How Do You Take Care of Your Mental Health During a Recession?

A psychologist gives tips on how to refocus, regroup and emerge out of this as smoothly as possible.

Mind It
7 min read

Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan


(FIT is republishing this story in the run-up to World Mental Health Day on 10 October, an international day of raising awareness and reducing the stigma of mental health.)

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an economic crisis. People are losing their jobs, facing financial difficulties and staring at uncertain futures. In such situations, we do tend to get caught in a web of negative thoughts which may pull us down, leading to stress, anxiety and restlessness.

This is backed by research. Even during the Great Recession, people who suffered a financial, housing, or job-related hardship were more likely to show symptoms of depression and anxiety, and many of these were long term.

FIT interviews Dr Kamna Chhibber, Clinical Psychologist, Head, Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences at Fortis Healthcare. She answers questions received from people who are struggling financially, and gives some tips and solutions on how we can get through this rough phase as smoothly as possible.

Q1) I got laid off a month ago. The market is dry and I am too stressed about getting another job. I can’t sleep or eat. Please help me regroup and refocus.

There is a lot of uncertainty and there are no easy solutions which are there in front of us. Had this been any other time, the solution would have been to say that you okay, the job is not there right now, but I have got these other 10 opportunities. Let me start applying.

What is very important is to still fall back in some ways to that same approach.

If a process would have taken a couple of months, it may take longer than that in all likelihood. And yes, you may feel that that may be taking the best-case scenario. But at this point in time, we all need to look at what is there in front of us. The here and now.

The here and now is that hopefully, within the next short period of time, we should be looking at some sort of a revival of processes of things, and we need to try and make the best of the situation we are in currently.

1. So if you would have previously applied to 10 jobs, right now try to apply to far more number of jobs because it may take a little longer for those opportunities to fall in place for you.
2. It is also important that instead of just looking at one kind of an opportunity,
try to look for various other associated kind of avenues.
3. So don't stick to Plan A. Try to go towards a Plan B, C, D and E. Try to look at what could be the various other permutations and combinations.
4. Look at activating your social support system. Try to see if you can reach out to people who are in a similar space and if they can give you some advice and inputs.
5. Ensure that you are not letting it impact your routine even today because that is what allows us to maintain our mental health during such a difficult time. So still get up in the morning, push yourself.
6. Even though you may not want to eat, break up your meals into smaller portions, have more frequent smaller meals.


Q2) I'm a 26-year-old girl who just graduated from a business school. At a time when we should be getting placed, companies are withdrawing offers. After my parents spent so much money on my education, I don’t have a job. The guilt is killing me.

Regardless of whether something like this would have happened or not, your parents would have always prepared to ensure that they give you the best education that they can. So this was something that they would have planned for.

What you can do right now is that you need to take care of your well-being, make sure that you are being a support to them. If not financially in taking care of your own expenses, but at least in terms of the emotional support and the physical support you can provide them by being there.

So do these small things you can to make things easy for them. You need to make sure that they are doing well. They need to see that you are doing well. Because if you are fine, they will be fine.

This is not in your control. It is not something that is of your own make, or that you haven’t put the efforts. The best thing that you can do as an individual is to just put forth efforts.

Q3) I went form a 24/7 on-the-go job to doing nothing all of a sudden. My days and nights have no routine. I am just mindlessly watching Netflix. How do I get out of this slump and become productive?

What you need to do very very actively is to take a step back. Start with one thing, Just start with setting your time to wake up right. You wake up, say, around 9 or 10 in the morning, if you have been waking up lose to noon.

  • Consistently ensure regardless of whatever time you’re falling off to sleep, even if it is in the wee hours of the morning, still wake up at 9 so that your sleep cycle starts coming into sync.
  • Once your sleep cycle starts getting set up, you will find that since you are awake, you would start taking care of your household chores also. You would start becoming a little more responsive and responsible for a lot of other things which are going on around the household.
  • At the same time, instead of binge-watching a lot of these shows, space them out so that when you are engaging with them it is giving you joy and pleasure and it does not become a numbing activity for you, where you are trying to run away from your thoughts and emotions.
  • Also, if you are actually utilising these as mechanisms to run away and numb yourself from your thoughts and feelings, then we need to figure out what is it that is bothering you.
  • And I would keep bringing up the most common point that I will have throughout: to say that reach out to your social networks.
  • Stay connected, make sure that you are talking to people. Do not isolate yourself. You can’t meet them physically, but at least you can stay connected to them socially on different platforms and emotionally have your support system in place.

Q4) At 31, I have no income. I feel humiliated asking my parents for money. It is embarrassing but I am helpless. Help me refocus so that I don’t drown in self pity.

Ask yourself this, if the situation was reversed, what would you have done? If say, for instance, in your place, it was your parents who needed help. They were the ones who went through a scenario where they did not have the finances to take care of their needs or, maybe they had some sort of an illness which compromised their ability to take care of their own self or their health. What would you have done?

As a family member, as someone who loves this person, you would have put forth all your resources because that is the nature of the relationship. To ensure that that person is also taken care of.

We belong to a society and to a community where coming together as a unit, as a family, and as a support system has always been emphasised. So it is okay if you are seeking your parent’s support today, because tomorrow, you would be playing that role for them also.

If you feel that you could be a potential burden on them, that burdensomeness is not going to come because they need to take care of your financial needs. That burden would be felt by them when you do not take care of your role and responsibilities within the home.

Q5) I moved out of my parents' house two years ago, but I am back now. The salary cuts have made it difficult for me to afford living alone. How do I adjust with living with my parents? My relationship with my family members is strained and now, I have become used to my own space.

I think this is a modern-day problem which is happening to most people who have gotten used to this new way of existing in their own independent spaces. But go back to the time when you did stay with your family. This was the very unit within which you were functioning. So of course, it was possible to do it at one time. If it was possible then, it is also possible to do it now.

The human mind is such that it can always adapt. The reason why your adaptation gets challenged is because you are mulling over thoughts which are constantly telling you “this is not great, I don’t feel great in this situation, I need to get out of this, I cannot deal with this anymore”.

If you get stuck in those thought processes, that will make it far more difficult for you to keep continuing in that space. One of the most important things is to figure out what are you telling your own self or what is your mind telling you. Address that.

Try to remind yourself that right now, the situation warrants being prudent, and prudence would say that we need to utilise and pool in all your resources, make sure we are supporting each other, and that involves for you to stay in your parents home today. It is not necessarily a permanent arrangement. It is going to be temporary, till the time you are able to get back into that space where you can live independently.

If you are facing conflicts within your family unit, use this as an opportunity or at least consider to use this as an opportunity to have some conversations about the issues you are facing there.


How Do You Take the Next Step?

Dr Kamna Chhibber highlights a few general points:

  • One, we have to be in the present moment. We need to look at the here and now. Preoccupying yourself with the future is going to serve no purpose because there are no answers.
  • So look at what you have in front of you, try to address it in the best way that you can and remember the key is 'the best way that you can'. It is not about resolving and solving it. It is about taking the best approach that is possible given the scenario. That will allow you to feel a little more positive and a little more relaxed, because you have put your best way forward and given it all your effort.
  • So your expectations need to change. Expectations of an outcome need to be replaced with expectations of giving in your full effort, and then seeing how things evolve and develop in the future.
  • At the same time, it is very important to work as a collective to try and help and support each other. We need to try and ensure that we are maintaining our own optimism by working together as a unit. So if you are seeing someone around you who is struggling, typically you may not have thought about reaching out to them. But use this time to do so.

We all together can ensure that we are coming through this entire experience as a society in a much better way.

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