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Quarantine Life: Reset, Replenish, Rejuvenate in this Pandemic - with Psychologist Dr. Perpetua Neo

The COVID19 pandemic has taken a toll on everyone's mental health. It has created a unique set of challenges and circumstances that our generation has not previously experienced. We are in unprecedented territory here. This week, I interviewed Dr. Perpetua Neo for some tips on how we can take care of our mental health during this trying time.

Dr. Perpetua Neo comes from a multidisciplinary background and integrates neuroscience, psychology, and ancient wisdom, whilst partnering with reality. She is a psychologist and coach for overachieving perfectionists demanding deep and lasting transformations quickly. She works with clients across 6 continents. Her articles are published in 37 languages across a range of media. You can find her articles on mindbodygreen or connect through her website.

What have you been doing during this quarantine to be kind to yourself?

I am acknowledging that I will feel frustrated at times. It is not normal for me, so I am not judging myself for these feelings. In Buddhist scripture, the Sallatha Suta is the second arrow we wound ourselves with, by wrapping some judgment story around reality. I choose to partner with reality by accepting that it is a strange time in history. Previously, I would have judged myself for my first world problems of not being able to dine out. 

I am using this time to pick up new skills in the kitchen. I love to eat and cook. Now I have embarked on a project to bake all my favorite types of bread I have eaten. I have made gelato, spice blends, childhood snacks, and fresh pasta in the last 35 days. This time has really up-leveled my technique and creativity. This also requires loads of planning and organization (I only have two cooktops, zero mixer, and zero pasta machines), so my brain is getting sharper! I am also discovering muscles that 14kg kettlebells could not coax out. They are on #chefneo, on my @redlippedglutton Instagram.

It is so easy to fall into a downward spiral in the current climate. How do we remain positive while managing realistic expectations?

We can do what I call the 3Rs.

1. Reset - Meaning reset the fear center of your brain, which hijacks your logic and intuition. Shuffle your feet on the floor, like the animals do. In Taoist philosophy, Hua Tuo talked about how we learn from nature by learning from the animals. Then, do a simple 3-breath reset of your brain, so your higher brain comes back online. 

2. Replenish - What can you do that replenishes your energy? The simplest is to acknowledge that we are incinerating energy on things we otherwise would not-hypervigilance, anxiety, toilet paper, the list goes on. When we stop expecting ourselves to not worry (and in essence, not be human), we make breakthroughs. Have a list of things that recharge you, be it social contact, going for walks, reading, and so on. Then ask yourself how you can adapt them to these times (e.g. Zoom calls, walking with social distancing).

3. Rejuvenate - This is about how to breathe new life and vitality into you, on a mind-body-spirit level. For instance, I practice intermittent fasting every day (average 18 hours) to renew my cells. I also journal and reflect to renew my spirit. 

How does one cope with "Quarantine Envy"?

I am sounding like a broken record here. Acknowledge what is going on. 

How I explain this to my clients is "you do not get upset when you see a hot man/woman sitting at a café across the street, nor when you see a row of garbage cans". 

So your feelings are just that. The faster you acknowledge your human side, the faster you can master it AND thrive because of it.  

We are likelier to be envious of people who are closer to us in background - someone we went to school with, for instance-- instead of Bill Gates.

And I get that it is not nice feeling envious. That is okay. We do and think a lot of not nice things; better to acknowledge than to delude ourselves, because doing the latter will build up resentment. That is psychic toxic sludge, that manifests as mental-physical dysfunction.

So if you feel envious, then ask yourself, what is it about your current situation that pales in comparison.

- How did things get to this? 

- What exactly do you want?

- What can you do to get to where you want to be?

Here is a simple example. Sometimes I get envious of people with many cooktops on their stove. I used to have six, now I have two. I have learned to accept that this was the price to pay for choosing my current apartment, which I love a lot. Then I examine the notion of do I REALLY want six hobs in the future? No. Four will do. Then, I gameplan how to get there. I have already decided I want Lacanche stoves for my next house. In the meantime, I happily cook in others' kitchens. They have four cooktops.

Will we become desensitized to the statistics eventually and carry on as usual?

Some of us will. Or we will just decide to "resume normal living" out of sheer frustration because enough is enough. However, reality will seep in. We are exposed to this reality all the time. So we will be battling with dissonance.

Most of us will become a lot more anxious as time passes by.

I envisage we will turn the curve of COVID19 with a few mental health challenges collectively. We have barely seen the real social and emotional costs happen.

What is a simple daily practice we can do to help us thrive in this pandemic?

Do something your future self will thank you for. 


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