Coping With The COVID Crisis: A Psychological Perspective

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It’s OK to NOT be OK

We have never witnessed something like the current crisis in our lifetime. It is a kind of ordeal that none of us has ever dealt with and so, to not be able to function or feel like our usual self is the most natural response there is, let me first acknowledge this. Yet, is this the first time we have faced a tough situation in our life?  Not really! Some of us may have seen illness or death of a close one, some of us may have seen financial struggles, etc., but each of us has dealt with it and come out on the other side, haven’t we? So, there is no doubt in my mind that even though the current situation is unprecedented, each of us has the resources within us to deal with it.

The Feelings

We can divide the emotions we experience into three categories:

  • Fear of death of self &/or loved ones: If we come face to face with a lion, will we not fear for our life? All humans will, and this is perfectly normal. In fact, I would be worried about someone who does not get scared because if they are not afraid, they won’t take the appropriate precautions. In the current situation, the lion is the invisible virus that we are all scared of. This fear increases when we read about the deaths in the news or when someone in our vicinity has tested positive for the virus. It manifests as “ghabarahat”, pounding in the chest, irritability, insomnia, and shortness of breath.

 

 

      •  Worry about the future: When will this end? Will it ever end? No one gives or has a clear-cut answer.  This uncertainty is extremely difficult to deal with. We worry about our work, our finances important events like marriage or festivals which are lined up. We worry about not being able to travel. Parents and children are uncertain and worried about the resumption of education, schools, and classes.

In the past few weeks, we have dealt with and experienced first-hand shortages of food, essential products and there is still a lot of uncertainty and worry about these issues in the future as well.

 

  •  Sadness for lost things: We feel sad that we are not able to do what we previously used to do. We feel that we have lost our social interactions, the way we used to celebrate our festivals, dinners with family and friends, and all that which was a normal part of our day-to-day lifestyle before the virus struck. We feel that we have lost our sense of freedom in a way– the freedom to do what we want, to be where we want.

Strategies to Manage Feelings

Coping with these emotions is important, not just for mental peace but also because mental instability can lead to a decrease in immunity and make us more vulnerable to the virus. So, just like we wear a mask to prevent the physical effects of the virus, let’s learn about skills we can use to prevent the overwhelming mental effects of the virus.

Dealing with the fear of contracting the virus and its consequences

Getting stressed before an exam is normal, in fact, it is necessary as it motivates us to study. If we are not stressed, we won’t study at all, but if we are stressed all the time we panic, make irrational decisions, and are unable to study. 

The same is true in this situation as well. Some amount of stress is good as only then will we take appropriate steps needed to protect ourselves from the virus. However, if the fear of contracting the illness is the most dominant emotion we feel, then we will make irrational decisions and do more harm than good.

There are many things we can do to decrease our stress levels:

  1. Deep breathing exercises

When there is stress,  the brain presses the alarm button leading to shallow and fast breathing in order to increase the oxygen temporarily in the body

If we voluntarily breathe deeply,  the brain releases the alarm button and this automatically  reduces stress 

      2. Do things which calm you

This can be different for different people– it can be your favourite song, or eating your favourite food item.

Basically, something, which under normal circumstances makes you happy, and calms you down can help you manage stress during this time.

It is a good idea to make a list of these things beforehand and keep it as your first aid kit. Whenever your mind gets stressed and the body gets tensed, revisit this list. 

What is most important is to remember that we will not feel like doing these things, but that’s precisely why we should do them.

     3. Share your feelings – We are all in this together!

Tell others what you are feeling. There is nothing to be ashamed of in fearing for your life. In fact, sharing your feelings will only decrease the intensity of it. 

     4. Learn something new

With our normal lives disrupted, most of us have found new routines in the past few weeks at home. There seems to be a bit more time on our hands, which if used well, can actually be beneficial to our mind, body, and lives. For example, one way of beating the blues and fear is to learn a new skill, pick up a new hobby, or learn something that you’ve always wanted to!

This will keep you busy throughout the day and act as a positive reinforcement mentally as well. Also, you will have less time to ponder about the negatives of the situation that we are all in.

Dealing with the worry about the future

 

  • Take one day at a time! Since no one knows when this situation will improve, there is no point speculating. Getting up in the morning and only thinking about the day ahead is by far the most effective strategy.
  • Limit news consumption to not more than 30mins per day. Too much of it only leads to more anxiety and there is not much to gain.
  • Uncertainty does not mean a negative outcome is guaranteed. It means that there are equal chances of a positive and a negative outcome. So, when the worry about ‘what would happen when things go bad’ pops into our head, we can counter it by thinking of ‘what would happen if things go well’.

 

Dealing with the Sadness of all that is lost

  • Maintain a routine time and duration of sleep, food, and daily activities. It is helpful to try and maintain a fixed schedule of the things which are possible as this will give us some amount of control of our lives and we realize all is not lost.
  • Maintain physical distance, not social distance. Stay in touch with loved ones through audio and video calls.
  • Be innovative and celebrate festivals in the best way you can. Wear new clothes, make dishes you would normally make – these rituals are important even if they are restricted.

Lastly, I would like to mention a prayer which is typically used by the patrons of the group alcoholic anonymous for recovering addicts but which I believe would be extremely helpful in dealing with the current situation.

GOD,

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Grant me the courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

 

Featured Image: Photo by Lucian Petronel Potlog from Pexels

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About the author

Dr Adnan Kadiani has been fascinated with the workings of the human mind since a very young age. This led him to take up psychiatry as a speciality after completing his MBBS and he is currently practising therapy oriented psychiatry in South Mumbai. He has a deeply felt interest in teaching and research. Childhood adversities and domestic violence are his primary research interest topics. When not working as a mental health specialist you would find him travelling, understanding different cultures, talking to different people and enjoying the various cuisines of the world.

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Comments

  • Salim Bohra May 10, 2020 at 5:35 pm
    1+

    Congratulations Dr
    ADNAN well written the subject is very very clear and understandable keep up

    Reply
  • hussain sarawala May 19, 2020 at 4:17 pm
    0

    Absolutely spot on what everyone is feeling. Very well written Adnan.

    Reply

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