Living with COVID-19: COMO Shambhala's life coach on dealing with quarantine, job insecurity, and a mundane routine
The long run
These certainly are tough times. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced lives to grind to a halt, as people face job insecurity, self-isolating living conditions and pressing mental health issues. With more people staying home now to abide by the circuit breaker, the psychological effects of a pandemic should not be easily overlooked. Some of us have chosen to turn to social media to look for ways to be productive, while others have taken this time to decompress with friends and family, albeit via a screen powered by strong WiFi.
How we define "essential" is constantly changing in this environment, but your mental wellbeing should always remain a priority. Homegrown wellness brand, COMO Shambhala has recently launched 'COMO Shambhala By My Side' — a digital program to increase support and outreach to those in need of mental health aids. They believe in cultivating a healthy mind through mindfulness practice, offering personal consultations and therapeutic treatments. In this time of uncertainty and anxiety, we speak to Ralitza Peeva, who's a life coach and counsellor at COMO Shambhala, as she shares how we should approach our lives in the wake of a global pandemic.
On uncertainty looming
Notice what you feel, be in touch with your feelings. Remind yourself that it is just a feeling — feelings rise and subside. Acknowledge that this is a very difficult time but also remind yourself that you are not alone — there are 7.5 billion people experiencing this time with you, we are all holding hands in some way together. Life is a regular wave form. Over our average life expectancy of 83 years, we should anticipate to encounter several episodes of peace and calm and of terrible adversity and loss. That is normal. What we are going through is unprecedented indeed, but we hope that in five or seven years we will look back and realise that we have emerged well, more compassionate and stronger. We are in the negative wave now. But it will get better.
Take out a notebook and start journaling gratitude about the things that you have right now in your life — like good weather, children, family, friends, parents, freedom, stable government, or Singapore having one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Keep writing every day even if you notice you are writing the same things every day. It may sound trivial but it is so therapeutic and important to remind ourselves how fortunate we are here in Singapore, as compared to millions of people in other countries. Remember how important and calming it is that here we all are looking and pulling in the same direction. We really are standing in this together. There's so much to be grateful for even in the midst of the storm.
On the recession and job insecurity
Remind yourself that the key in life is to be flexible and adaptable. If you have lost your job, get help to sort out your best skills. Look at some of the jobs that are considered essential — in the health sector, whether it be ambulance drivers or hospital workers, in the food industry and the supermarket industry, whether it be delivery people or people responsible for placing items on the shelves. Can you work in one of these sectors temporarily?
This is also the best time to take an online course and retrain in something that you love to do. Learning is proven to make us feel better and give us a sense of purpose and accomplishment. In addition, you will gain new skills and knowledge, which will expand your options when you look for another job.
Make a budget. Clarify the absolute essentials in the house. Get rid of subscriptions that are not important. Keep Netflix because it is a good and a calming distraction to watch movies and your favourite shows, but get rid of other subscriptions that you don't use. Get temporary financial assistance from the available programs (for details of the various support schemes, go to the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) website). Renegotiate your mortgage payments to a lower rate. Avoid shopping for non-essentials; Spend only on food and mortgage or rent. Remember to ask for help — reach out to your religious community, community centres, or your Member of Parliament. You are not alone. People are waiting to help.
On life being at a standstill
Mundane is perfect. Explore the mundane. We were spinning out of control running relentlessly from one place to another, travelling and constantly doing something. Look at the possibilities: Do some painting and colouring, cook something new, donate clothes and things, knit, sew, crochet, make bread, look after a plant, do all the things that you didn't have the time to do. In some healing sanctuaries where people go to learn how to meditate, they are asked to do a repetitive jobs — like cutting vegetables and cleaning, because repetitive action is like chanting and is very calming to the brain. It's exactly what we need right now — do the mundane, be the mundane.
On media and technology
It is a terrible time — there are so many people who suffering, who are ill, who have lost a loved ones or have a loved one in the hospital. And it doesn't help to keep abreast daily of the total number who are dying every day. Reading the news religiously and spending the entire day on social media is not good. Bad news triggers our fears, anxiety, uncertainty. Take a media break. Read a book. Talk to your children, play with them, ban the phones from the table. Take a walk or dance together. If you are alone, don't despair — connect with loved ones abroad, talk to a friend with whom you have not been in touch for years.
On quarantine and domestic abuse
Being cooped in is what gives a chance to assess our relationships. Abuse is not right in any form. With regards to children, we have the duty to protect our children mentally, emotionally and physically at all times. Report abuse immediately. Call SOS (24 hours service) 1800 221 4444 or MSF Child Protective Service 1800 777 0000 and in case of immediate threat, call the police.
You may not experience abuse, but this time inevitably lets us examine our primary relationships. So if you think that your relationship is not working, therapists are readily available and sessions online are available now more than ever. It is a time to rethink our relationships and what future we see for them.
There was a tremendous amount of anxiety and stress in our previous lives — constant travel, late night meetings, over socialising, all that rush. Many of our chronically anxious clients are now feeling less anxious. There is a level of simplicity which we all needed. Many children are enjoying being with their parents. Many adults love the home office. For every person who complains about it, there is a person who adores it. We all needed to reset our "busy" button and to embrace the calm from going back to basics.
On being a support system to people who need it
You can't hold back from helping children and elderly adults who require mental health and psychological support. This is not forever. Give help now where it is needed. It is a blessing to be able to help. It is a good time to examine the circles in your life, your relationships and to see what relationships are the most important to you — with your children, your parents, your friends, your partner. Prioritise, keep your energy for that inner circle and extend a helping hand to those who need you. Remember the old Chinese proverb: "You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime." Think about how your help can open possibilities for people. Helping people is a privilege and even though sometimes tiresome, it is a privilege and when you give good energy, good energy comes back to you. We really are in this together.