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'Focus on things we can control': Experts give advice on how to cope amid the pandemic

Gisela Swaragita
Gisela Swaragita

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, April 29, 2020  /  10:31 am
'Focus on things we can control': Experts give advice on how to cope amid the pandemic

Activities that occupy our minds, force us to be in the present and make us focus on “what is right here, right now”, give us a chance to give a rest to our thoughts and emotions from the cunning trap of anxiety. (Shutterstock/File)

Puji Utami, a 30-year-old UX writer, likes to talk to her collection of indoor plants as she finds it soothing and helps her to cope with both personal misfortunes as well as the ongoing global crisis.

“I have just been laid off as the tech company I worked at was badly affected by the pandemic,” she told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

On top of that, Puji was down with a high fever the day she was laid off, making her worried she had contracted the deadly COVID-19 disease.

“But then I thought I had to be calm and accept the circumstances. Maybe I was told by God to take a break, to get closer to myself and think of what else I can do with my excess time,” she said.

After recovering from her sickness, which fortunately turned out to be just a seasonal flu, she indulged herself deeper in a hobby she started in September.

“I started to try plant parenting in September when I bought sansevieria and philodendron to clean the air in my bedroom. It turned out I liked working with plants and I became addicted,” she said.

Inside her rented bedroom in Kemang, South Jakarta, Puji is now a “parent” to at least 20 pots of greenery of various species. She says that tending plants makes her happier and more grounded in herself. It has also helped her in spending days in solitude during the quarantine.

“Now, every time I wake up, I greet every plant and put on music composed specially to encourage plant growth, such as Mort Garson’s Mother Earth’s Plantasia,” she said.

Now as she is still unemployed, she plans to start planting edible plants and composting so she can eat what she sows.

Read also: COVID-19 to have 'profound' mental health fallout

The pandemic has hit people differently and requires different kinds of coping mechanisms, but generally they lead to similar stages of emotional coping methods.

A Kantar Indonesia report titled "COVID-19 Impact on Indonesian Attitudes & Behavior: Learning for Brands" revealed that the change in lifestyle has generally resulted in a three-stage emotional journey stemming from behavioral shifts: adjusting, adopting and aligning.

The first is a short-term stage marked by sudden disruption, along with lifestyle changes and a growing sense of loss of freedom amid the quarantine. This is followed by confusion and uncertainty, which is indicated by mental fatigue due to a prolonged lockdown, the economic impact kicking in and thoughts about life and livelihoods arising. The third is acceptance of the new normal, with long-term behavioral shifts and a new outlook on life.

Psychologist Vera Itabiliana Hadiwidjojo said that to get through the three stages of the crisis, one has to focus on things within reach that are under control, instead of focusing on the widespread chaos that is out of control —in Puji’s case, it is indulging herself with her collection of plants.

“Accept the fact that there are things beyond our ability to control, so we have to focus on things that we can control,” Vera told the Post on Friday. “Focus on the fun, productive activities and limit information from social media. Choose the essential things."

Such activities will occupy our minds, force us to be in the present and make us focus on “what is right here, right now”. It will give us a chance to give a rest to our thoughts and emotions from the cunning trap of anxiety, Vera said.

“We have to accept that we only can change things within our control, such as 'What will I do today? Will I just lie down and be idle or wake up and get to work?’” she said. “Focus on the positive things that we can still feel from around us. For instance, we can still be together with our family, we are still healthy and much more."

She added that these positive attitudes can still be maintained when the pandemic is over.

Doing sports at home is also significantly helpful in keeping a positive mind, Vera said. “If we work out for at least 30 minutes, our body will release anti-stress hormones,” she added.

Read also: Stay safe, stay sane: How to mind your mental health amid COVID-19 pandemic

Lintang, a 26-year-old employee in isolation with her family in Bekasi, West Java, has posted her work-out routines on her Instagram account since her quarantine started in March.

She started to work out at home to curb boredom as she found bingeing on television series had lost its appeal.

“I joined a challenge sent by my friend, and because I posted the video on Instagram, I had this strange moral obligation to make it continuous,” she told the Post.

The challenge is a five-minute high intensity muscle workout to be done every day for 31 days. She records her workout videos and posts them on her Instagram Stories, tagging her friends who do a similar challenge.

She said the challenge had helped her to get a grip as she had a new routine. Now, her day starts with doing the challenge for five minutes plus a yoga session for 25 minutes.

“During the first week [of the outbreak in Indonesia], I was stressed out. I didn't know what the government had done [to curb the spread] and watching news made me more anxious,” she said. “However, since I started working out, I've become more focused on my work and my time spent watching the news has become less and less."

Psychiatrist Leonardi Goenawan of Pondok Indah Hospital believes that reducing exposure to bad news is good for your mental health.

“Give yourself a rest from watching, reading or listening to the news, including social news. Hearing about the pandemic over and over again can make you drift into anxiety,” he told the Post on Monday.

He also said that maintaining bodily health with a routine of light exercise was equal to maintaining mental health.

“Physical activity and exercising can help reduce the stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, while at the same time stimulating endorphins that function as painkillers and antidepressants,” he said. (wng)

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