By Shubhrata Prakash
Apr 13, 2020
Covid-19, coronavirus, pandemic, lockdown — these are all that anyone is talking about these days. In a hyper-connected world where news gets relayed in real time, the information overload flooding our sensory pathways is unavoidable, and we have all felt that sliver of cold steel twist into us — fear. While everyone is talking about the physical aspects of this global health crisis and steps to protect themselves from the virus, few seem to be talking about the elephant in the room — anxiety.
An evolutionary tool meant to serve the preservation of life, modern civilisation has seen anxiety being branded as a sign of lack of mental strength. The false paradigms of mental strength and weakness have done great disservice to human beings, stigmatising mental disorders, inter alia. The contrived pressure to be strong has stigmatised even the most basic of human emotions — distress. And if there ever was any right time to break these molds of societal artifice, it is now.
The times that we are living in, the way the world has been for the last few months are not ordinary by any stretch of imagination. We are all, perhaps, living the most realistic portrayal of a dystopian fiction we may have seen or read. People have become more acutely aware of their own mortality and that of their loved ones. Globalisation and increased domestic mobility have also resulted in families and loved ones being separated by geography, and the resultant feeling of isolation has been amplified by the self-imposed embargo on the movement of people that most countries have had to enter into in order to contain the spread of the virus.
Given the egregiousness of Covid-19, and its numerous direct and indirect fallouts, it is only natural to feel distressed, anxious, or even show signs of anxiety or depressive disorders. The whole world is grieving — for the loss of life all around us, and mostly, for the way we used to be because we all know that the world has changed forever. So where do we go from here? How do we move this mountain of anxiety sitting on our collective bosoms and choking our breaths?
The first and foremost step in healing is acknowledging the hurt. We administer first aid to a physical injury; similarly, it is important to seek mental health first aid when we are hurting inside. A good place to look for mental health first aid is somewhere close to us — family, friends, loved ones. Expressing our feelings and emotions provides healthy cathartic relief and promotes mental well-being.
However, not everyone may have access to non-judgmental mental health first aid. Also, for some, mental health first aid may not be enough. Feeling dysfunctional or overwhelmed, or having anxiety or panic attacks may be manifestations of mental distress or even mental disorders. If you are having difficulty in coping, it may be a good idea to seek out a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist or a counsellor. During the lockdown, e-consultations, telemedicine and online therapy are being offered by many mental health professionals. The same advice holds if you see a loved one in distress. Please break the shackles of stigma and get them or yourself the help required.
The levels of anxiety in people who have any of the reported symptoms of Covid-19 may be very high. People who have tested positive for Covid-19, in addition to fighting the infection, could also be fighting anxiety. It may be a good step in clinical practice to check up on the mental health of patients in addition to their physical symptoms. It is also natural for healthcare workers to exhibit signs of anxiety and caregiver burnout, given that their risk-exposure is high, and addressing their mental health needs to be prioritised too.
Most importantly, suicidal ideation is a health emergency for which exceptions are available even during the lockdown. Please contact the police helpline for reaching the nearest hospital emergency or psychiatric hospital. Some suicide helplines are functional even during the lockdown. People with pre-existing mental health conditions or mental disorders or mental illness, must look out for any signs of worsening of the associated symptoms and seek help immediately.
Practice of good mental health hygiene is essential at any time, and more so, now. Well, the news is distressing, so while it is a good idea to keep oneself well-informed, especially as a means of protecting oneself against the virus, it is also a good idea to step away when the news becomes overwhelming. Keep aside fixed time slots for watching news or reading up social media reports. Sign out of social media if your feed is filled with friends sharing distressing news. Within the constraints of the lockdown, practice self-care in the form of any activity that feels good. Physical exercises, breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, yoga, music, art, cooking and journaling are activities that may have a positive impact on anxiety.
However, every person is unique, and what soothes one may trigger another. So, one has to figure out what works for them. Kindness, especially towards others less fortunate or in adverse positions in the power hierarchy, may be just the one essential step in the redemption of society from the ravages of this multi-pronged (literally) pandemic.
Good mental health hygiene also includes acceptance — accepting that everything is not under our control. At this point of time, survival is vital, perhaps the only thing that matters. It would be immensely useful to remember that anger, distress, grief, fear — these are natural human emotions. If you are distressed or anxious, you are not weak, you are just human.
Shubhrata Prakash is Director, NITI Aayog & author of The D Word: A Survivor’s Guide to Depression
Original Headline: Survival matters more in times of coronavirus
Source: The Tribune India