The Pandemic Covid-19 that began to establish its roots in 2019 was conceived to be losing its grip by the nation and natives towards the end of 2020. The beginning of 2021 marked an optimistic start with the introduction of vaccination drives and instilled hope among general masses. To our utmost surprise, the pandemic struck us back with a scarier second wave- which is alarming than the first one. While people were just coming to terms with the set back of the pandemic, the abrupt second wave has begun to cause devastating outcomes. It appears more dangerous, creating feelings of uncertainty and leading to a sense of panic in the people. Amidst growing number of cases, limited health care facilities, issues of black marketing, and constant politics, human suffering is accelerating to the extent that it is adding to fear and panic.
I call it a “pandemic of panic” as it has been accompanied by a constant sense of worry and uncertainty about health, wellness, future and financial aspects. As a result, people are overwhelmed and undergo continuous psychological stress and burden. Panic may reflect in the form of mood issues, anxiety, panic buying and physiological symptoms including chest pain, palpitations and breathlessness. Procuring and hoarding of necessary health care aids including medication and oxygen cylinders by people is one example of panic buying. Recent incidents of suicide, disharmony between health care providers and caregivers quite display the adverse consequences of this unrest. WHO also emphasizes importance of mental health and states fear, worry, and stress as normal responses to perceived or real threats, and at times of uncertainty, it is predicted that people may experience fear in the context of the pandemic.
Once again the trend of lockdown has captivated the lives for ensuring the safety of people. The issues like disruption of routines, sedentary life style, feelings of isolation, stress, anxiety, grief and mood related problems have begun to surface. Along with physical health problems, this pandemic has and will continue to affect the mental health for years to come. Mental Health Practitioners emphasize the need to focus on psychological well being and indulge in healthy practices. Amidst the chaos of the pandemic, indulging in practices as mentioned may ease off this tough journey of fighting and surviving the pandemic:
Build Resilience: Resilience, the act of coping in the face of adversity. Tough times don’t last; resilient individuals can survive tough times better. Inculcating problem solving skills, developing acceptance, acknowledging one’s thoughts and feelings, seeking help and using healthy coping mechanisms helps to build resilience.
Be Empathetic: Being aware of others’ needs and engaging meaningfully with them is important. Practices like offering help to others, supporting those in needs and avoiding panic buying should be promoted. Being empathetic can ensure those providing and seeking help understand the present limitations and regulate their emotions in a rational manner.
Bring Compassion: Being compassionate i.e showing concern to own needs and that of others is important. Health care practitioners who are exposed to the traumatic experiences of the people are prone to develop compassion fatigue i.e distress as a result of these experiences. This can have multifaceted effects including physical, emotional, social and cognitive issues. Recognizing such effects and taking measures to keep this in check is important for efficient functioning of the practitioners.
Be Grateful: Showing gratitude, being thankful for one’s assets and belongings is an important practice to promote positive emotions in oneself. Appreciating what one has without comparisons with others is a healthy practice. It is a good practice to remind oneself of the things/ people that one should be grateful for.
Minimize stress & anxiety: Taking steps to reduce risk including Covid appropriate behavior, avoiding unnecessary travel, limiting media consumption, managing diet, sleep, physical activity, ensuring a proper routine and involving in leisure activities are some of the measures that can be taken. Practicing self care by doing regular exercise/ yoga, relaxation activities, journaling/ ventilation helps in managing anxiety. Reading news from reliable sources like government websites/WHO may help in fighting misinformation. Mindfulness-based activities may reduce stress and anxiety by managing tolerance of uncertainty.
Managing Mental Health Conditions: Existing mental health conditions may precipitate; the vulnerable individuals and their care givers should take care of their ongoing treatment and stay vigilant about possible relapse. Planning follow up well in time with the health care providers can ensure timely management and further worsening of symptoms. Those experiencing clinical symptoms should opt for consultation with competent professionals.
Using Tele/Online Services: Those in immediate need and facing psychological distress should avail of the tele- consultation or online services being provided by competent professionals. Different state & national services are available. Paid and Probono services are being offered on online platforms to those in need.
It is important to acknowledge that panicking about the current circumstances would make the situation worse. It is not unnatural to feel anxious during such times. Being responsible individuals we need to understand that taking precautions rather than getting panicky would be efficient. Imbibing basic humanitarian qualities and following some simple practices can help us cope with this situation in a better manner. Stay home, stay connected, adhere to safety precautions and get vaccinated.
(The author is a Clinical Psychologist)