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How to Get Mentally Stronger In Tough Times by Tahira Kashyap Khurrana

As the world battles an unprecedented crisis, the writer and filmmaker shares some poignant points to cope in troubled times, plus ways to maintain mental equilibrium when the ground starts to shift…

Cosmo India: Many people are having a tough time dealing with the situation right now...

Tahira Kashyap Khurrana: “Remember that the toughest battles are given to the strongest soldiers! If it has come to us, we have to fight it. And it hasn’t come to get the better of us, but to make us better versions of ourselves. It’s a plight that we all share, and how we choose to look at it is what makes the difference. We can learn from it or allow it to make us bitter. I choose to learn from this challenge and bounce back stronger.”

C: And how has this period of social isolation been for you?

TKK: “I’m settling in well. I’ve taken up painting after more than a decade. When I was growing up, I used to be obsessed with it—I would paint on the sheets, the walls, the ceilings...everywhere! And then I stopped creating art completely...so it’s good to go back to it. Also, it’s a good opportunity to realign ourselves as a family. Even though we live in the same house, all of us pretty much had separate lives and different schedules. This period has helped us come together beautifully as a unit, and sharing a life together for the first time, really. And I’ve started cooking, who would have thought?!”

C: They say the first step to being mentally and emotionally stronger is to accept a situation instead of living in denial. But what's happening right now feels surreal and kind of hard to get used to...

TKK: “It does feel surreal—like the dystopian times—and you certainly don’t expect this to happen to you. Initially, it was the same for everyone—I’d wake up every day and be like, ‘Is this for real?’. Everyone is indoors, the world outside is not how we have always known it. But the idea is not to be delusional. You have to acknowledge it, and accept it, and then fight along. There are always two perspectives to a situation: half empty and half full. I know positivity
doesn’t come easy in such circumstances, but we have to choose to look at the glass as half full. And it’s okay to feel bad about what’s happening—even be a little miserable—but be aware of what you’re feeling. Once you make peace with what you’re going through, it’s easier to cut the cord of negativity and bounce back. The situation is the same for everyone—so don’t just wish it away, or worse still, harp on about the bleak side. I’d want to make the most of what is given to me—this phase, too, shall pass.”

C: Studies suggest that keeping oneself distracted, especially with things that require some focus and concentration, can relieve anxiety. Is there a routine that you have been consciously following?

TKK: “Absolutely! Engaging in creative, productive activities really helps you calm down. It has helped me! I make sure there’s something or the other going
on—there’s e-learning for the kids, like a regular school, so I sit with them for that; I’m also writing extensively—working on my book and some scripts; I love to read— I’m actually reading two different books these days; the kids and I also bake something every day—I used to stay away from the kitchen, and now I find it so liberating! And I make sure I take 10,000 steps every day or do some other kind of work out. In the evenings, the pace slows down a bit—you get some time for yourself.  Earlier I’d end up going on social media, and it would be so depressing—to read all the news about what’s going on. I’d want to read one article, and that would lead to another and one more…so what I have planned to glance at, ended up taking all night! And it was mostly information that was plain morbid. I’m not saying what they’re talking about is not happening around me! It is, but filling my mind with negative news was also taking a toll on my own mental health! So I consciously stopped spending so much time on social media. I take a look at the news, but instead of spending hours on Twitter, I paint. I picked up the brush after 18 years! Now my kids join in, too, and my husband plays his music while we paint. That switch has made a huge difference! So yes, maintain a routine, but identify what’s working for you and what’s not. If an activity is taking away your peace and giving you sleepless nights, replace it with something that soothes you.”

C: Tell us more about how one can best plan their day to get through the lull, while retaining sanity and function as normally as possible.  

TKK: “You know how some people keep saying ‘let go…let yourself be’? That doesn’t work for me. The moment I let go, I start feeling lost…like I’m not in
control of my day. So I’d suggest you carry on the way you were earlier. Wake up at the same time that you were, and continue staying busy—take an online course or learn something new, pursue a hobby, tend to your plants, exercise…there’s so much you can do in the house. And remember to have
motivation…to have goals, a mission. Even if your goal is as simple as cleaning your cupboard that day. Do it. The aim is to have an objective, and not lose hope. Write down your goals—long term, short term, or even some for each day as it comes—and keep working on them. It’ll bring you so much satisfaction when you accomplish them. That’s how I operate.”

C: It takes a lot of mental strength to maintain one's equilibrium when the ground starts to shift. Where do you get yours from?

TKK: “I chant. I follow Buddhism, and my faith gives me a lot of courage. Whenever I’m down and low, it helps me pick myself up and strive on. Just the
other day, I was feeling a bit down in the dumps—seeing how coronavirus cases were increasing, and there were murmurs about the lockdown being
extended, etc. So, I decided to switch off and chant. There was an instant surge of positivity and I felt strong again. I realised I should take it one day at a time, and not panic. I feel compassion for all my fellow human beings' sufferings so much, but if I'm miserable, it certainly will not help them. I believe in the power of prayers, so, instead, I pray for them.”

C: How did you start following Buddhism?

TKK: “It happened four years ago. I started chanting in 2016—I was a self- consumed, isolated and somewhat sad person. I was depressed and
decided to take up Buddhism, but it was only to see if it could help. It opened a whole new world for me, and changed my life and perspective forever! I realised that for good things to happen, you have to be challenged, you have to pass a gruelling process. It is crucial to becoming a better version of yourself. And the more difficult the test, the bigger the victory that comes after it. It gave me so much strength even when I fell ill. I live by a simple rule now: human beings are meant to be happy.”

C: Who do you turn to, to derive strength and motivation?

TKK: “I’m hugely inspired by Daisaku Ikeda, he’s a 92-year-old Buddhist philosopher and writer, based in Japan. I like to read his books. In fact, I’m reading
one now, The New Human Revolution, Vol. 3. His philosophy really resonates with me. Family and friends are a huge support, too. Staying connected
always helps—no matter how much we want to be left alone and live by ourselves, human beings are not meant to stay in isolation. We need each
other...”

C: And that support system is even more important in times like these...

TKK: “Very. Pick up the phone and call your parents, siblings, friends, even a random person you know…they may be in a more miserable position than you, and that one phone call can mean a lot and uplift their spirits…and yours. I strongly believe that we are all connected, that we are one in body and in mind. I’ve read a lot of books on this subject too, and I really believe in the concept of ‘oneness’. If someone you know is unhappy, but you’re not concerned about it, trust me, it’ll eventually come back to you, in one way or another. The link is that strong. We need to work towards each other’s happiness—when I make your well-being my mission, my own life improves...when I lift you up, I feel more empowered. We can’t function in separation, good times or bad. I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum, so I know. It’s all cause and effect. You choose the right cause, the effect will be good, too. So please reach out to people.”

C: Does having an outlet—for instance, a daily journal—also help?

TKK: “Immensely! Again, we are not meant to keep our feelings bottled up. You should not contain emotions and thoughts inside. Please communicate, let it all out. And that's irrespective of gender. Men and women both need to express their emotions. Having said that, the way you express also matters. If you have solid fundamentals—with your heart in the right place—you’ll see your expression will change, too. For example, I used to lose my temper very easily earlier—I’d get really angry with the kids, and had no patience—and used to scream to express it. But now, while I still get upset sometimes, I’m much calmer in my expression—instead of screaming, I explain my point of view to them.”

C: How can one work on becoming more patient and calmer?

TKK: “I chant. But you can meditate, try deep breathing, or practise yoga. It really helps. There was a time when I used to get major anxiety attacks. I didn’t seek medical help, which was stupid of me. Over a period of time, thankfully, chanting helped me. But if it is something severe, please reach out to experts for help. It is not taboo...mental health is a serious issue, and very common.”