We are currently facing the worst pandemic ever, the COVID19. Around late January 2020, we were just getting to know about a certain virus that has hit China, and little did we think it would be knocking our doors too. The World Health Organization announced the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 and declared it as a pandemic on 11 March 2020. Since then numerous countries have reported thousands of cases and deaths and the number still continues to rise. In India too, the cases have drastically increased in the past few months. The pandemic has led to a wide range of effects in various areas of our lives like employment, education, social gatherings, and many more. However, an area that some of us are still unaware that demands attention and needs to be handled efficiently is mental health.
There are many psychological effects a pandemic can have on an individual and it may have more far-ranging influences for a person who is in quarantine. The quarantine can be a very unpleasant experience for an individual who has to undergo it. The person under quarantine is separated from his/her loved ones, there is a loss of freedom to do what he/she wishes to do often resulting in boredom. The uncertainty over the disease status can make matters worse for the individual. Therefore, it is very important for us to find ways to mitigate the psychological consequences of quarantine and the innumerable effects that a pandemic can have on an individual.
Here, I suggest some effective means that can help an individual deal with the ill effects of a pandemic like the one we are facing currently.
- Building Resilience: American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well, in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress”. More commonly it is referred to as ‘bouncing back’. Some of us are born resilient whereas others develop it over time with exposure to threatening situations. Therefore, if you think you lack resilience, do not worry because you can still build it. Resilience can be developed by increasing your optimism in certain situations. For example, it is always beneficial to think “this pandemic may continue but I can look for ways to keep myself occupied and do something I like and I have always wanted to do” rather than thinking “this pandemic seems to be unending and I see no way in which things are going to improve” and to continuously brood over that thought. An important factor that adds to resilience is social support. We are maintaining physical distance but that does not necessarily mean we break our social ties. Given the number of social media platforms that we are aware of we can easily and instantly grow our connections and therefore increase communication. Another way of building resilience is improving our coping skills by exercising, writing journals (using writing as a means of venting out), engaging in mindfulness and breathing techniques that help in relaxation or picking up a lost hobby or a new one that helps you explore your creativity.
- Encouraging Flow: The concept of flow refers to the idea of being completely engaged or absorbed in an activity at hand and one from which people derive enjoyment. Therefore, encouraging flow can be beneficial not just for your creative abilities but also to kill the boredom and increase your motivation. Many artists we know are the one’s who have lost themselves in their work or put simply, are in the flow state.
- Staying Optimistic: The best thing we can do for ourselves and for others around us in times like this is to stay optimistic. It indeed is difficult to cultivate positivism when we see and hear only negatively laden content but it is not impossible to change the way we think and behave. Instead of engaging in the negative self-talk, we can opt to engage in positive self-talk. We, of course, need to stay updated with the latest news and happenings around us but we must put a limit on the amount of negative content that we watch or read. Staying optimistic may not change the things that are meant to happen but it definitely will change the way you feel about yourself and others around.
- Hope: We often use the phrase, ‘let’s hope for the best’ and sometimes in some uncertain situations the most we can do is hope for the best. Things that lie beyond are control must not be pondered upon. Taking the current situation into consideration, we still are unaware of the damage that COVID19 may bring or it may not. We have no control over that so it’s best not to be apprehensive. In fact, we can hope that things will improve for the better. Such hoping gives power to the people to deal with the stress a particular situation brings and makes coping in helpless situations easier.
- Practising Emotional Agility: Emotional agility is defined as“an individual’s ability to experience their thoughts and emotions and events in a way that doesn’t drive them in negative ways but instead encourages them to reveal the best of themselves”- Dr Susan David. Therefore, being able to recognize our emotions and being able to use them in productive ways or choosing to respond to them in ways that work in our favor or in our best interest we can bring out the best in ourselves. By doing so we cope with a lot of challenges that we face every day.
- Fostering Prosocial Behaviour: An important aspect that requires high-priority during a pandemic is prosocial behaviour. By prosocial we mean practising any behaviour that is beneficial for others or behaviour that we engage in taking into consideration the welfare of the society at large. Thereby, obeying rules of maintaining physical distance, wearing masks, washing hands, not going out unless really necessary, following protocols etc. we are engaging in prosocial behaviour. These activities not only keep us safe but also the people around us. Wherever possible contributing or donating in cash or kind or volunteering at required places also adds to prosocial behaviour. Showing gratitude for the things we have and being grateful to the ones who are helping us stay safe amidst this global pandemic is another form of prosocial behaviour and such behaviours help us, in turn, to stay hopeful and optimistic.
The psychological effects of a pandemic are many like depression, suicidal ideations, anxiety, stress, lack of motivation, fear, etc. However, the sole discretion lies upon us to not let the pandemic and pandemic related lockdown or quarantine affect us physically, emotionally, or psychologically. Believing that “every cloud has a silver lining” let’s make ourselves more resilient, optimistic, and hopeful about the future. Stay home. Stay safe.
Writes: Alisha Chettri. She works as a guest faculty in the Dept of Psychology, Sikkim University.