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This is How Women Will Heal Themselves and Their Families During the Pandemic

mental health

A mother helps her son with homework. Photo Getty

As the UAE made the announcement that schools and universities will implement e-learning until June, thoughts turned to a note that mother of four and designer of her namesake brand, Victoria Beckham published on her Instagram. Titled a “Public Service Announcement” and written by family psychologist Dr Emily W. King, it read, “Parents: What we are being asked to do is not humanly possible. There is a reason we are either a working parent, a stay-at-home parent, or a part-time working parent. Working, parenting, and teaching are three different jobs that cannot be done at the same time.” Do the best you can and lower your expectations was the message.

Across nations in the Gulf, Europe, and North America, people are on lockdown, offices and schools are closed in an effort to curb the spread of the global pandemic Covid-19. As families are confined in their homes—for the greater good of society—educational institutions are sending parents curriculum, while work continues (albeit not for all) from home. The pressure on working parents—mothers in particular—has surmounted exponentially. “I have so much on my plate. I’m not able to focus on one single task. I’m not structured. There’s too much happening,” shared one Dubai-based working mother in the fashion industry. “It reminds me of times of war, in Lebanon, but this is worse. There is a global pandemic, and we are expected to triple our duties at home. My plate is so full; some nights I can’t even sleep.”

Dubai-based clinical psychologist Dr Saliha Afridi offers that one way to combat stress is to limit attention to news. “Do not start or end your day with the news,” she advises. “It will require discipline but our human mind—when it does not understand something—will seek information to calm itself. It thinks that if we read more, we will know more, and if we do that, we will be more prepared. The truth is that the more you know, the more you feed the beast. The only way to calm anxiety is to give the mind facts and then stop.” She suggests people pick one reliable channel and the World Health Organization and read it once a day. She also advises to draw firm boundaries with friends obsessed with Covid-19.

When those boundaries are drawn, how does one connect deeper with oneself and at home? “Women can use deep, mindful thinking to heal themselves and others,” offers Her Highness Sayyida Basma AlSaid, specialist in mental health, clinical counselor, and owner of the first mental health clinic in Oman, founder of Whispers of Serenity in Muscat. Her Oman-based clinic is currently offering global support lines in various languages, via Whatsapp, and for free. The service provides over a dozen therapists to address urgent issues such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, coping difficulty, abuse, self-harm, bullying, relationship issues offered seven days a week (contact numbers below).

“Think slowly. This is an opportunity for women to heal families,” HH AlSaid continues. “Home is the new norm. We need to think of it that way and it should have hope. We have to live in the now; the more you do, the more realistic you are.” Below, HH AlSaid, a mother of four children, answers some of Vogue Arabia’s readers’ greatest concerns at this time, and points the way to women’s power to heal.

HH Sayyida Basma Al Said pandemic

Her Highness Sayyida Basma AlSaid, founder of Whispers of Serenity Clinic, the first private specialized mental health and well-being clinic in Oman. A mental health consultant and psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience seeing and treating patients from a wide array of disorders. She is a pioneer in mental health issues awareness and is renowned for dealing head on with taboo subjects in the Middle East such as abuse and eating disorders. Courtesy Whispers of Serenity Clinic

How can I encourage my husband to help out more around the house? I feel anger towards him that I even have to ask him to do the obvious. How do I manage that?
In the early days, tension in a couple is a normal phase. This is the mega test; either couples come out of it together or they don’t. Women feel that the home is their territory; now, men are there, and all the time. Either husbands push in too much or disconnect completely. Here, in the Middle East, we have bigger spaces, in Europe people are literally on top of each other.

The key, is to try and engage husbands slowly. Some men think that life is the same as before: “I’m at home, I do my work. You do your work and manage the house.” You have to first realize that the man is the same man. If he never helped out before, he probably won’t do so now. The people who are having a very hard time now, were having a hard time before. This is a trigger. Men who were angry before are even angrier now. Cases of domestic violence are rising and there is no running away—literally. We need to deal with it and it will depend on how strong you are. Men need help; they need to feel safe to share what bothers them, too. Conversations must be had.

I am trying to parent my children, do my work, homeschooling… everything feels out of control.
You need to have structure and a schedule. The first week at home, shock and mayhem will reign. The second week, maybe it will be a bit better. In the third week, solutions need to be in place and a routine. Stop thinking of this as a temporary thing. This is your new normal and try and live it day by day.

Teach children how to express themselves through drawing, storytelling, and singing. Also tell them how you feel. Mommy is stressed. Mommy needs help; can we look at making a schedule together? Children love to be in control and have responsibility. Will the schedule work every day or last forever? Most likely it won’t and you will need to change it frequently. Maintaining proper breakfast, lunch, and bedtime hours are essential.

READ: How to keep up with culture in isolation

Everyone is talking about “me” time; as a working mother, I can’t seem to carve out a space for myself.
After you put your kids to bed, this is your time to yourself. You could catch up on work, or, you could do something for yourself. If you are feeling overwhelmed with work, speak to your boss. This is an unprecedented time when bosses around the globe are more lenient and are more empathetic. For once in our lives, the whole world is experiencing a challenge together.

I’m a single working mom and I’m very afraid to see my salary dip or even lose my job altogether.
A lot of people are talking about this fear. It’s normal, and for people already experiencing stress or OCD, imagine them now. The biggest pandemic here is not Covid-19 but the pandemic of fear. What must be repeated is that your health is the number one priority here. If you don’t have your health, you have nothing, not half your salary, not your job, not your life.

I have just discovered that I will be homeschooling my children until June and I’m panicking. It’s normal to feel this. Emotions kick in and the first is worry. Now, try considering something even worse. Imagine if your children went to school and got sick. Live in the now. We say we live in gratitude, but do we really? Just seeing your child in front of you, in your home, should bring gratitude. Imagine for a minute the alternative of them being sick, in the hospital, and not being able to see them at all. Now is the time to think out of the box, reach out, but also within. The power to heal is within you, if you dig deep, think slowly, mindfully, and live in the now.

Mental Health whispers of serenity

Whispers of Serenity offers free counseling via these numbers and in various languages throughout the pandemic.

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