As Jamaica continues to face difficult moments in the COVID-19 pandemic, Fight for Peace Psychologist Michelle Harrison, who works with the UP Unity & Peace programme in Kingston, talks us through her experience of these times and her five step approach to safeguard our wellbeing:

“The last several months have felt chaotic, anxiety-provoking, insomnia-inducing, diet-crushing and sadly for many, grief-filled for many of us. We all have been living in a world where we might feel as though things are out of our control and that we have to be governed by the next press conference with the latest COVID-19 measures.

We have endured multiple waves of rapidly increasing infection rates, varying levels of lockdown, curfews, limited social interactions all while trying to still perform in our jobs and in our daily lives. For even the most laid back and relaxed personalities, let’s be honest, this period has been draining on us emotionally, mentally and in some ways physically.

Terms such as ‘Zoom Fatigue,’ ‘Covid-weary,’ ‘Lockdown/Quarantine anxiety’ are quickly becoming part of our everyday language. Many of us are feeling exhausted physically and emotionally and yet we keep pushing. However, the law of diminishing returns is definitely now in effect.

At the same time, as you scroll through social media you may see countless posts of persons thriving during this period – starting new and innovative businesses, writing poems and short stories, entering exciting professions, excelling academically and learning new skills. You may then say to yourself, ‘Well if they can do it, then I must continue pushing. I must perform as well.’

The truth is, what you may be seeing is the end result of the process I am about to share. They may have had to stop for a moment, take a few deep breaths and ask for help. Having gotten the support they needed, they were able to thrive.

The good news is that you can also begin to thrive during this period. You may just need a little help. Allow me to present my Surviving the COVID-19 Pandemic kit. You might think to yourself, this would have been helpful at the beginning of the pandemic but like everything in life, it can take time to learn important lessons and put them into practice. Also, for many of us, the pandemic is at its worst. The good news is this kit can be used throughout our lives and for a variety of situations.

Step 1. Be kind to yourself. We are in the midst of a pandemic or as the popular Jamaican influencer Rushcam says, Pandemonium. You need to be gentle with yourself. Without a pandemic, none of us can go at 150 miles an hour, 24/7, 365 days a year. The pandemic makes it hard for us to go at 15 miles an hour at times. That’s ok. Every day you show up, celebrate.

Step 2. Recognise and acknowledge how you are feeling. Begin to pay attention to what your body and mind are telling you. How is your sleeping? How is your eating? Are you able to concentrate in meetings as you usually would? Take note, you are being sent the message that it’s time to take a break.

Step 3. STOP. Step away, Tune out, Go Outside, Play (seek out fun). These four actions are meant to get you to take a break. Be intentional about it. Set aside time to completely disconnect and simply engage in activities that make you feel relaxed and make you happy.

Step 4. Breathe. I mean this literally and figuratively. Take time each and every day to breathe. Deep breathing can help you to regain focus, calm any anxiety you might be feeling. If you need to, set an alarm to practise deep breathing at least 3 times a day.

Step 5. Ask for help. Do not underestimate this very important step. We often feel asking for help as weakness or us being dependent on others and so we may try to prove our independence by plodding through ourselves. In truth, asking for help is actually a strength because you are acknowledging your challenges and in spite of your discomfort, asking others to support you.

Asking for help also has the added benefit of creating opportunities for connecting with others. You can reach out to a friend, a mentor, coach, family member or a professional. What’s important is putting up that white flag and saying, I need help.

It is my hope that this kit helps as many of you as possible and provides hope in what can seem like a dark time. I want to close by reminding you that it is ok to not be ok and that you are not alone. Remember, #togetherwegetitdone.”

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