Although we are a few months away from marking the end of the 2020, let us accept the harsh truth – we are in the middle of going through an era of anxiety, and the reason I say so is unquestionably related to COVID-19. The novel coronavirus was conjectured to have only a physical impact on people due to which no one was ready for the massive repercussions on mental health that the virus would bring with itself.
As a trained psychologist, a four-time gold medalist, and an awardee by the President of India, I too as everyone else went through various emotional upheavals during the lockdown period, as well as the subsequent unlock. During the lockdown, watching the news would make me anxious, and the fear of the pandemic started to settle within me that made me very cautious and I refused to step out of my house until it was necessary to do so. I would go to the ATM early morning to skip the queue, buy groceries and other necessities online, and would sanitize my belongings, as well as myself multiple times; this process went on for quite a few months until the unlock phase started. One of the best ways of dealing with anxiety is to recognize the causes and have strategies to deal with it.
The unlock phase came in as a ray of hope, as I was able to visit regular establishments, meet my friends and family wearing a mask, and while maintaining social distance. I started my outdoor activities like bicycle riding and jogging cautiously while maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask. I was still cautious but could feel that I had control over my actions and could keep myself safe from the pandemic, which reduced my feelings of anxiety by a margin. But this ray of hope soon turned into an illusion as I realised that people around me were not as cautious as I was, or responsible for themselves.
My neighbourhood had people who took the unlock as a sign that the pandemic was over and would move around without wearing masks or taking other precautions. Meanwhile, the number of positive COVID-19 cases was rapidly rising in India that brought back the feelings of anxiety that I had felt during the lockdown period; although this time, the feelings of being concerned was lower, but only momentarily. I began to feel circumstantial anxiety that would occur while I visited establishments that did not follow the safety instructions or be in a surrounding filled with people who weren’t following the safety precautions.
The phases I went through during this year is something you might be able to relate to also. As a psychologist, I have experienced a spike in psychological distress among my patients more than ever. The number of patients coming to my clinic regarding issues of anxiety and depression has seen an exponential increase. The increment in psychological distress has been reported in academic research as well.
The Lancet, a renowned medical journal covered studies that discovered a predominance of psychological disorders such as depression, anger management issues, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among people living in seclusion, not unlike the experiences of people during COVID-19. Additionally, other mental health issues are increasing due to paranoia, people have started to wash their hands excessively and developed mental health issues like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
These psychological disorders should not be overlooked in these challenging times and should receive immediate help from a trained and professional psychologist. The novel coronavirus will soon have a vaccine for its prevention, but there isn’t any definite vaccine for the increase in mental health issues.
Understandably, not every one of us developed mental health problems, but the feeling of anxiety is present in all of us as there is no cure in sight for the virus. To manage anxious feelings, you can follow some deep breathing exercises and practice mindfulness, check up on your friends and family from time to time, learn new hobbies, and go for walks while taking necessary precautions. If the anxious feeling persists for a while, then I would strongly recommend you to visit a psychologist and receive treatment for the same.
The important thing to remember is that over the millennia pandemics have reared their ugly head every hundred years or. There is personal misery and loss for those who are directly impacted, but the human race will survive, the economy will recover, and shortly thing will return back to normal. The important reality is to protect your physical and mental wellbeing.