming the mind. This opportunity indeed seems brilliant! Let’s make the most of it.

Productive time is overrated, happy time, however, is worth exploring.

Happy Quarantine, guys! Stay Safe and Healthy (in the truest sense of the word).





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