by Dr Saliha Afridi
  • 5 minute read
  • March 31, 2020
Part I: Clinical Psychologist Dr Saliha Afridi Reveals 3 Ways To Restore Calm And Control In Your Lives

COVID-19 has everyone feeling anxious, worried and overwhelmed. Each day seems to bring new updates and people are having to rethink their daily routines accordingly. Instead of going to work, knowing their kids are safe at school, and having a varied social life, people are now being told that they can’t leave their houses. These are major adjustments and drastic life changes that everyone has had to make. So, it’s okay to be feeling out of control, overwhelmed and scared. These are all very normal feelings during such a crisis.

Life isn’t what happens to you; it’s the story you choose to tell yourself about what happens to you.

Uncertainty and loss of control are two of the most significant stressors that a human being can face. They are the underlying causes of all forms of trauma. But even when we feel utterly powerless, there are things we can do to reestablish a sense of control. The mindset with which you approach COVID-19 is going to determine how you come out of it. Life isn’t what happens to you; it’s the story you choose to tell yourself about what happens to you.

Photo by Ella Jardim on Unsplash

There have been studies done on trauma survivors who experienced very difficult life experiences. Some of them developed PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), while others were diagnosed with PTG (post-traumatic growth), and some who developed both. They went through PTSD, but once they processed their pain and healed from it, they actually integrated it as wisdom, compassion and appreciation. They realized that “This is not happening to me,” but that “This is happening for me.” Similarly, the people in the PTG group made meaning out of their pain and suffering as well.

The words you use will set the mood for your story.

Consider the words you use to tell your story. Instead of saying, “I am in social isolation,” say, “I am staying indoors,” or “I am staying safe.” Instead of saying, “I am social distancing,” say, “I am going to keep a two-meter distance between myself and other people.” Instead of saying, “I am going to avoid infection,” you can say, “I will focus on building my immunity and staying healthy.” The words you use will set the mood for your story. One story is based on fear, and the other is based on realistic optimism.

The truth is that terms like ‘social isolation’ and ‘social distancing’ are dated and from the pre-internet, video chat and social media era. We can be at home alone but not feel isolated. We can still be part of a community and remain connected to our loved ones.

So, what things can we do to restore calm?

Have a routine

Routine is the antidote to anxiety. You mustn’t let yourself fall into ‘relaxed, long weekend’ mode for the next few weeks. The reality is that we don’t know how long we’re going to be staying indoors and working from home. You have to establish a new normal as soon as possible.

Photo by Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash

This means that every morning, you wake up, exercise, shower, change into fresh clothes, and sit down in a designated workplace. Then, you finish your work at a specific time, change into your leisure clothes, eat dinner and sleep at a prescribed time. Make sure you address all your priorities while considering your routine: your physical, mental, social and spiritual health, as well as your academic or work commitments.

Photo by Rawan Yasser on Unsplash

Do the things you can do

The fastest way to reclaim your sense of control is to engage in action. Action counteracts fear. This is actually what triggers people to panic-buy, as they’re struggling to maintain a sense of control. But instead of hoarding, you can exercise, declutter, clean your home, or reorganize your furniture. These are quick ways for you to feel like you’re in control because you set a goal, accomplish it and see immediate results.  One note of caution: don’t wait for motivation before you start acting. Start, and the motivation will follow.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Limit your news

When our mind feels it doesn’t understand what’s happening or that things are uncertain, it’ll seek information to calm itself. We think that if we read more, we’ll know more, and if we know more, we’ll be more prepared. The truth is that the more you know, the more you’ll want to know. It’s literally like feeding the beast.

Photo by Francisco Andreotti on Unsplash

The only one way to calm anxiety is to give it the facts and then stop. Because by this time, you know everything there is to know about keeping yourself and your family safe. Don’t start and end your day with the news. Stick to one reliable local channel, alongside the World Health Organization and update yourself with the latest facts once a day. You might need to leave some group chats for the time being and draw some firm boundaries with friends, who are obsessed with talking about COVID-19. Make it clear that you’d like to catch up with them, but would prefer to talk about anything other than that.

Photo by Ella Jardim on Unsplash

Regardless of which strategies you choose to begin with, be disciplined about writing them down and building them into your daily routines.  This situation is entirely new for all of us. We associate our homes with comfort, relaxation, entertainment and rest. But suddenly, they’ve become our workplaces, schools, gyms and hobby lobbies. So now, more than ever, it’ll be critical to have a time and place for all your new routines and rituals, as you gain a sense of control back in your lives and establish a new normal.

Dr. Saliha Afridi is a clinical psychologist and the founder and Managing Director of The LightHouse Arabia, one of the largest mental health centers in Dubai and the UAE. Her expertise is in parenting and burnout in the workplace sector. Since founding The Lighthouse Arabia in 2011, Dr Saliha and her team have contributed thousands of hours to the community, free of charge, to educate and raise awareness about mental health and wellness. Her most recent achievement is bringing Australian Mental Health First Aid to the UAE, where her team has trained over 1,000 first aiders for early detection and treatment of mental health difficulties within their communities. Visit and follow @Drsalihaafridi and @Lighthousearabia on Instagram.

Villa 88’s V for Victory series will feature news and views from industry experts about health and wellness, beauty, fashion, arts and culture, and law in the age of COVID-19. It’s an initiative that encourages you to stay at home and promotes ways you can best utilize your time during self-quarantine. Because together, we will be victorious over the virus.

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