UN chief Antonio Guterres has described the battle against COVID-19 as the “fight of a generation”. And most of it is being fought behind closed doors.
Self-isolation may be the key to ‘flatten the curve’ and limit the spread of the coronavirus, but this can take a toll on our mental health. These unprecedented circumstances can bring up feelings of frustration, helplessness, uncertainty, and anxiety among many.
It’s quite natural to feel anxious about contracting the disease or worry about what the future holds, in terms of jobs or relationships.
Those who are already dealing with mental health disorders may suffer increased levels of anxiety and slip into depression, if left unchecked. And thanks to the lockdown, if you are not in touch with your therapist or counsellor, these can leave you feeling even more bereft.
To understand how one can deal with the uncertainty, anxiety, and other mental health issues in these difficult times, Shradha Sharma, Founder and CEO of YourStory, spoke to Dr Samir Parikh, Psychologist and Director – Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences of Fortis Healthcare. Manuj Garg, Co-founder of myUpchar, a health information startup, also joined the conversation.
Watch the full interview here:
Unprecedented situation and times
It is very important to view the current scenario with the lens of mental health.
Dr Parikh says, “The fact is uncertainty is the reality of the moment. So, how do you realign and readjust your life in this situation? None of us has had any kind of experience or training for something of this magnitude. It’s up to you as to how you utilise the anxiety.”
“The aftermath of the pandemic, especially on mental health, is going to be far bigger than what we are in a position to understand right now. We need to focus on physical treatment, tests, kits, and the isolation, but we also need to understand what happens after this – the anxieties that will be triggered, the way we look at life from here, the economic fallout, the job fallout, and much more,” he adds.
Dr Parikh says that while it’s important to go ahead with our fight against coronavirus, we also need to focus on mental health outcomes “because we don’t want one pandemic to convert into another”.
Dealing with self-isolation
When it comes to self-isolation, Dr Parikh has one pertinent piece of advice.
“You first accept it, don’t fight it. You don’t try to find a way or a reason to get out of your home, thinking it won’t affect you. You don’t let yourself believe that the world is all about you,” he says.
He adds that people always speak about not having the time to do what they want and the poor work-life balance.
“Now, when we have time for ourselves, for our family, we are looking at the opposite side because we were so adjusted to a lifestyle that was pathological in its own way…the withdrawal is also causing us trouble.”
“Use social media to spread positive stories, motivate each other, connect with each other, especially with all those people who are by themselves,” he advises.
Accept the situation
It is important to understand that we are all in the same situation and the way forward is acceptance. Dr Parikh throws light on what this “acceptance” actually entails.
“I’m talking about acceptance of anxiety and uncertainty, the change in lifestyle,” he says.
He also explains that there are several kinds of anxiety that one can have. After all, there are several uncertainties in this situation.
“Under the umbrella of anxiety disorders, panic disorder is one type of disorder. In anxiety disorders, you have generalised anxiety disorders, phobic illnesses, and panic disorders. These happen because of certain low transmitter imbalances. So, if I have low serotonin, I may be prone to depression or anxiety,” Dr Parikh adds.
“So, if I am a panic disorder patient, I need to see a doctor. I am accepting that I have the illness and will get treatment. But if I am not, I need to understand that I have not brought the pandemic to the world. None of us have, and the lockdown is happening because I need to take care of myself and my family. If I don’t do that, this will become a bigger problem,” he says.
How do you keep the younger ones at home?
Dr Parikh believes we need to understand that this will be harder on children as they can’t go out and meet their friends. But, there are other ways to keep them occupied.
“Use this as a break to let them do what they want. Encourage your child in creative arts or music. I would encourage children to talk to friends on the phone. I don’t recommend deliberately switching off the TV and then making your child sit in one place with nothing to do. That’ll only rattle them more,” he says.
Economic and job anxieties
The global pandemic has also brought to the fore an uncertainty in the job scenario. The economics of the situation is worrying for a lot of people: the salaried class, the blue-collared workers, and entrepreneurs alike.
“Right now, we don’t have any answers. What we know is that the current situation will not last long. So, the better we perform collectively as a society, we will be able to fight this,” he advises.
The current lockdown has forced all of us to work from the confines of our homes, and many are finding it more stressful because it’s not just office work. One has to take care of the home, cook meals, keep the house clean, and if you have kids, take care of them too.
Dr Parikh, however, believes it’s important to make the best use of the situation.
“It’s because we’ve been asked to adjust to something we were not prepared for. That’s about it. When you work from an office, there is an option to chat and meet up with your colleagues. Then, there are the daily commutes and traffic jams. Try to find happiness in spending time with your family. Be thankful you are not spending time in traffic and commuting. Understand that there will be anxiety and there are ways to relieve it,” he advises.
Avoid the news
Last but not least, Dr Parikh has strong advice for people who are anxious and stressed about the pandemic and are following the news religiously. “Don’t watch the news – at least not 24X7,” he emphasises.
But if you really have to, Manuj recommends watching the Ministry of Health update at 4 pm for accurate information about the pandemic.
In case your panic levels are increasing and you need help, Dr Parikh recommends reaching out to your therapist. You can also access Fortis’ 24X7 helpline, which is available in 14 languages.
How has the coronavirus outbreak disrupted your life? And how are you dealing with it? Write to us or send us a video with subject line ‘Coronavirus Disruption’ to firstname.lastname@example.org