If your life were a set of building blocks, your health would be the foundation. We all know that our physical wellbeing depends on the consumption of nutritious foods (in appropriate quantities), heart pumping and strengthening exercise, and adequate amounts of rest and water. Although sometimes the advice of our doctors falls onto deaf ears, there is no denying that we have at least a rudimentary understanding of what it takes to get ourselves into good physical condition. Unfortunately, the path to good mental health has not been taught to us in the same repetitive and blunt way that basic physical fitness has been drilled into our noggins.
What is good mental health anyway? Simply put, good mental health is a person’s ability to manage positive and negative emotions and fulfill one’s personal goals. With good mental health, one can be successful at managing stress, understanding his/ her disposition, and maintaining positive relationships with others. Unlike a tried and tested gym routine, the path to attaining good mental health eludes many.
I am pondering mental health now in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Not too long ago, laws were passed to severely restrict and limit public gatherings including banning all dine-in service. These laws were meant to protect us physically, however, the unintended consequence is that they could contribute to damage on our emotional/ psychological/ and mental ecosystems.
Our ability to move freely throughout the world and socialize is not only a liberty, but a way of life. To protect ourselves and our communities, we must minimize the spread of the coronavirus by staying home. This is hard for many. Up until the ban on dine-in service, I myself have been guilty of parading outside the house and passing time at coffeeshops. I know others too are struggling to social distance. On a Facebook group that I am affiliated with, a woman suggested organizing a “social-distancing” run, where participants would meet as a group, and go on a run with all members maintaining a distance of no fewer than six feet apart from one another. I so badly want to engage in these sorts of activities, however, circumventing the rules in this fashion is not going to help flatten the curve—sorry! While I can’t support activities like this, I do understand where this woman is coming from.
Socialization is a critical part of our mental health. I, like many, are eager to bend and twist the rules to make it so we can come together and get our minds off of things during this tough time. In my head, I fantasize of an outdoor yoga class where mats are spread far apart, and no one is to invade anyone else’s bubble. Again, unfortunately, coming together and maintaining distance is not a smart move during the pandemic. However, coming together virtually for some exercise, games, or conversation is a positive way in which we can help foster our mental health while protecting our physical well-being.
Another Facebook group that I am a part of cancelled all meetups for the foreseeable future. However, one group leader took it upon himself to organize a few virtual events. The group leader hosted a virtual game night for one evening as well as started a sign up for a book club that would meet through Zoom. One event that I was reluctant to join but pushed myself to attend anyway was a Netflix Party. Netflix Party is a Google Chrome extension that allows you to watch Netflix programming (through your account) remotely and simultaneously with others. The ‘party’ part of this activity comes in the form of a live chat that is overlaid on the Netflix screen. In this way, you and other participants can make snide or witty remarks instantly as if you were bantering in person (see above). So, with a virtual group we watched the first episode of a reality television show, quipping all the while. Watching television with others is the exact opposite of what I find to be entertaining, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Engaging in a lighthearted show and texting short back-and-forths with others gave me the little socialization burst that I craved to tip my mood and emotions back into a positive balance.
Social distancing and self-quarantine are hard; however, we are not victims here. We are so lucky to be living in 2020 where socialization and meaningful interaction are just a click away. As an introvert, sometimes it is difficult for me to seek out social situations, however, time and time again, I am shown that making the effort is well worth it.
So, Dear Reader, while you are trying your best to eat a nutritious diet and perform burpees in your living room, remember that there is a whole other side to your health that is worth your attention. I wish you the best and hope you can find joy during these times in the comfort of your own four walls.