No matter how tired I am on a given day, sleep eludes me at night. It has been like this for months now. The instant I hit the bed, my head is flooded with sinister thoughts. I am constantly worried about my family’s well-being and it scares me to even write about it but the thought of death has been haunting me day in and day out. For a person who has had a long-standing history of anxiety, the pandemic scares are certainly not doing any good for my mental health.
Also, I have been constantly worried about the idea of self-isolating owing to a lot of horror stories that I have heard from friends who tested positive for COVID-19. A close friend of mine was in mortal dread because of her anxiety-induced breathlessness and consequently, had frequent crying spells during her COVID-19 recovery. Of course, being infected by a novel virus that we don’t even fully know about and to endure it all along can be rather unnerving for so many others as well.
Sadly, with the country already past its six million mark, the commotion is at an all-time high and hardly anyone has the time or bandwidth to take cognizance of this pandemic-induced anxiety. While the doctors are focussing on treating the body, hardly anyone is paying any attention to what happens to one’s mental health while they self-isolate.
However, mental health is as important as physical health & to help you understand this isolation anxiety and also, to equip you with methods to elevate it, we recently reached out to Dr Prerna Kohli( M.Phil, Ph.D.) who has been working towards helping people to sustain relationships and making their lives more productive, happier, and abounding with inner peace. Here’s everything that she has to say about the pandemic induced anxiety:
So many people around us have reported quarantine or self-isolation as an extremely anxiety-provoking time. Sharing her suggestion to keep this anxiety in check during quarantine, Dr Kohli shares, “The pandemic has brought in a fear of death and illness amongst people, as they have not seen those concepts so close before where anyone they know or are related to might be battling the virus. People are away from their family, friends, or are even stuck in a different country and all of these reasons are anxiety-provoking. But in these challenging times, it becomes important to realise the difference between anxiety as a general emotion and anxiety as a psychological disorder.”
Drawing a demarcation, she further adds, “If you have been feeling anxious more often than not for every activity that you do in a day, that could range from eating food to going to sleep, then that could be the onset of developing Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) whereas if you feel anxious only when you hear/read the news about COVID-19, then that is a general emotion of being anxious towards the virus.”
GAD should receive immediate attention from a trained and professional psychologist, but the general emotion of anxiety towards COVID-19 can be managed by doing different activities such as learning art & crafts or a new language. As Dr Kohli suggests, “Many people are currently partaking in Mandala Art (adult colouring books) You can also make travel plans for the future with your loved ones, so this may be a good time to pick up foreign language skills. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating, sleeping, and exercising regularly helps in dealing with anxiety. As Michael Pollan said “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” Vigorously exercise for 45-50 minutes 4-5 times each week, and sleep for 7-8 hours each night.”
Grounding techniques are arguably the most effective for dealing with anxiety especially if you seek immediate relief. Here are some of the most effective grounding techniques as suggested by Dr Kohli:
These exercises are focused on your breathing like guided meditation or normal meditation. Here’s a video guide to help you with the process:
JPMR is a relaxation technique where you tense a focused muscle in your body and relax it immediately. There are several videos on JPMR relaxation techniques available on the internet that could be accessed to practice.
With this technique, you direct your focus on your surroundings while corresponding it to your five senses of touch, sight, smell, listen, and taste.
However, Dr Kohli does advise that “Just like any other exercise, grounding exercises are effective only when they are done regularly. If the problem persists even after doing the exercises regularly, then it is suggested to seek help from a trained and professional psychologist.”
When a family member is quarantined, it is not only difficult for the family members of the individual but even for the person who has been quarantined. Of course, we really really want to support a distressed member which is sort of difficult in the case of coronavirus given that you should come in contact with an infected person.
Dr Kohli further explains the emotional turmoil: “There is a sense of isolation, fear of the illness, and death along with the physical pain and exhaustion that comes along with the virus. They might also think that they are “stuck” in the situation or being a big burden to their family. Here, the person’s family plays a big role in not making them feel all the above-mentioned emotions.”
Sharing how the family can come together and help the patient while they are in quarantine she shares, “The family members can arrange video calls with them, or organise movie nights and game nights online which would include the quarantined family member. They could send the quarantined family member a gift to occupy their free time, as well as send motivational messages to keep their spirits up. The person quarantined can practice meditation and other breathing exercises to feel less anxious and manage their emotions well.”
Even though the situation right now might make you feel helpless and anxious, you must not lose faith and hope and try to maintain a positive outlook on life. As Dr Kohli explains, “Times are rough, but they can be used to effectively and efficiently work on yourself by developing new habits or learning something that you might not have had time to learn. It is very important you do not overthink the virus and cause distress to yourself.”
She suggests a very effective technique to pull yourself out of a negative state of mind: “Every time you start to overthink or have negative thoughts, keep a rubber band around your wrist and snap it to divert your attention from the thought process.”
“You can also watch light-hearted shows rather than morbid-themed shows to keep a clear and fresh mind,” she adds. Here are some recommendations you can try:
–Emily In Paris on Netflix
–Schitt’s Creek on Netflix
–The Good Place on Netflix
–Fleabag on Amazon Prime
–Panchayat on Amazon Prime
–Never Have I Ever on Netflix
Almost every day of the pandemic, we have heard a new fact about the virus. It does not impact everyone in a similar manner. There is so much that we are yet to learn about the novel virus. Of course, that adds to the overall apprehensions and anxiety. Also, as the days pass by with no concrete COVID-19 cure in sight, it is making people anxious about their future. All in all, a general sense of uncertainty about the future prevails and often brings us down. How on Earth are we supposed to make sense out of it all?
For starters, Dr. Kohli suggests us to calm down. She says, “The best we, collectively, can do is protect ourselves individually by following WMD; which is a short form of washing your hands, a mask is essential and distance yourself from others. If you feel that the situation is impacting you too much and you get a sense of loss of control then you can journal your thoughts and practice patience by using breathing techniques regularly.”
For some extra protection, here are some amazing products that you can try:
Lastly, remember that it is important to seek professional help in case of mental health struggles as much as it is for physical ailments. Please reach out to a trained professional and seek help in case your mental health is up for a toss due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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