The months-long quarantine has taken a toll on our mental health. The uncertainty, the cabin fever, and the deluge of terrifying news on TV and on social media has swirled together to form a dark cloud over our heads. I’ve had friends tell me they’ve had fights with their family because of opposing views and the idea of being cooped up all day, every day. But does that mean we’re mentally ill? Not necessarily.
Last week, Google invited me and other media friends for a mental well-being session, in time for Mental Health Awareness Month in May. The platform invited Dr. Ronald del Castillo, PsyD, MPH of Diwa Mental Health. Through Diwa, Dr. del Castillo hopes to harness “cutting-edge psychological and behavioral science to shape public health and social policy.”
In our session, he told us that being mentally unwell doesn’t mean we’re mentally ill. All kinds of feelings and thoughts are perfectly normal, common, and acceptable.
Below are other things we learned from Dr. del Castillo:
1. Do not ignore negativity
Toxic positivity is increasingly becoming popular these days. It’s easily recognizable: it’s when people comment “just look at the bright side,” “stop being so sad, there’s plenty to be grateful for,” and “you can do it!” It’s well-meaning but there are times when I feel guilty when I can’t “look at the bright side.” Dr. del Castillo is not encouraging us to ignore negativity. Instead, we shouldn’t put too much attention on it. Negativity and stress happen, but how you think about it matters more.
2. Start a journal
Writing down three new things we are grateful for reminds us of the progress we’ve made and helps us stay motivated. Dr. del Castillo reminds us to have a physical journal, since writing things down physically slows down our thinking. Write one positive experience you’ve had in the last 24 hours. If you focus on the negative experience, you forget the positive.
Try to write every day and build up to it. Start with a few words, then write sentences, then move on to paragraphs. You can be creative, too. Write down your memories, your thoughts and feelings, and things that you observe using your five senses.
3. Practice deep breathing
Deep breathing is a great way to calm down. You can do this anywhere, whether you’re in bed, in line at the grocery, or in an excruciatingly long meeting. Dr. del Castillo recommends the 4-7-8 method: breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold it in for seven, then breathe out through your mouth for eight. Repeat three times. This relaxes your mind.
4. Make a phone call
Social distancing does not mean emotional distancing. Pick up your phone and call a good friend, but make sure it’s for chika purposes only. Talk about anything, as the sound of another person’s voice can be soothing. Make sure to listen, too!
5. Have coping skills when you panic
If you feel like panicking or breaking down, make sure to practice these coping skills: do the deep breathing mentioned above and ground yourself. This means naming five things you see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste. Grounding helps you connect to your body and keep you rooted in the present moment.
6. Find green spaces
Plants help reduce stress and depression, and improve overall mood and social and cognitive functioning. Having a few plants and flowers at home will definitely help.
7. Do bite-sized goals
Many of us have been working from home and some of my friends have shared the struggles of this new lifestyle. Working remotely takes a while to get used to. Instead of forcing yourself to finish a task, do bite-sized goals so they become more manageable.
8. Practice doing nothing
I’ve seen posts where we are encouraged to be productive during the quarantine season. Really? During a global pandemic? Some people just want to survive, ma’am. Dr. del Castillo advocates for doing nothing. Just sit back, deepen your experiences and relationships, and just be.
Technology and being online excessively whether for work or leisure can result in physical and emotional burnout. Here are some reminders to help balance screen time and reduce digital fatigue:
1. Use Google Assistant
To minimize getting distracted by your device, you can activate voice command with Google Assistant so you can easily ask for verbal help to complete your tasks. For instance, to avoid getting “trapped” by using your phone when you only need to check the time today, you can simply say, “Hey Google, what time is it?” You can also use Filipino.
With custom or ready-made Routines, you can add voice cues to trigger several actions with one command. For example, you can set, “Hey Google, good morning”, and have the Google Assistant tell you the weather, your upcoming events, open your alarm, and much more. Google Assistant is built-in to some Android devices and as an app, it can be downloaded on the Play Store and App Store.
2. Stay active
To monitor if you are doing enough movement, you can use the Google Fit app to keep track and earn heart points. No matter how big or small your movement is, it has tremendous health benefits, such as improving mental health and helping you sleep better. The Google Fit app can work without any wearable device.
3. Discuss and plan tech use with kids
If you have kids, it is important to monitor their online activities and daily screen time. Use this family guide to initiate conversations with your children to find out about content they like, talk about smart online habits, and other digital topics.
4. Intentionally detach from and reattach to work
Before jumping to your tasks, take a few minutes to review your to-do list and go through goals for the day so you will not have a hard time focusing. It is also helpful to create a dedicated workspace at home where you can concentrate on your tasks during office hours. During break time, turn off notifications and place your laptop out of sight.
5. Create a consistent bedtime routine
Whether on weekdays or weekends, train your body to go to bed and wake up on a schedule to establish a strong circadian rhythm and improve the quality of your sleep. You can use a sleep tracker to create a regular bedtime routine and monitor how many hours you need and track when you naturally wake up. Android’s Bedtime mode can help set a bedtime schedule, which automatically turns on the Do Not Disturb feature and fades the screen to grayscale at your chosen time.
It is also recommended to put away phones to fall asleep easier and sleep better. Being exposed to blue light can have a negative effect on one’s natural sleep cycles by delaying the release of melatonin and increasing alertness. Instead of using your device in bed, try reading a book or listening to an audio program to lull yourself to sleep. Start with having 30 minutes of screen-free time, and work your way up to two hours or more until you are comfortable without using your phone before bedtime.
This story is in partnership with Google. For more digital wellbeing resources, visit wellbeing.google.