As we weather a global health crisis, staying home whenever possible is now the most important civic duty we can perform as non-essential workers. Being cooped up in a confined space may, however, leave us overwhelmed. Life has lost its lustre, and there is no longer room for beauty, excitement or the expression of our full selves.
As each day blends into the next, it becomes easier to lose track of time. Quarantine fatigue can take a toll on our mental well-being, and our light, optimism or ability to care for others may slip away from time to time. It can also be hard to turn away from the bleakness that accompanies the onslaught of bad news— reports of violence and suffering in the world as the number of deaths both related and unrelated to the pandemic mount. So we would like to take this opportunity to ask you, dear reader: how are you, really?
To find out more about how to care for your mental health during the world’s descent into a strange period of stasis, we speak to Asher Low, social worker and co-founder of Limitless Singapore, a mental health non-profit organization that seeks to reach out to youth and young adults.
wildchild: With each day stretching out infinitely, some people may find that their impulses regarding self-moderation have short-circuited. What advice do you have for young adults who are struggling with moderation when it comes to their coping mechanisms?
Asher Low: We probably have figured out our coping mechanisms by now— be it exercise, gaming, drawing, sleeping more, bingeing Netflix, or even smoking or drinking more. If you do know that you’re using an “unhealthy” form of coping, such as alcohol, you may want to consider trying other activities instead. However, if that’s not possible, having a daily limit to the number of drinks, sticks of cigarettes, or amount of ice cream would help as well.
[Being] socially isolated or cooped up in the same environment for a prolonged period of time affects our mental health, often leaving us more lethargic and less motivated.
wildchild: What are your thoughts on the pressure, especially for workers, to make the most out of a pandemic?
Asher Low: The pressure is definitely real, especially when we compare ourselves with our peers, perhaps through social media or conversations with each other. But the question is:
- Are you already accomplishing as much as you would on a normal (read: non-quarantine) day? If you are, then why put pressure on yourself to accomplish more than that? It’s tempting to want to make the most of the time at home but be careful to not over-stretch yourself.
- Are you already doing what you can? If so, what is it that you can do? I think we all need to understand that being socially isolated or cooped up in the same environment for a prolonged period of time affects our mental health, often leaving us more lethargic and less motivated. So, if all you can manage right now is 90% or even 80% of what you used to be able to do… that’s okay! You don’t have to pressure yourself to do more than what you can.
Of course, that being said, deadlines are deadlines. So do have conversations with your managers and bosses if you feel that your deadlines are too tight and that you’re working excessively— for example, working more than 9 hours a day.
For now, stick to things that you can do, things that you have control over.
wildchild: What advice would you give to young adults who are grappling with uncertainty about their futures as they have been furloughed or unable to find unemployment?
Asher Low: The uncertainty that comes with the current job market is definitely something that many young adults and graduating students are worrying about. But the reality is, for many young people out there, this isn’t something they can change. So remind yourself that this pandemic and economic recession will pass! For now, stick to things that you can do, things that you have control over. Such as sending out applications, networking, and writing and updating your resume.
If you’re in a situation whereby you do need the finances urgently, there are government schemes and organizations that can help with either your job search, or with financial assistance. Examples include the Workforce Singapore, Employment and Employability Institute, or Social Service Offices and Family Service Centres.
Seek help immediately if what you’re experiencing is affecting your quality of life and/or daily activities.
wildchild: Given the heightened anxiety levels, how does one identify if their struggles are something that they should seek help for?
Asher Low: Seek help immediately if what you’re experiencing is affecting your quality of life and/or daily activities. For example, if you can’t bring yourself to get out of bed, or if you’re getting panic attacks or are unable to sleep at night because thoughts are running through your head, or if you’ve realised that you’ve really “let yourself go” in terms of no longer taking care of your personal hygiene.
Seek help immediately if you’re experiencing thoughts of self-harm, or suicide. Or if your safety is being compromised because of the actions of others (such as through physical or emotional violence).
wildchild: It is easy to get sucked into a vortex of insignificance, so what advice would you give to those who feel as if their problems pale in comparison to the global fight against the pandemic? Given that such thinking may cause them to withdraw socially and refuse social reinforcements.
[For the most of us,] our issue is not surviving the pandemic, it’s surviving the pandemic and coming out of it without being physically, mentally and emotionally scarred.
Asher Low: Your overall health, not just your physical health, should be a priority! It’s easy to see one’s mental health as on a lower priority than one’s physical health. In some instances, that is the truth. For someone who is homeless, or during a war where basic needs take precedence for survival’s sake. But for many of us, this isn’t the case. Despite being deprived of many things because of the pandemic, most of us have our basic needs met. So our issue is not surviving the pandemic, it’s surviving the pandemic and coming out of it without being physically, mentally and emotionally scarred.
In fact, mental health issues arguably have similar or even more detrimental effects than other sicknesses, especially on young people; with suicide being the number one cause of death amongst those aged 10 to 29 in Singapore. So as much as it might be tempting to feel like your problems are not important compared to what’s going on out there, they ARE! It is important to still have sources of support, communication, and even friends whom you can rant to (please also let them rant to you!)
While COVID-19 patients may be the priority for many healthcare workers out there on the frontline, those who need psychological support are our priority, and you’re just as important.
Additionally, don’t feel like you shouldn’t be accessing professional help if you need it. While COVID-19 patients may be the priority for many healthcare workers out there on the frontline, those who need psychological support are our priority, and you’re just as important.
wildchild: What advice would you give to those who feel the need to tolerate how they feel or to hold out till the end of the circuit breaker (and its subsequent phases), especially for those in toxic environments?
Asher Low: I’d encourage anyone who’s feeling like they’re in a toxic environment to speak up, talk to someone, even if that person is a friend. Don’t go through this alone! If you’re at a point where this environment is affecting your safety or sense of self, please don’t feel like you need to wait till the end of the circuit breaker to seek help— your life and wellbeing is just as important as any COVID-19 patient out there!
Limitless Singapore is a non-profit organization that specifically caters to those aged 12 to 25 who experience issues related to mental health, providing support through therapy, counselling, social activities and group work.
To seek support and counselling services, simply submit an online form to Limitless. For those looking to offer gestures of solidarity and support in operations, marketing or education, please check out their volunteer page for more information.
Feature image by Sherryl Cheong