India is reeling under the onslaught of the pandemic today. The country is gasping for a breath of air. The hospitals are overflowing and overwhelmed. The healthcare workforce is depleted and exhausted, grappling to treat those in need. The incessantly raging funeral pyres are a grim reminder of the havoc brought about by this pandemic. In these uncertain times fear, worry and stress are our constant companions. Robbed of supports, livelihood and resources, we are all grieving collectively, mourning the loss of normalcy and of lives. For many of us in the healthcare sector, feelings of helplessness abound. The struggle to treat patients amidst severe resource crunch, the visuals of dying patients in hospital corridors, the inability to effectively care for the dying are somethings that will haunt as for the rest of our life And as we work tirelessly, there is no time to grieve. Experts predict an upsurge of mental health issues in both the patients and the healthcare providers alike in the COVID-19 era.
These are unprecedented times. We will need to work hard to manage our emotions. As part of the grieving process, we may feel angry, sad, fearful, with waves of panic engulfing us when we see news headlines or forwarded messages. Our anxiety, though uncomfortable, is legitimate, helping us to cope with the situation. What we need to avoid is the contagion of panic.
Following the safety protocols to stay safe from the virus plays an important role in managing one’s anxiety. It provides us with a sense of control in a world that has spiraled so out of control.
What experts stress over and over again is limiting media exposure. Scrolling through disturbing images and video clippings shared on WhatsApp, Facebook can trigger anxiety. Excess visual images and news about a traumatic event can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder. Limiting media exposure and avoiding reading about COVID-19 before bedtime helps to reduce anxiety. One of the strategies that has been advised by experts is not to forward or propagate alarming videos, images, or photographs to friends, family, and colleagues. Research has shown that the media often exaggerates or sensationalizes issues.
Reaching out and remaining connected with family and friends is a great way to combat feelings of anxiety. Create a support network for yourself. Take time to share your feelings. Being with those who care for us makes us feel safe. Remaining connected to hobbies is a great stress buster. The need of the hour is physical distancing, not social distancing. Practice calming techniques (deep breathing exercises, relaxation, listening to music, exercises) to control the physical symptoms of anxiety.
A major way of dealing with stress and anxiety is to cultivate altruism. Crisis can be a great opportunity for self-reflection and self-transformation. Suffering becomes tolerable when we find meaning and purpose in it. It is up to us to explore and unlock the new meanings in all our suffering. Despite the uncertainty, stories of strength, hope, and resilience abound.
Remember, to quote Desmond Tutu, “Hope is being able to see there is light, despite all of the darkenss”
Contact: Dr Seema Rao @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Dr Seema Rao, Associate Director (Education& Research)