A Handful of Sunshine: How to remain upbeat amid the pandemic gloom

Feeling lost, anxious and stressed? There is a way out of this sense of hopelessness. Experts tell us how one can remain upbeat amid the pandemic gloom…

A Handful of Sunshine: How to remain upbeat amid the pandemic gloom
It is important to take a positivity break every day and remind oneself that this too shall pass.

By Reya Mehrotra

When 2021 rang in, there was hope, joy and relief among people at surviving the worst year in lived history. But then the second wave of the virus unleashed itself, shattering families and dashing hopes. Now, with the possibility of a third wave looming over us, we are back to feeling stressed, anxious and dejected.

But there is a way out of this all-pervading sense of hopelessness. All one needs is a change of perspective to find a ray of positivity in every situation. We spoke to experts and asked them how one can remain upbeat in these stressful times. Here’s what they recommend…

Food for the mood

It is important to take into account what we eat and how we eat to keep the body and mind in sync. While indulgences are not always good, a big tub of ice cream when feeling low always helps and is an immediate mood-booster. Realising this, Marriott Hotels has curated ‘Mood Diets’ for the gloomy times we are living in. The menu includes banana walnut cake, pan-seared salmon, seasonal fatty fish steaks with tomato basil, dark chocolate mousse, granola parfait, and much more.

Mumbai-based Himanshu Taneja, culinary director, south Asia, Marriott International, says short-term mood-boosting foods include indulgences like lasagna, double chocolate cake or a loaded cold coffee, where calories for that moment do not matter. “The long-term mood-boosting foods are about overall health and tend to have a long-term impact on one’s mood. The Mediterranean diet, for instance, contains good-quality fatty fish, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, fruits, etc. If included in the diet, it gradually benefits the body and one starts developing a liking towards it. It will then work towards improving your mood and overall feeling of well-being,” he says.

Mumbai-based yoga and Ayurveda lifestyle specialist Namita Piparaiya, founder of wellness platform Yoganama, shares that Ayurveda can help in finding the right balance in the diet, while also balancing the mind. “One must fall into healthy routines when it comes to diets—like starting the day with a large glass of plain water, then a herbal drink, and planning a nutritious meal chart for the week,” she says.

What to eat

  • Dark chocolate, nuts and seeds boost mood-regulating hormone serotonin
  • Fatty fish, berries, fermented foods like pickles, yoghurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc,
  • Seasonal and locally available fruits and green vegetables like lettuce, spinach, broccoli
  • For sweet cravings, try fruits topped with honey or small portions of dark chocolate
  • Infuse immunity-boosting foods (turmeric, ginger, garlic, lemon, cumin, amla) with mood-boosting recipes
  • Meat, fish, eggs or plant-based protein options like soya, seeds, nuts
  • Healthy grains like millet, barley, quinoa
  • Kadha combinations like turmeric with black pepper; ginger, basil and black pepper kadha; licorice kadha, etc

What to avoid

  • Refined or packaged food should be replaced with freshly cooked and healthy food
  • Marriott’s Taneja advises having junk food only once in three weeks
  • Eat if you’re hungry, stop if you’re not and pay attention to body signals, says Namita Piparaiya
  • Avoid eating after 8 pm and get into the habit of an early dinner

Positive affirmations

It is important to take a positivity break every day and remind oneself that this too shall pass. One could also call up someone who needs emotional support and let them know that they are not alone. But as one starts with the small steps, the first thing to do is to embrace the reality, suggests Mumbai-based life strategist and interior designer Arpita Bhandari, founder, Arpita B Design Studio. Bhandari says positive self-affirmations can help overcome any negative thoughts. One can start by saying, “I am fit, fine and healthy”, “I am strong” and so on.

Delhi-based mental and emotional well-being coach Kanchan Rai, founder, Let Us Talk, a mental wellness consultation platform, says managing one’s expectations and setting realistic goals are important. She suggests a good sleep hygiene, mindful exercises, reframing negative thoughts and identifying the red flags contributing to stress to stay positive and calm.

Small steps

  • For those in isolation, Kanchan Rai suggests remaining in touch with friends and family virtually to prevent emotional distancing
  • Self-help techniques like affirmations, gratitude, journaling thoughts, etc, help a lot, says Tiesta Duggal, a UK-based life coach and energy healer
  • Limit consumption of news; instead watch motivational, funny or light content
  • Just like vitamins and minerals, a daily dose of positivity is a must too in current times

Art therapy

In May this year, New Jersey-based Robert Seaman completed 365 days of daily doodles during the pandemic. Always an artist, the 88-year-old says he finally got the time to work on doodles during the lockdown last year. As per reports, Seaman drew one doodle each day and then spent hours colouring it.

For some like Seaman, staying at home has come with a bright side, as one gets the time to pursue their passion and hobbies, at least for a few days a week. Art especially has always been a great comforter in times of chaos and upheaval. Not surprisingly, many have taken to therapeutic art forms like sketching, painting, mandala art, singing or dancing to beat the blues. Music especially, says London-based Indie devotional bhajan singer Shivali Bhammer, has the power to heal. “Devotional music of any kind gives you the opportunity to silently surrender through sound. It can alleviate pain and stress, and bring you closer to spirituality because it breaks the boundaries and barriers that we have created within ourselves,” says Bhammer.

Refresh, repeat

  • Classical piano music helps one relax
  • Listen to flute or veena to calm the mind
  • If good at sketching/painting, do it at least once a week
  • When feeling low, dance freely to your favourite songs
  • Redecorate the house with bright or pastel colours; add indoor plants
  • Try pottery at home; equipment is easily available online

Mindfulness matters

A number of cases of depression and anxiety have come to the forefront since last year as people battle financial uncertainty, sickness, loss of loved ones and isolation. The second wave further aggravated the situation with daily news of people dying or their loved ones pleading for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, concentrators or medicines. In such a scenario, it’s natural to not feel okay. Mysuru-based Pavan Ranga, CEO, MindfulTMS, a chain of specialised neurocare centres in India, agrees that with the healthcare challenges amplified in metro cities, people are becoming more vulnerable to mental illness than ever before. “We have seen at least 2x increase in mental health issues in all metro cities, especially Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai, Visakhapatnam, Ahmedabad, Baroda and Surat,” he says, adding that alcohol consumption, substance use, gadget addiction among kids, etc, have become more common now.

Ranga suggests rhythmic breathing to promote relaxation. “Adopt a comfortable sitting position and place the tip of the tongue on the tissue right behind the top front teeth. Empty the lungs of air, breathe in quietly through the nose for four seconds. Hold breath for seven seconds, exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a ‘whoosh’ sound for eight seconds. Repeat the cycle up to four times,” he says.

Calm down

  • Spend 5-10 minutes every day in sunlight; practise deep breathing
  • Single-leg balances like the tree pose, eagle pose or half-moon pose help centre the mind and create a sense of grounding, says Yoganama’s Namita Piparaiya
  • Proning, called makarasana in Hatha Yoga, helps improve breath awareness, says Piparaiya
  • Listen to chants or meditation sounds every day
  • Do pranayama

Sweat it out

The best way to beat mental fatigue and stress is to work out. Be it jogging, running, high-intensity workouts or simple home exercises, exercising is an instant mood-booster. One can also do Pilates, a low-intensity exercise regime that is inspired by deep lateral breathing and helps in alleviating stress, says Bengaluru-based Kavita Prakash, founder and principal instructor, Pilates for Wellbeing, a classical Pilates studio. “To begin Pilates practice at home, it is advisable to work with an instructor on a one-on-one basis/online. Unlike other fitness regimes, Pilates requires personalised attention from the instructor to ensure that exercises can be learnt and practised safely with correct alignment of the body,” she adds. Pilates exercises like standing against a wall and bending down to aid spinal flexion, double-leg knee lifts to activate the abdominal muscles, upper-body curl to aid spinal flexion and strengthen the abdominal muscles, etc, can be tried at home through video/online guidance.

Exercise at home

  • Try simple free-hand exercises; watch home workout videos
  • Deep lateral breathing in Pilates helps keep respiratory system healthy
  • For lateral breathing, sit in a comfortable position and place hands on the sides of your ribcage, inhale through nostrils to widen the ribcage and exhale through mouth, drawing the ribcage together. Ensure the belly is pulled in during both. Repeat 8-10 times
  • Jog or run on the terrace or up and down the stairs every day; gradually increase time
  • Dance workouts are a great way to destress
  • Fix a time limit for a home workout every day
  • Work out in groups online or with someone at home

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