Stepping Out Again With Your Best Foot Forward

By Lynn Yen 2022-08-06 19:02:38

Health experts give guidance on mental and physical health.

It feels like we’ve been running a marathon with our emotions. We are tired. We have gone beyond what we previously thought were the limits, living in survival mode. But we have now made it through and our lives feel different on the other side.

There are still feelings of suspended time as we restart, catch our breaths, and put one foot in front of the other. Yet slowly, we are moving on.

In front of us is the task of healing and safeguarding our health, both mental and physical.

Dr Yu Li Cunningham, counselor at United Family Healthcare, echoes our trepid feelings. “It might be helpful to first face and admit that we are still walking with open wounds, doing our best to regain a sense of normality in the face of the open-ended uncertainty,” she said.

Activities like journaling, talking to a trusted friend, and mindfulness exercises help us attune to our thoughts and feelings.

As much as we’d like to forget the past, it’s good to acknowledge from where we are starting.

Dr Cunningham continues, “Recovery from trauma is not a linear process, but rather an ongoing process that involves full awareness and acceptance of where we are and how we feel with a stance of compassion.”

Uncertainty is a new companion we all have, and its best to learn how to manage along side it. Dr Davy Guo, psychology directory of Mindfront Health, elaborates, “We are living in a constantly changing world. Whether there is a pandemic or not, uncertainty is a part of normal life. The first step of coping is recognizing it and accepting it.”

Though we can’t control uncertain events, we can control our response to uncertainty. “For children, surprisingly many of them have the natural ability to adjust and adapt. However, it is often the adults’ worry and behaviors that cause them to be anxious. Therefore, it is more important for us to keep calm and show them that it will be okay,” said Guo.

We may resemble Bambi while taking our first steps on shaky legs back into a more opened up city. Apprehension and hesitancy are understandable, especially when dealing with an invisible virus as a foe. But ultimately we shouldn’t give in to the phobias and fears of activities we once did without a second thought.

In order to have a smoother transition from living locked in to going out on the town, Qiongru Huang, mental health psychotherapist at Jiahui Health, gives three tips. Firstly, use your senses to engage in what is going on around you, as sensory information can be the key to quickly opening up minds and readjusting. Secondly, acknowledge your feelings such as awkwardness, by saying, “This is weird, right?” This can take away its negative power and clear the air. Lastly, try relaxation techniques to alleviate fear and reduce stress, such as breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, yoga, mindfulness, and meditation.

Huang reminds us that humans have a powerful ability to adapt. Going out and resuming in-person social activities again is just another transition for us to go through.

Our current challenges aren’t limited to readjusting to socialization. Once we’ve made peace with venturing out to see friends, we then have to say farewell to those friends who are moving away, and process that loss. Yet those are still the lucky ones. Some friends already left without a chance to say goodbye.

According to Parkway’s Sophie Zhou, “the unfortunate circumstance that important people in our life left suddenly without saying goodbye could trigger a strong sense of uncertainty. It’s emotionally draining and can make us feel distressed and powerless.”

Zhou recommends an exercise to deal with these feelings of uncertainty by identifying things we could focus on in our daily life.

“Draw a big circle on the paper. In this circle, write down the things you could control, for example, stay connected with people on social media, and meet your friends or families who are around in person and enjoy your time together. Outside the circle, write down the things beyond your ability to control, for example, the COVID prevention policies in your district and other people’s decision to leave,” said Zhou.

The task allows you to focus on things that are under your control, and actively take action.

Another way to safe guard our mental health is through maintaining our physical health. During lockdown, we experienced how a sedentary lifestyle affected our mental health. Less movement led to having less energy for daily tasks.

Basic actions like taking care of our health through eating healthy and on time, routine exercise, quality sleep, and reducing stress through scheduling ahead, all contribute to our overall physical and mental health according to Dr. Khelu Shrestha of Renai Hospital International Department.

Dr Ewelina Biskup of Shanghai East International Medical Center also recommends getting exercise anyway you can, even in a lockdown situation. That means scheduling a daily exercise routine, taking regular breaks by getting up and stretching, cleaning, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or even playing with pets, she advises.

With remote work more frequent, a growing area of health focus is eye care after prolonged screen time. This modern problem is important to integrate into overall healthcare. Chief of Ophthalmology at Essence Eye, Dr Wei Wang, gives coping strategies to care for optical health.

Blink: When you use electronic equipment, please try to consciously blink more. Try to blink more times per minute, and close and open the eyes completely while blinking to ensure the eyes are fully wetted to prevent dryness and fatigue.

Looking far into the distance: Standing by the window or balcony and looking out at things more than six meters away after you have worked or learned online for about thirty minutes.

Relaxing your eyes: Placing some green plants around to help you relax visually.

Hot compress: Applying a hot towel or a hot eye mask on the eyelids to effectively relieve visual fatigue after closing your eyes. Note that the temperature should not be too high, and the most suitable temperature is to make you feel comfortable.

Stretch: Get up and stretch your body.

The added benefit of staying healthy is starting a virtuous cycle of boosting immunity and getting sick less often. Much of our worry is about testing positive for COVID-19. But if we are vaccinated and maintain a good immune system, our bodies can more quickly and effectively eliminate the virus.

Dr Jerry Tian of Columbia Kaiyi Clinic explains three ways to boost your immunity. First is exercise. He states that when we exercise at a medium intensity, this promotes the immune response against different infections and even cancers. Exercise increases lymphatic responses, which increases the number and function of natural killer cells. Second is eating a balanced diet. Nutrients, specifically proteins, vitamins, and microelements are crucial for the immune system to function normally. Dr Tian also recommends dietary supplements as a way to get adequate nutrients. Third is being positive and avoiding stress. Psychological stress suppresses the immune system in otherwise healthy individuals by decreasing the production of immunity cells and antibodies.

There is also psychological immunity. As Wendy Chao of Body & Soul Medical Clinics explains, “Psychological immunity is defined as a system of adaptive resources and positive personality traits that acts as mental antibodies during the time of stress. The elements of psychological immunity, unlike physical immunity, are ours to choose and develop.”

Pyschological immunity encompasses:

• Emotional resilience: the ability to bounceback from difficult situations.

• Self-reliance: freedom to be authentic despite external influences.

• Emotional honesty: the ability to acknowledge emotions.

• Detachment: shield and distance between self and external environment.

• Emotional intelligence: capacity to foresee how emotions are likely to affect behavior.

Dr Chao advises us to avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. Accept that change is part of life, move toward your goals, nurture a positive view of yourself, have a hobby to immerse in, and most importantly, be kind to yourself.

This circles back to the recommended psychological practices during uncertain times. Some things we can’t easily change like pandemic control policies, but aspects like good physical health, mental health, and exercise are tools we can readily control and use to protect ourselves while putting our best foot forward.


Meet Our Experts

Dr Yu Li Cunningham

Mental Health Counselor

United Family Healthcare
Tel: 400 639 3900


Dr Davy Guo

Director of Couseling Psychology

Mindfront Shanghai Jing’an Clinic

Tel: 6718 8883


Qiongru Huang

Mental Health Psychotherapist

Jiahui International Hospital

Tel: 400 868 3000


Sophie Zhou

Parkway Psychological Counselor


Tel: 400 819 6622


Dr Khelu Shrestha

General Surgeon

Renai Hospital International Department

Tel: 5489 3781


Dr Ewelina Biskup

Internal Medicine and Emergency Department

Shanghai East International Medical Center

Tel: 5879 9999


Dr Wei Wang

Chief of Ophthalmology

Essence Eye

Tel: 5292 1853


Dr Jerry Tian

General Practitioner

Columbia Kaiyi Clinic

Tel: 400 663 7707


Wendy Chao, PhD


Body & Soul Medical Clinics

Tel: 6461 6550


*Doctors listed in order of mention