Decompression can help overcome coronavirus lockdown stressors

New Delhi: The pandemic is not yet over; far from it! Yet, life must go on and eventually the lockdown will be lifted, for meaningful living to resume afresh amidst the pandemic.

Under such circumstances, decompression is essential to slowly overcome the stressors of the lockdown. The transition period between the lockdown and resuming work which is no longer going to be 'business as usual' comes with its own pressure.

What is Decompression?

In general terms, decompression is a reduction in pressure around someone or something. In context, decompression can be seen as the period immediately after the lockdown is officially lifted on the 3rd May which calls for great amount of self discipline. One will have to continue with self imposed restrictions in this period.

"Decompression may be considered as a suitable means of endowing us with better psychological and much-needed emotional support, especially for the hard-pressed COVID-19 warriors from all walks of life, be it doctors and medical staff, military, police and para-military personnel, health, hygiene and sanitation workers, essential service providers or even the common man. It fosters a means of progressively adjusting to a new normal, by allowing us to take a step back and reflect on the recent past before we leap ahead into unchartered waters of the future," according to military psychologist Lt Col Dr Samir Rawat.

During this decompression period, psychologists, practitioners and counsellors may provide customised psychological debriefing and standard protocols to unfold the psychosocial as well as the socio-economic challenges that are likely to unfold and how one can best to deal with them.

Problems and challenges will be in plenty, many of which will not have a solution; in the absence of solutions, one would need to choose from multiple options and opportunities that are likely to crop up. Further one will also have to take ownership of the decisions that we will make, that will have far reaching implications in times to come.

The decompression period may vary from person to person, depending on socio-economic as well as socio-demographic and situational variables. Along with this personality factors and nature of work will also affect the duration.

It could be anything from one month to six months, during which aspects of psychosocial adjustment to the new normal way of life need to be imbibed; finding ways of mental and physical relaxation without putting oneself and others to risk during the pandemic will take time, asserts Dr Rawat.

Decompression would also entail making sense of the challenges thrust upon us, learning to delay gratification, while also practicing psycho-education and hygiene in a safe and conducive environment, be it at home or at work.

Dr Rawat claims that the Covid -19 warriors would have experienced greater frustration since the pandemic broke out, these brave COVID-19 warriors would benefit psychologically from the knowledge that the Nation as a whole acknowledges their humanitarian role which was selflessly performed at the peril of their own lives. A fact borne from the reality that many police personnel, doctors and medical staff tested positive as a consequence of exigencies of service and performance of their duties; unfortunately, many even succumbed to the COVID-19 virus in the process of saving others lives.

This suggests that altruistic tendencies and humanitarian roles that cater to psychosocial support activities for the larger community provide immense satisfaction and may be the reason for post-traumatic growth for people who risk their lives for others. It also makes us realise that it is extreme situations like these that produce larger than life heroes, compared to reel life film stars or sport personalities who make a living selling dreams.

Decompression period would be a time when one will have to learn to channelize their pent up emotions and anger which would need to be expressed in appropriate ways by channelizing energies in a productive manner.

While reasons for increased irritability would be understandable, this is the period to reflect and show gratitude and compassion to others who have worked relentlessly behind the scenes to sustain as well as restrain us (from getting infected) during the lockdown.

In a study on human behaviour during lockdown, Dr Rawat observed that while on the one hand, most individuals and groups came out stronger with a show of camaraderie, cohesiveness and strong bonding, yet, in certain housing societies, some people became more paranoid and displayed hatred and misconduct (e.g. fighting, sending abusive emails and disciplinary problems, in-fighting and recklessness. All while displaying a tendency of social disconnectedness which is not social isolation which are stresses which call for an increased mutual social support and enhancing individual and collective coping strategies to become a more resilient as a community in the face of adversity.

While on the one hand many colonies came together to tide over the crises by providing food from different houses by rotation to the security and housekeeping staff working relentlessly in the colonies, there were yet some colonies where the management, office bearers and some residents frowned upon individual initiatives in providing provisions, food and much needed short strapped cash for these employees, as they perceived this to be a threat to their control. Some people have portrayed a hackneyed and banal mindset that reveals true character under testing times when even prosocial and altruistic acts of gratitude and kindness are perceived with a jaundiced eye.

Thankfully, these sort of people are fewer in number as most cities reported acts of kindness by unnamed Samaritans who went out of the way in feeding hungry people, and looking after stray animals dependent on the humanitarian acts.

Aim of Decompression?

Contrary to popular belief, the aim of decompression is not to decrease depression and stress or minimise the risk of suicide; although these maybe the desirable outcome in itself.

According to Dr Rawat , decompression aims at providing us opportunities for 9 R's, namely, "rest, relaxation, recognition (of our own and others achievements), reduction in stigma of problems and challenges, reflection, realisation and the need for self regulation and self-reliance at the National level and the re-integratation and reconstruction of a new world order" in the post pandemic era.

How to Decompress?

While decompression techniques, duration, structure and content may vary depending on geographical location impacted by the virus, there are critical components that may be factored in to include aspects like giving adequate opportunities for COVID- 19 warriors to get a much needed break and prevent burnout, psychosocial education and awareness programs for the common man who is yet to understand the consequences of taking the lockdown measures in the seriousness that it deserves.

Decompression is likely to benefit those who are willing to learn to new coping methods and adaptation strategies, giving structure and meaning to the time spent during and after lockdown.

Adhering to Dr Rawat's 9 R's mentioned earlier maybe a step in the right direction as they provide structured opportunities to share one's own experiences and engage in meaningful introspection. It is important to reflect on your journey of life and the direction in which we need to move ahead, individually and as a Nation.

Our time to decompress starts from the 3rd of May, 2020. Let us as a Nation not view the lifting of the lockdown as a cause for celebration, but to cautiously adapt to it with self imposed restrictions, taking baby steps to the new life ahead.

Follow decompression protocols as advised by Dr Rawat's 9 R's and adhere to government regulations based on geographical location and impact of COVID-19 in the area.

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