“As long as your mind is free, your spirit is strong.”
This was the sentence that made my mind shift back into positivity during these strange times we are experiencing globally right now. This simple yet powerful advice came from someone who spent a substantial amount of time in confinement, most of it in a maximum security prison.
I asked him to share his experience in light of our current situation and by sharing some of his story, maybe we can find some answers how to cope. He also reminds us that even though we are quarantined we still have small liberties; we have technology and the internet to entertain ourselves, to keep our minds occupied and to stay connected to our loved ones.
We might be physically confined but the most important thing is: not to be confined mentally. Having some of our freedom suddenly being taken away from us can definitely take its toll on our mental health. I wondered how this compares to being incarcerated?
Does this COVID-19 lock down have similar effects on our mental health as being locked up?
I decided to ask this from someone, let’s call him Diego, who had spent a significant amount of time in confinement, majority of it being in a maximum security prison. Since he finished his sentence, he started a new life and left his old ways behind him to appreciate the second chance that life threw him.
I was curious to find out two things:
- What advice can he give to people during these times to keep our mind strong and healthy?
- What is that one thing he learnt to appreciate when he got his freedom back?
First thing that became very quickly clear to me was that no, our current lock down is not even half as bad as being completely deprived from all the important things in life: speaking to our loved ones, having our meals when we want to, being able to go for that walk to the supermarket whenever we need to. Being able to open our front door when we feel like, that freedom of movement we still have to take care of our essential needs.
As Diego explains, most people have never been confined of their freedom so it’s a lot harder to deal with it as compared to someone who has been conditioned from a young age and became prepared for it mentally. Also someone who is more of a social, extrovert character, who needs regular social interaction in life, can find this situation even more challenging than how it really is. So as a side note, think about those people in your lives who are extroverts and maybe give them a call a few times in these coming weeks.
It was interesting to hear some of Diego’s tips on how he kept his mind sane while also improving on his own self-development during his time in confinement. For us, during our quarantines these tips and advice can come in useful especially if you feel like that your mental state and emotions are already going through a roller coaster. For me personally, it definitely has been the case and I’m only on my 10th (or 11th?) day of our lock down here in Barcelona.
You will need to train yourself to have some self-discipline.
Introducing a new routine, a new schedule will give you some certainty during these uncertain times. It creates a structure in your mind.
To stay mentally strong:
“I practised a lot of discipline, I meditated, I worked out. You have to make a schedule right around your circumstances. What you create is a program, you’re programming yourself.”
“I used to be a very disciplined individual to withstand and outlast my conditions of confinement. I read a lot and the books that I read were the tools for me to be able to withstand anything mentally.”
How your mindset effects your physical health:
“Of course, none of us like to be confined but it’s either you remain strong mentally or you don’t but then you break mentally. And then you end up having all these other mental handicaps that could probably lead you to your demise. Anxiety, is one of the main ones and from anxiety you will build panic attacks and from panic attacks it could lead to health conditions.
Once your mental state is broken and your spirit is done then your physical well-being will go after it.”
Learning to appreciate what’s important in life:
“What I appreciate in life is the small things, the joys. Health, freedom, those are the things to me that mean the most. Family, love. Everything else can come and go. Money comes and goes, success comes and goes but as long as you have what you stand on, what you believe in, and at the end of the day you have the ones that you love and then you love yourself, that’s what matters the most.”
“During our last conversation when we met for a coffee, I told you how grateful I am and how I’m not in the pursuit so much of being successful financially. Because I’m so grateful being free. I was disciplined and confined for so long and I even confined myself in a way of restricting myself of pleasure. I would do that purposely to become strong mentally. Like I would fast or would limit myself from being able to eat things like chocolate and stuff like that, that could bring small joys. Because if you don’t have something, you don’t want something then you don’t miss it”
I wondered by facing all these restrictions to our freedom through this lock down, has triggered any past traumas for him. Has it brought back some of those negatives memories, emotions or flashbacks?
“So far, I’m dealing with it quite well, it hasn’t triggered anything but then again I’ve been out of that situation for quite a long time. And I understand that this is for my own well-being and for humanity as well. Being a caring person, I don’t want to put other people at risk or myself at risk so you know, I have to be a law abiding citizen.”
If someone who had spent a tremendous amount of time being locked up in prison can understand how important it is to stay at home and complies with the lock down rules, then so can you. You really have no excuse.
If you want to get more advice and useful tips on how to keep your mental health in good shape and your mindset positive, you can listen to my latest podcast about this topic with The Fit Fun Podcast right here.