2020 has put things in perspective for a lot of us. Some may be inclined to believe that it has put life itself from a different perspective. Being locked involuntarily for weeks at a stretch, the atmosphere of fear and the news of concern has led people into a unique sense of collective vulnerability often never felt before. The symptoms of vulnerability were small, almost unnoticeable at first. People were too busy talking about the virus than about mental health. And suddenly, one fine month, the media exploded with news of an alarming rise in cases of domestic abuse, suicide and sales of mental health-related medication.
The symptoms were observed in the form of irritation or excessive crying in children, unhealthy eating or sleeping habits, giving up of healthy eating and exercising routines, unexplained headache and body pain and use of alcohol and drugs. The fear of livelihood, self and life of loved ones started causing tremendous stress among people without realising it. We might have celebrated a year of living with this virus and while there is positive news of vaccination from across the world, the worst is far from over.
Children being kept out of school for so long has changed the equation in every home and has led to increased anxiety, noise, and pressure. Domestic abuse has increased substantially owing to stress in relationships caused by fear and uncertainty of self. Older people, who are the most at risk of the virus, have shown an increase in their anxiety levels triggered primarily by fear. And people with pre-existing psychological conditions have to express amplified symptoms in the wake of the pandemic.
There can be a lasting mental impact of this stress and trauma. The important thing is to understand that most of the stress protrudes from a feeling of isolation and loneliness. Research indicates that close-knit families have reported far lesser cases of mental illness than those with loosened bonds. Love, more than laughter, is the best medicine in such a situation. It’s important to show and express to those around that we are in it together. But how do you do that? If there was an international Sensex for expression, we’ll probably be among the worst fairing nations. Traditional Indian families don’t have a reputation for teaching their children the obvious art of expressing love. 2020 is when this needs to change. Here are a few ways to strengthen the bond among your loved ones and to create a feeling of solidarity among those who matter.
Your aunt may have sent your favourite food to you during the lockdown. Your maid has risked her life daily to ensure that you are fed and that the house is clean. Your family WhatsApp group is flooded every morning with precautionary measures or with family photographs uploaded to spread some cheer. Say ‘thank you’. Write a letter and post it to those who matter. We often take relationships so much for granted that we never realise the importance of expressing our gratitude. These two words may make the world of difference to the listener. Sometimes, knowing that someone appreciates what you do creates a sense of purpose in people.
Celebrate special occasions
So you can’t go on an international trip on your Anniversary this year. So you can’t invite all your friends over on your Birthday. So you aren’t playing Secret Santa with your office folks. But that doesn’t mean that you have to sulk the entire week. Coming to think of it, this is probably the only Birthday or Anniversary you will ever celebrate in the middle of a pandemic. Then why not make it extraordinarily special?
A lot of people give too much importance to these occasions, as they rightly should. But not celebrating it just because of the pandemic is to create an aura of gloom around yourself and spreading it to everyone else as well. Turn it around. Decorate your whole house with stuff that you can find. Bake your own cake. Create a virtual invite and throw an online party for everyone. Share a dress code if you like. Google games that you can play virtually to add some extra zing to the celebrations.
Happiness begets happiness. Wear your event planner hat and ensure that every occasion in the family is celebrated. And if there are friends who sound gloomy on their Birthdays, take the initiative of planning a virtual surprise for them. Gifting companies like Oye Happy have dozens of ideas to surprise your loved ones even during the pandemic.
Create random occasions to celebrate
Did you know that each day of the year has an average of 8 occasions that you can celebrate? It’s a pity that the Government hasn’t announced a national holiday for each of the occasions but that doesn’t mean that we can’t find some joy in the fact that today is a day worth celebrating. The best moments of happiness are those that come unexpectedly. And if you have children in the house, there’s no better way of keeping them occupied than making arrangements to celebrate a day you’ve never celebrated before. If you’re still confused, then here are a few examples.
If you’re a Potter head, then you can pick any significant date from the book (like his Birthday, or the day he first visited Hogwarts) and celebrate it with all pomp and show, right at your own house. If you’re someone who loves watching horror movies, then pick the release date of any of your favourite movie and celebrate its Anniversary. You can make popcorn, print tickets, order in some pizza and have a scary movie marathon. My close friend’s family, for instance, has a weird ritual of celebrating pyjama nights on the first Friday of every month. They all switch off their phones, cook food together as a family and spend the entire evening binge-watching a show together. These moments, simple as they may seem, create a sense of belongingness, love and security. Sometimes that’s all it takes to keep your loved ones’ mental hygiene in check.
Make an effort to make someone smile
Sharing memes isn’t enough. If you truly care about someone, then ensuring that they are in a happy space needs effort. I don’t mean one big grand gesture of surprise to sweep them off their feet. What I mean is little gestures of kindness made regularly to ensure that they get tiny doses of happiness, just like medication. There are lots of ways to ensure that. You can order their favourite food and just leave it on the bed for them to find. You can order for a prank gift from a gifting company such as Oye Happy and make them laugh from ear to ear. You can set up a surprise date night at home over a bottle of wine and turn a regular evening into a romantic one.
When it comes to mental health, prevention is better than cure. Just like you have to watch what you eat and work out regularly to ensure that you don’t fall sick, you have to make an effort to keep depression at bay – especially during challenging times like these. So go ahead, write someone a letter, celebrate someone’s birthday, plan a virtual date or just send a random gift without an occasion. Do the little things. It can go a long way in keeping mental health in check.
Himakshi Baishya is a marketing associate from Oye Happy.