Coping with Covid- 19: The virus’ effect on Mental Health

Team Udayavani, Apr 9, 2020, 7:59 PM IST

The year 2020, at its very start, has been rather daunting for all of us as we have been in the midst of a pandemic- COVID-19. With cities and countries on total shut down; the fear of  “what is going to happen to us?” is all over there and inching towards everybody’s mind. The uncertainty of the disease is overwhelming and fearful. The countries, world over, are trying to grapple with the difficult situation and arrest the spread of the virus. Given the alarming nature of the worldwide sweep it takes, it is quite natural for us to have genuine fears as to how long the disease will continue its dreadful toll and how bad it can impact our lives.  Knowing that we have hardly any scope for a vaccine in the immediate future, what we can do at the most is try not to entertain such fears in our minds. Instead, we should do whatever possible to be resilient and healthy, both physically as well as mentally during these days of crisis. Being psychologically healthy is very vital for all of us in keeping ourselves healthy and improve our immunity.

Many of us fear that this is the end of the world. With each passing day one can see the death toll and infected cases spiking. What pains us most; a few have blatantly disregarded the rules. While all this is extremely frightening, one would naturally worry about the safety of the loved ones who are doctors/nurses/janitors/police officers etc., working in hospitals and outdoors. We pray and hope that people we love and care for remain safe. When somebody is unwell, you immediately assume the worst and panic. It is quite natural.

There are a few things you can do to avoid panic in this crisis. Panicking is all the more dangerous. In panic situations, we all need to have someone who can assure us that things will be fine soon. But, what is important is that in such situations, we need to necessarily choose the right person who can counsel us properly. We should avoid those who will increase our paranoia about the disease. You will need someone who is level headed, calm, composed and well informed. There are trained professionals who could offer such counselling.

During the lockdown days, in order to avoid boredom, one should not resort to excessive smoking or drinking or use any drugs. It will only worsen the situation and make you more vulnerable to fear and despair.

It is quite likely that you might even experience a hike in your depression or anxiety levels during this period. So, go easy on yourself as this reaction is natural in these circumstances. If you feel overwhelmed, you need to talk to a counsellor and seek help to manage physical and mental health issues. We also need to limit worry and agitation by lessening the time we spend watching or listening to media coverage that we perceive as upsetting and fearful. One foolproof way of fuelling your anxiety is constantly watching or reading disturbing news and updates. In other words, we need to stay calm and monitor our state of mind and stop when we feel that our anxiety level is rising.

Being on lockdown and sitting at home can be quite challenging because human beings are social animals. But it is even more challenging to be around someone suffering from mental illness. A pandemic of this magnitude can further heighten the anxious thoughts and compulsive behaviours of such an individual. In fact, in such cases, previously managed symptoms can flare up; requiring additional care beyond what was required before the Covid crisis. Added to this, disrupted support systems and social isolation can leave such people vulnerable to acute stress reactions. Similarly, older adults in isolation and especially those in cognitive decline/dementia may become extremely agitated, stressed, anxious and withdrawn and will need more care and attention. Therefore, we need to be open to them and share simple facts about what is going on and give clear instruction as to how to reduce the risk of infection by telling in easy and simple words that they can understand.

As regards children, they may respond to stress in different ways such as being clingier, anxious, withdrawn, bedwetting etc. Parents/caretakers should therefore respond to the child’s reactions in a supportive way, listen to their concerns and give them extra love and attention. It is also important to keep children close to their parents and family and avoid separating them and their caregivers to the extent feasible. Also, in the event of hospitalization, one needs to be in regular contact with the patients through phone and reassure them about their safety and security.

All of us know this is a difficult time for everyone. We are all used to going out, working, meeting people and now everyone is at home seeing the same faces all day long. This is the time to exercise utmost patience. Taking turns in caring for the physically and mentally unwell family members can also be thought of, if feasible. We should not take on such task alone as it can be tiresome. Be kind to yourself.

In order to reduce stress levels, one could try mindful breathing several times a day, by taking slow and deep breaths before doing any work. Breathing helps us to calm down and improve our concentration. As stress and demands increase, health habits often take a hit. Therefore, we need to maximize healthy eating habits, limit alcohol intake and altogether avoid use of any drugs. It is also very important to try and get enough sleep, prioritize physical exercise and get some sunlight wherever feasible. Needless to say, one should maintain normalcy in the daily routine as much as possible.

During these days, it is necessary to reach out to family, friends and colleagues for social contact through voice and video calls to reduce your isolation. Meaningful and fun connection, emotional support and healthy problem solving are vital to our health and mental well-being. Today, we are virtually clue less as to when this ordeal will come to an end. Therefore, we should try to remain calm and composed during these trying times and reserve our energy and mental health to support one another.

Lakshmi Devi

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