Activity Planning key to mastering Mental Health during COVID-19: Experts at ASSOCHAM’s Illness To Wellness Series

New Delhi: The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), one of the apex trade associations of India concluded the fourth edition of the ‘Illness to Wellness’ series themed ‘Mental Health and Wellness During COVID-19’. The event saw an expert panel of mental health experts invited to hold dialogue, make suggestions on establishing corrective mental health practices like seeking safe social support, establishing daily routine and indulging in open conversations.


Supported by the hygiene brand SAVLON, the programme which promotes healthy living with focus on wellness and preventive health through healthy habits, diet, exercise, and holistic health saw the speakers actively engage on the best steps to establish proactive boundaries and active living in a family.


Mr. Anil Rajput, Chairman, ASSOCHAM CSR Council, highlighting the effect of COVID-19 on mental health said, “COVID-19 did not just affect the economic, social and individual health of the people, but also mental health in a very extreme way. This has led to an increase in anxiety, fear and impending sense of doom for a large number of otherwise healthy people. With work from home being then new normal, for many months, the whole family ecosystem has been disturbed and created new challenges for people. The reality is a that man is a social animal and when people are unable to engage socially, a mechanism to bring in a new ecosystem to facilitate that communication is extremely important to ensure sound mental health. People also need to rearrange themselves and balance work along with keeping good mental and physical health.”


Speaking on how establishing personal boundaries at home has become both challenging and unavoidable, Dr Murali Rao, Chairman, Department of Psychiatry and Behavorial Neurosciences, Loyola University Medical Centre, Chicago and Medical Director, Mindful TMS Neurocare, said, “This situation has destroyed boundaries. Previously, people used to get up, get dressed, take transportation and go to their workplace. The travel to time used to give them the time needed to shift from home mode to work mode. When they were coming back, it would give them the time to plan and think about home and vice versa. There were clear boundaries. Now with work from home, partners have different work timing, then there are children, cooking and other activities. The timings are messed up, those who organize well are performing well, but majority of people are not organized. No wonder people are ready to go out and go back to organized living.” He also added that they best way to bring an organization to life is by following four thumb rules — adequate sleep, ample exercise, nutritious food intake and stress management.


Dr. Prakriti Poddar, Managing Trustee of Poddar Foundation suggesting a probable breakup of the day for a working individual said, “Account your day, the way you account your money. We have to account the energy and time on our hand. Of course we have a certain 8-9 working hours but there also needs to be one hour with entire family, sometime as a couple together and of course the me time of 30-35 minutes.”


She reiterated how boundaries can be effectively established through open conversations with family. She said, “Most people have never established their personal boundaries in India as they never have a conversation around it. When the pandemic occurred, even working women were put in archaic roles where they felt they were not being understood. They had never had an open conversation about their boundaries. This is why it is important to have a solution focused conversation with family where you may have a problem, but they can also participate in coming up a solution. The family is also part of the solution and this can be enabled by making sure the family and children are also part of the conversation. These will help build boundaries that are catered to by the family.”


COVID-19 saw large scale job losses across all sectors globally and nationally leading to exponential rise in anxiety and depression owning to the uncertainty created by unemployment. Dr. Shamsher Dwivedee, Chairman Neurosciences and Director of Clinical Services, Vimhans Nayati Super Specialty Hospital highlighted the importance of being in the company of trusted friends and family when faced by a job loss. “When you are going through a phase where you have lost a job, one step is to not stay and brood alone. Try to be in a company, be with friends who you consider financially and otherwise wise. They will give you the way to get about it. Staying alone when you have lost a job is a recipe for a disaster as the mind will focus on all things negative whereas a wise friend will pull you out of it,” he said.


Speaking about the changes brought about by COVID-19, he said that it has provided a natural lifestyle experiment where people have been granted a relatively laidback lifestyle with less traffic, stress, rage and reduced surge of adrenaline all of which leads to cardiovascular issues.


Dr. Swati Chawla, Psychologist, Health and Wellness expert focusing on healthy steps to take to overcome the challenge of a job loss, said, “People should accept the reality and then work to understand their strengths and weaknesses. They need to move forward by keeping their skills updated, finding out areas they can work on and aim for their next career step. They can list down probable job opportunities and explore roles beyond the scope of their current jobs. There are many organisations who have the portal to help those who have lost their job, the government is also contributing in this respect. People should ideally have help and support from a mental health expert to help balance themselves and work to bounce back.”


She further added that the pandemic has presented the perfect opportunity for organisations to showcase empathetic leadership where they develop a better understanding of the challenges posed by the pandemic on their employee’s lives. For organization planning on downsizing, she suggested that they should responsibly ensure that employees are adequately mentally prepared to lose their jobs and not just throw the news to them as a surprise.


The session was moderated by Dr. Divakashi Sharma, Clinical Psychologist, MindfulTNS Neurocare who raised pertinent questions before the panellists to keep the conversation relevant and topical to the discussion. Dr. Sharma also added to the vast professional knowledge shared by the panellists by sharing anecdotes from her experiences as a practicing clinical psychologist.


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