Nothing has really prepared us to live through a global pandemic. We are in the grips of the novel Coronavirus, a hitherto unknown virus that will likely not kill us, but will make a huge dent on our earnings and livelihood, keep us locked indoors, disrupt transportation, keep our loved ones from meeting us, make our parents vulnerable, put our country’s infrastructure under brutal test, and require us to sacrifice our mobility and privilege, so that we, and millions of others, can continue to live.
If there was ever a time to focus on our mental health, it is this. The World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus advised– “It is normal to feel stressed, confused, and scared during a crisis. Talking to people you know and can trust, can help.”
How to come to terms with this anxiety?
It is important to recognise and acknowledge what all is stressing us out- general anxiety due to the uncertainty of these times, fear for our health and livelihoods, panic about socio-medical response or infrastructure, or adjusting to home dynamics due to self-quarantine. And the most pervasive dread- “How long will this last?”
Ask yourself- do you need to stay clued in to every tidbit of information being exchanged on social media?
Earlier in the year, a Chinese Psychology Society survey found that of the 18000 people tested for anxiety, 42.6% registered as positive. Of 5000 evaluated for PTSD, 21.5% had “obvious symptoms”.
Labdhi Shah, Counselling Psychologist at Mind Route, says that we are currently caught in a loop of “unproductive anxiety”. The absence of treatment, ambiguity, and too much negative news are all fuelling anxiety and stress. She says, “The pandemic has reached our minds before it has reached our body. We are not prepared to think that just meeting some person we know, could be potentially life threatening.” She identifies the dominant feelings of restlessness, boredom, dissatisfaction and irritability, and warns that unhealthy habits might be resurfacing or exacerbating, such as binge-eating and binge-watching.
Statistics have shown that across the world, women carry a disproportionately larger domestic burden. With schools and offices closed, the situation at home has only worsened dramatically. Women in India are also the primary caregivers of the elderly, who are much more vulnerable to Coronavirus, putting women in a state of heightened vigilance. Shah notes that a “collapse of schedules” can have a huge impact on women, as they are now more likely to find less time and opportunity for self care. In many cases, women are working from home, as well as at home.
The effect is also worse on those who already have mental health conditions and illnesses, and those who are immuno-compromised. The sense of isolation can appear more challenging for them, leading some people to exhibit maladaptive behaviours. The self-quarantine is also impacting therapy sessions, as many people do not have enough privacy at home for online sessions.
How can we cope?
The WHO recommends immunity-boosting food consumption, 30 minutes of exercise for adults, and an hour for children.
Ishita Pateria, Counselling Psychologist and Psychotherapist, and Founder of State Of Mind, advises a conscious and limited consumption of news. Ask yourself- do you need to stay clued in to every tidbit of information being exchanged on social media? Can you segregate essential and non-essential channels, and stick to what suits you? Choose your sources, and try to dedicate an hour or so seeking information from there. It is not necessary to heed the cacophony. Being in self quarantine and looking at the rising rate of death or infection can only lead to more negativity. Especially in this case, where literally the only solution is to do your bit- stay indoors, limit physical interaction, maintain personal hygiene.
Pateria advises to bring a semblance of control to your daily life during these uncertain times. Having a daily or weekly plan, or even some clear to-dos for yourself everyday, can make you feel less helpless.
Acknowledge that productivity will be hampered, because a significant amount of time and mindspace are simply devoted to keeping oneself and loved ones safe. It is not easy to re-design one’s life at home or at the workplace, despite the proliferation of “work from home” tools and technology. The transition will not be seamless, and it is important to accept that. When these thoughts become overwhelming, it might help to remember that we are not alone. No one is unaffected or immune from this outbreak, and the solutions will emerge collectively.
Seek community that can comfort you, hear you out, or can engage with you in meaningful activity: helping under-resourced groups, parents groups discussing fun activities for children, mental health groups (meditation, breathing, chanting etc), online learning and workshops.
Additionally, there are several tools online which can help with meditation and other calming exercises.
The most important thing is to acknowledge that these are truly unprecedented times in our lives. Feeling vulnerable and scared is neither irrational nor abnormal. Those who are not oblivious to the vast inequality of privilege, cannot help but be disturbed by what can be perceived as a rather arbitrary protection from want. For some, this realisation can bring a sense of gratitude, for others it may cause helplessness. The key, then, is to perhaps take this time to really be in tune with what we are feeling. As far as possible, we should try to be helpful and compassionate. Converting rumination onto action can be both comforting and empowering. Maybe a renewed sense of community will help us all.
Views are the author’s own