Epidemic of solitude: How to cope amid the coronavirus pandemic

It’s a pandemic that’s reaching epic proportions — panic hoarding, wild rumours and an unshakable suspiciousness. And this isn’t just the coronavirus at play; rather, it’s the mass hysteria that’s seemingly enveloped our nation since news of the outbreak was first declared. According to success coach Anand Chulani, “If there’s ever a time for people to feel overwhelming anxiety, that time is now. That’s because the pandemic affects our most basic need for certainty. With limited information about the virus and a massive epidemic of misinformation and rumour-mongering, many people are experiencing an overwhelming sense of loss of control. The outbreak also represents uncertainty in every area of our lives, from our health, to our finances, our careers, our ideas about our future and even our relationships.”

Toll on mental health

One of the most important steps that we, as a community, can take towards containing the spread of the Covid-19 virus is to self-isolate or self-quarantine. And while our policy-makers have been taking a leading role in helping to slow down the infection rate, being cut off from human impact bear heavily on mental health. Dr Nahid Dave, a psychiatrist at Thought Matters, explains, “Most people derive our energy through verbal and non-verbal transactions with others. While we welcome a chance to take a break from work to escape the grind of our daily routines, when this isolation is forced on us, it rapidly becomes monotonous. In today’s world, it’s impossible to be completely isolated as we are constantly bombarded with information from multiple sources, not all of which are accurate or reassuring. Not knowing how long this solitude will last can create further anxiety.”

What you can do

Create certainty: “Most people are quite resilient when it comes to handling uncertainty in one area of their lives. They know that there are at least other aspects that they can fall back on,” says Chulani. One of the first steps you can take towards safeguarding your mental health is to create certainty in these uncertain times. “Understand that this isn’t a situation that will be gone in a few days or weeks — this will help you to mentally prepare yourself. Become responsible for your role in the overall status-quo. This involves following what the authorities are asking of you, to changing your perspective from one of being cut off from the world to being accountable for the part of the world you interact with. With responsibility comes certainty,” he says.

Spend time wisely

Understand that there is a difference between concern, worry and anxiety, says Dr Dave. Being concerned means taking precautions, following news from the right sources and making the most of the time you have been given. Being worried entails hoarding supplies, re-checking news constantly, and feelings of irritability and anger. Anxiety involves panicking and constantly expecting the worst outcomes, such as certain and/or painful death for either yourself or a loved one. While it’s tempting to use memes and jokes about Covid-19 as a way to lighten the emotional load, know that these can have lasting repercussions on your subconscious mind. Many of these memes loosely associate the virus with death, which is a basic, carnal fear for all human beings. This association with death can lead to massive anxiety, she explains.

Choose the right emotions

Focus only on emotions that make you responsible, such as love, faith, courage, gratitude and belief. Although you may feel isolated right now, you can still use technology to communicate with those you care about, send positivity to and pray for them. Build your courage by telling yourself that you will get through this by being smart and making the right choices. You must believe in your own body and the ability of your immune system to overcome the virus. Finally, be grateful for what you have instead of thinking about what you don’t have, says Chulani.

Opportunity, not punishment

Use this time as a much-needed opportunity to re-examine your life, says Aman Bhonsle, a psychosocial analyst. “Build an inventory of the things you’d like to do when this is over. Spend time improving your living environment — this could involve decluttering your home or undertaking a home improvement project. Maintain a balance so that a single activity doesn’t become too tedious or monotonous. Make sure to get regular exercise and follow a routine — research indicates that people who lead a sedentary lifestyle become more prone to paranoia and can quite rapidly wither away mentally.

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