Coronavirus impact: New York humanitarian Meera Gandhi on mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

The founder of the Giving Back Foundation and mother of three recently launched her limited-series TV show to spread the message of resilience and optimism.

May 09, 2020 / 08:06 AM IST

At a time when the world order is being redefined by COVID-19, New York-based humanitarian, author and TV personality Meera Gandhi is out to spread the message of resilience and optimism. The founder of the Giving Back Foundation and mother of three recently launched her limited-series show on Times Now TV, Three Tips by Meera Gandhi.

With May being Mental Health Month worldwide, we speak to her about mental health in the time of COVID-19 and how we can collectively stay sane.

Meera Gandhi eshe

COVID-19 has been a source of mental stress and chaos the world over. How do you suggest people manage their anxiety at this time?

We have not been faced with a situation like this where the entire world is affected almost simultaneously. In these times, we have to hold on to hope and harness our collective energies to affect positive change and not the doom-and-gloom scenario being played out in the media. Author and motivational speaker Deepak Chopra talks about manifesting what we want to see. I think we have to manifest an early recovery and in time everything will catch up. The important thing is not to stress out as the economies will recover, but stress is a killer. I find listening to spiritual guides like Sadhguru and taking advantage of the various free meditations offered go a long way in relieving anxiety. We know we are limited as humans so we need to let the infinite carry us and not feel like we need to control everything.

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Meera Gandhi 5I personally pray and meditate and just breathe. I try to stay in the moment and ask myself, how can I live this moment at its best? Comforting others and sending out positivity makes us feel better too. Exercise or yoga and eating healthy alive food also calms the mind. This quote of Sadhguru empowers me: “Life throws things at you that you cannot control, but you can control how you handle it.”

New York is the epicentre of COVID-19 cases in the US and is under strict quarantine. How are you dealing with this at your personal level?

The first thing I told myself was that I was not going to let fear take over my brain and my thoughts. At home I do yoga and meditate and decided to go on a 21-day juice fast to add an element of calmness to my being. We have this time to reset and we cannot waste a moment of it. It’s a gift in another way.

Meera Gandhi 6I do FaceTime with family and friends. I read and listen to inspirational guides who understand the energy of the planet. I complete things I can do from my computer. I have spent a lot of time calming people down with the idea that things will recover.

I have been sharing views of CEOs like Davia B Temlin who says, “We know this health, financial and social crisis will get far worse before it gets better. But we also know it will eventually improve. Like refiner’s fire, if we can walk through it honorably, my hope is we can emerge more tempered, finer, stronger and even better – if forever changed.”

Everyone is talking about a future changed world order. What changes do you think the world might see going forward?

I think the world will not rush the way it has been rushing. I think “global” will be understood as “inclusive” and geographical boundaries will be understood for what they are.

Meera Gandhi and Sadhguru Meera Gandhi and Sadhguru.

We are one planet and one people and this sentiment will flourish – that is my hope and belief. I do think that people will work smarter and will pay more attention to health. I think the collective consciousness will awaken in people, businesses and governments.

The new norm might be less for all but it will be a happier balance. I think money will have less significance as will success. I think millennials will rewrite the value system, which is already on its way to a more balanced existence.

Most importantly we will learn not to fear the unknown as much. I think more people will be meditating than not!

What does joyful living mean to you?

Joyful living to me is being truly present in every moment of our lives. Living in the flow without friction and conflict is a joyful way to live. I laugh, see the sunrise, focus on the moon and it makes me see how our lives are truly meant to be joyful, not miserable! Our spiritual tradition tells us that it takes 4 billion years to be born on this beautiful planet as a human, and the lifespan lasts just 80 years. How can we waste it by being unhappy?

Meera Gandhi birthday celebration Meera Gandhi birthday celebration.

Please tell us about your TV show Three Tips by Meera Gandhi. What was the inspiration behind this?

The idea of my show Three Tips, which I developed with Times Now TV network, was to provide on-the-go, easy inspiration to people as they go about their busy day – to hear things like friendship should be non-transactional, and that unconditional love brings tremendous happiness. Using the right amount of assertiveness enables us to communicate both clearly and firmly! A show like this can lift the psyche and good energy of viewers. The better the mental wellbeing of a person, the better the mental wellbeing of a country and the better the wellbeing of our planet was what I had in mind.

Please tell us about your other projects.

The Giving Back Foundation hosts a retreat every year called the Ledgewood Retreat where people come together from early in the morning and do yoga and colour therapy, eat vegan food, walk, meditate and listen to inspirational speakers. It’s a very transformative day and has been very successful in helping people de-stress and reset. Going forward, I want to do more in the area of mental wellness and we will be conducting many more retreats and nature gathering to stay in touch with our inner wellbeing.

Indian women, especially young mothers and housewives, have higher rates of depression than women around the world (36 percent of all female suicides happen in India, and most of them are married women). What is your advice?

Indian women are very strong and if they understand the great power that comes with motherhood and raising children, they will not be depressed. Find joy as I do, watching a super moon and understanding my periods are tied to the moon. We are indeed part of a much greater plan. We are not tied to our small everyday problems. Look beyond. The world and the planet is a beautiful place.

Meera gandhi 1 Choose to actively look at the good and beauty. We don’t need to have solutions to everything. Our brains are finite, so there will always be stress as we can never solve all the problems. But the energy of the universe is infinite so if we choose to live in the moment and leave some things to the universe, it will go a long way in lifting mental burnout. But societies have to learn to value mothers and wives and we need to keep talking about this!

Mental wellbeing is increasingly a matter of concern in the West as well as urban India. As someone who has lived in different parts of the world, what has your experience been?

Stress is the gap between reality and expectation. When this gap exists, we feel stress as a sort of not-in-control feeling. If our desires exceed our ability to source them, we feel material stress. If the work assigned cannot fit into the hours of work, we feel stress as the work is not completed or not in a satisfying manner to all parties concerned. Emotional stress is when we don’t feel loved enough or are not able to give enough love.

Today, all these stresses exist. As the pace of life gets faster these stresses increase as we have less time to notice and address them until they become a problem.

I think stress is the same in the East and the West. The human soul is the same. Taking time to slow down and breathe and meditate brings us back to our centre where we understand we are already whole and don’t need anything else in any greater measure to make us whole. As we adjust our thinking, we reduce our stress. Take a deep breath with me now! Ah! That feels better already! A calm mind is a calm life!

As Sadhguru says, “If you don’t dance with the uncertainties of life, you will never experience exuberance.” I simply love this idea. It mentally allows me to let go and be carefree.

Meera Gandhi's children Meera Gandhi's children.

Despite advances in technology, more people are dealing with loneliness and lack of meaning than ever before. How does this play out in their mental health?

Loneliness is manmade. We have 7.53 billion people on the planet. If we care and love without judgement and distinction, we can never be alone. When we are truly one with whoever we chose to be with, communication is complete and there is no place for loneliness! One can get fulfillment from a soulful talk with a complete stranger. That’s because we are on a deeper level already connected with everyone. We just forget that because of our mental conditioning!

Mental illness is very real. The mind burns out due to overload of information, fear and the repeated advertising messaging that one is not good enough. Eventually the mind gets weak and sick.

Meera Gandhi with Rishi Kapoor. Meera Gandhi with Rishi Kapoor.

We have to work on mental illness on a global scale, and spiritual leaders like Sadhguru, Deepak Chopra and Oprah are on a mission to get the entire planet to meditate and to connect global consciousness. We have to stop trying to put people down to get ahead. Fake advertising, false stress – all of it may take a person ahead, but eventually he or she will be very lonely and lost.

Let’s walk together and walk with love and trust. When you feel mentally overwhelmed, feel free to slow down, or sleep, meditate and pray. Taking a bath really helps calm the mind down too. Listen to calming messages and hymns. Good words truly soothe!

Photography: Ram Shergill. First published in eShe magazine
Aekta Kapoor
first published: May 9, 2020 08:06 am

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