COVID-19 has impacted different people differently. And it is said that most infected people will develop a milder version of the infection and recover without the need for hospitalisation. Those with underlying health condition can suffer from more serious effects and may need to be hospitalised.
This is true considering the physical impact of the disease. But what about the effect on the mental health of general public? Can it snowball into a mental health issue? As pandemic drags on with no end in sight, it is inevitable that more and more people are getting impacted mentally. The uncertainty; the constant and prolonged fear; anxiety about the health of our loved ones; job losses and economic recession; constant stream of news about deaths and debilitation; and unpredictable lockdowns, are all leading to a rise in mental health problems. Human beings are not designed to live in constraints and uncertainty. The loss of control and fear of one’s and loved ones’ safety can make one slide to the lowest levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – survival.
This perceived threat to our survival triggers our built-in fight-and-flight response. It impacts everything from sleep to immunity, making one anxious, stressed and exhausted. The almost constant state of exhaustion and anxiety, triggered by negative thoughts prevents us from doing things which can help us, like physical activity and connecting with people who can support us. If it goes on for a long time, it can have a serious impact on physical and mental health of even otherwise well-adjusted people.
The impact on the vulnerable groups – elderly, poor, disabled, people with financial difficulties, children living in an environment of domestic violence, those battling mental health issues or severe illnesses, and not to forget, the front line workers like doctors, nurses and helping professionals, is even higher. Being aware of their vulnerability can help us pick up the signs of distress early and also deal with it more effectively, before it turns into a widespread problem.
While we have no control over how long the pandemic will last, but we have some control over how we deal with it. Challenges can bring out our inner strengths and capabilities. We can choose to treat this challenging time as an opportunity for emotional and spiritual growth. Here are a few things that can help us cope with the situation better:
- Staying connected with the loved ones, friends and family and not allowing social distancing to bring about emotional distancing.
- Avoid constantly following stream of pandemic related news; it doesn’t help. Our inbuilt negative bias causes us to focus on bad news – the number of infections and deaths – instead of positive news – say, the number of recoveries.
- Stay physically active. Exercise releases hormones that make us happy.• Learn something that you had been postponing for a long time. Learning is always fun and it is now more convenient to do so with everything going online.
- Maintain a routine, as it gives a sense of certainty in these uncertain times
- Perform nourishing activities like gardening, music, art, dance etc.
- Help the more vulnerable ones in the society; for instance, getting groceries for the elderly, using technology to help them buy what they need or connect with their loved ones. In giving, we receive happiness and feel better.
- Sleep well and take care of mental and physical hygiene.
- Practice mindfulness and acceptance.
- Remembering that nothing lasts forever- what we cannot change, we have to learn to live with.
About the Author:
Dr. Sona P Kumar is a Singapore based Psychotherapist and Counsellor. She has taught in Delhi University for twenty three years. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.