20 Sep 2020
Stay Distanced, Stay Connected (to Yourself!)
Written by Aprida Sondang, an Australia Awards alumna.
The biggest legacy of this pandemic has been more time to pause and reflect, meaning more opportunity to connect to ourselves. Connect with our minds, our bodies, and our hearts. In the first month of the pandemic, I experienced sleep disturbance and stress at seeing all the bad news, and it impacted my ability to function effectively. I explored a way out by seeking advice from books and podcasts. These are three things I have learned:
Brain-dump! Well, that’s what I actually do when I write in my journal. This activity helps me to connect with myself. Every morning, I sit with my busy mind, pour out what I have in mind, be it unpleasant feelings or optimism, that rises with the sun on that day. Surprisingly, I have clarity of what’s going on in my mind, embrace what I feel in my chest, and ask myself what I can do about it. When I know that what makes me worry is something that I can’t control, I learn to make peace with it. However, if I think I can do something about it, I take that as process to grow.
I also learn so many things from cooking! First, I practice strategic thinking. I need to think fast on the sequence of when I need to cook the rice, clean and cut the veggies, put the frying pan on the stove, how much I need to cook so I don’t have to repeat the same process every mealtime. From the cooking process I also learn creativity. Besides the creation itself, I have to be creative and find substitutes for the ingredients I don’t have. Last, cooking is also about continuous improvement. Today, I may put not enough salt in the soup, but tomorrow I will surely learn not to make the same mistake.
I also believe this work from home time is the time to feed my mind with knowledge and skills! Basically you can learn anything you want, whether to hone your skills to thrive at work, or just another random new hobby to refresh from the routine. There are thousands of free online courses and you can learn from the best universities around the globe. The last course I took this month was from Central Queensland University. I did the Neuroplasticians and Neuromyths course and I found it very insightful to help me as a capacity building officer, as well as at a personal level on how I can be a more effective learner. Another time, I enrolled in an online course on how to make a glass of cheap cold brew and turn it into a beautiful image with your mobile phone camera.
The more I get stressed, the more I need to work out! We already know that exercise is beneficial for our physical health. But I didn’t expect that it would also help me nourish my mental health. I found out that when you exercise your brain releases “anti-depressant” hormones such as dopamine and endorphins. No wonder I always feel not only better but great after exercising. The news, social media and life challenges in this interesting time have hit me so hard (well, I think each of us is impacted in some way). I need to think and adapt, yet the process cannot be effective when my emotion hijacks my brain and I’m too overwhelmed. Of course I try to connect with my own self and try to embrace the emotions, yet I also don’t want to be overwhelmed and make careless decisions. Exercise and having nutritious meals helps me a lot! And that’s another reason I cook for myself.
No one can deny that humans are social creatures. Many discussions on happiness show the importance of social connection as a factor contributing to our happiness. But how to do that while we are trapped in our small “kos-kosan” rooms? That’s what social media is for! I have met some amazing humans who have been influential in my life but I haven’t seen them for years! Two of them are Australians. Back in 2014, I got an amazing opportunity in a homestay leadership program from a youth organisation. Basically, this program enabled me to experience a totally different culture in Australia. At that time, I lived with an Australian family and met some Australians and learned from them. So, I re-connected with my host family through Facebook and updated them about my life and vice versa. On a different occasion, I virtually met an amazing woman named Norah in a Zoom talk show organised by my office in collaboration with Deakin University. Norah was actually the one who inspired me to do the job I do now. She shared her experience as a victim of discrimination as a minority and of Islamophobia. Norah works with a good friend who is a Christian to promote tolerance for different faiths and be a living example that interfaith collaboration is needed to promote peace. Her story moves me every time I recall it.
What works on me, will not necessarily work on you. I believe there are a lot of activities which can nourish your mind, body and heart. For mind, you may want to try mediation, breath exercises, etc. You can explore various movements every day for your body - dance, yoga, HIIT, or you can even find “walk at home” sessions on YouTube! For soul, you might also want to connect with nature and learn to be a mama/papa-plant or try to have a pet. Once again, connect with yourself and remember you don’t need to be like most people on Instagram!
I close this writing with a quote from Viktor Frankl: Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Now, life has given us all this horrible pandemic. Some choose to give up, some choose to thrive. Which one are you?
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