Spirituality in Survival

Whether you have a previous history of mental illness, life stress or no history at all, everyone is at risk of developing poorer mental health given the nature of the pandemic. For starters, Covid-19 poses physical and mental threat to our safety. It is an uncertain time causing more stress, worry and fear than usual. Further, there has been an abrupt change to our daily routines, less meaningful activities and lack of physical social interactions which are all linked to poorer life satisfaction. Further sources of stress may include financial distress, working from home, expanding work roles and home -schooling.

I’ll even add to this. As part of my online work as an English tutor I have the opportunity to listen to beings from all around the world and how they are coping. I commonly hear how disrupted life has become for my students and the struggle to find normalcy. From Japan, Korea, Saudi, Brazil, India to Vietnam, the experiences are varied but similar. Some are finding time to relax, to finish that project or to start a hobby. Unfortunately, most are however struggling with guilt, shame, and an overarching sense of failure ‘Why can’t I do this, even though I have the time?’

To tell you a little bit about my situation, I am currently living in rural Punjab, India. At the time of writing, India has the 3rd highest amount of Covid-19 cases in the world, however most of these are concentrated in the highly populated cities like Mumbai. So yes, Covid-19 is around me, but I can go to the shops and go for a walk safely by taking some simple precautions. Still, going outside just does not have the same fun anymore. The response of Punjab overall is a lot more laid-back in comparison to my hometown Melbourne, Australia.

Now to add some evidence, a recent survey was completed to assess the impact of the pandemic on the emotional well- being and functioning of the U.S. population. The study was conducted in May 2020. The results indicated the Pandemic Distress Index scores were highest among individuals in the age groups of 18-34 years and 35-49 years, (more females than males). Older individuals had substantially lower distress scores, especially those of age 65 or older despite being at a higher risk of falling ill from Covid-19. This just goes to show that mental threat is just as real as the physical threat of the virus! Full report can be found here.

We are all in some level of survival mode. Physically, financially, emotionally taking each day, week, month as it comes.

As I mentioned in my previous post, starting a spiritual journey during survival mode can easily be misguided. If we are not careful and completely honest with our intentions, we risk spiritual bypassing which can cause more harm to our mental well-being in the long run.

I would hence suggest using this time to develop healthy coping strategies against stress, change and uncertainty. Don’t feel the need to achieve a spiritual goal of enlightenment, spiritual awakening or ego transcendence. These words are used so lightly these days! Instead, work on just taking one step from where you are now. There are so many steps in the journey before we even need to think of such goals.

Now I will share some risks to be careful of if you are starting a spiritual practice in this time, my self-care practises and warning signs of changing mental well-being during lock down.

Please take the time to take care of yourself and your mental well-being early.

What to be aware of

With more time on our hands given restrictions and lock downs, it is likely previous traumas, unresolved issues and unhealthy mental patterns will come to surface. Despite the tough situation, it is also a great opportunity to take the time to work on yourself and let go of habits that no longer serve you. Spirituality is a great tool to aid in this process. While working through these, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Unhelpful or negative spiritual beliefs you have heard (often spread by the misinformed)
  • Spiritual/Religious gaslighting or bypassing of very real issues, concerns, traumas
  • Own spiritual/religious misconceptions and biases shaped from childhood or cultural history
  • Meditation practices that make you feel worse – more anxious, guilty, shameful, perfectionism or a sense of failure. Leave it, find something that works for you.
  • Being taken advantage of by religious/spiritual leaders; physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually (forced beliefs onto you)
  • Dismissal of changes in mental well-being
Let go of unhelpful or negative spiritual biases, experiences and beliefs
Self-care tips during the pandemic

Managing stress, adjusting to change, creating habits and establishing routine are all core skills we need to develop if we want to make it out of this pandemic without residual mental stress. I recently realised I am very fortunate with my meditation practise and my OT knowledge that allow me to adapt well with these changes, something not everyone is privy too. Here are a few tips that I practise daily that have allowed me to continue enjoying life, even in these uncertain times.

  • Daily exercise. I started the Chloe Ting Workout which was great but I didn’t have the motivation to sustain it. Then I switched to Yoga with Adriene which I do daily because it meets me right where I am now, so it helps me physically and mentally. You can find both on Youtube. Top Tip: Find something you enjoy so it doesn’t feel so effortful! It could be dancing 30 minutes everyday, finding a workout playlist or going for a walk every morning.
  • Enjoying sensory experiences of food. My current favourite is corn… the texture, sweetness and colour. Nature is just amazing.
  • Trying new hobbies like starting this blog and social media.
  • Started an online tutor job – I only do this for 1-3 hours per day depending on how I feel.
  • Spending more time with my family e.g. playing scrabble, monopoly, or watching TV
  • Making an active effort to make more phone calls with friends and family back home
  • Ongoing personal meditation practice
  • Mindfulness – enjoying nature scenery from home
  • Mantra “Everything is as it was going to be, there is nothing I could do to prevent or change it”
  • Mantra ” Everything will be fine, there is a greater plan in place”

These are just some of the habits I have cultivated to bring some routine and purpose in my life. I now have more clarity, better sleep, more joy and fulfilment throughout the day with these simple changes. Try to make a list of things you would like to try, and what you can do to make it a reality. Here is the video link of the yoga challenge I am currently loving:

Signs of changes in your mental well-being:

Finally, I would like to say that changes in your mental well-being are to be expected in this period of drastic change. Here are some changes to look out for…

  • Feeling: sad, down, irritable, moody, anxious, angry, hostile, guilt, shame, emotional outbursts, worthlessness, feeling of failure
  • Energy: lacking motivation, tiredness, low energy, ‘up and down’ energy, feeling detached
  • Sleep: lack of sleep, irregular sleep patterns, disturbed sleep or more sleeping than usual
  • Anxious mind: constant worry, racing mind, restlessness. Physically have headache, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, diarrhea.
  • Changes in thinking: forgetful (often caused by stress), confusion, lack of concentration, paranoia, self-harm or suicidal thinking
  • Changes in activity: withdrawing from social interaction (e.g. not picking up phone calls), not engaging in hobbies, sex drive changes, major changes in appetite, increased alcohol/drug use.

If you are starting to experience these symptoms, there is no need to panic. Rest assured, it will get better. Believe in yourself. Try to make small changes to bring more joy in your day. Seek out help if you need. In the following weeks I will also share insight into how to develop good habits, routine and other tips to support your mental well-being.

Ending message

Don’t be so hard on yourself to perfect your spiritual practice in this time. Instead, work on small steps to develop healthier coping strategies that will not only help you now, but also when the world goes back to normal. Whether it be mindfulness, exercise, journaling, cooking… find something you really get joy out of. Learn more about yourself. When we do things that we truly joy, the motivation comes naturally rather than forcefully. If you are having changes in your mental well-being, reach out for help early.

Covid-19 support contact numbers

If you need immediate help, please contact your local emergency hotline and access mental health supports available.

India:

  • National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences India (NIMHANS) has initiated a mental health support helpline during Covid-19 (08046110007).
  • State Helpline number – Here are the numbers by state and territory.
  • Alternatively, please contact your local GP, psychologist, psychiatrist, hospital for information about mental health services available to you.
  • In Emergency please dial 112

Australia: