As I was thinking, the picture of an airplane just popped into my head. Remember airplanes? Those things we all used to use so freely. Now, recall the safety announcement?
The flight attendant would stand up in the front of the plane and demonstrate how to use an oxygen mask in case of an emergency. Remember that? It was that whole speech that you probably ignored while wondering when they would start your in-flight entertainment.
Well one of the pieces of safety information they would give would be “always put on your own oxygen mask before you put on the mask of a child you are traveling with”. This instruction is given in case there is an emergency.
I want to be clear that we are currently in a mental health emergency. When we are in a mental health emergency it is necessary to focus on your own mental health first. That is, putting on your oxygen mask first. Then once your mental health first aid has been taken care of you will be able to function out of relative stability in order to serve those around you.
So what does it mean to focus on your own mental health first?
Start by saying “No” - It is good and right for you to set boundaries by saying “no” to the things that you don’t actually want to do. You don’t need to be “on” 24-7. What is a realistic time to stop checking emails? What time do you need to take your work hat off and leave it off?
It’s ok to express emotion - Find someone in your life outside of your family unit that can function as your emotional “lightning rod”. This is a person that you feel safe discharging all of your emotional energy into, and you know that you won’t hurt that person in the process. Who is that person for you? Who can you call at any time?
Understand your unique coping mechanism - Congratulations, you are unique! Know what your own, unique coping mechanisms are for dealing with stress and anxiety, and use them. If it's not working for you, stop doing it.
Good physical health helps mental health - I know you have heard it a thousand times but you can hear it again. Find a way to get enough exercise for yourself. Get enough sleep but not too much and pay attention to your eating habits during lockdown.
Please ask for help if you need it - As I mentioned above, we are in an unprecedented time, a worldwide mental health emergency. Seek professional help if you need it.
Here are some local mental health resources in Phnom Penh: