The essence of this blog is to impress upon the readers, that it is imperative to take a moment to acknowledge the harsh and sudden changes that we have been thrown into, in the time of Coronavirus. More often than not, when frightening situations conquer our “associative processes” (those that lead to the maintenance and development of cognitive connections between events, behaviours, feelings and thoughts), our primitive and archaic forms of thinking control our behaviours. For instance, we engage in mindless panic which sees no foreseeable end, inconsiderate actions that place others at a disadvantage.
Our experience of the nefarious Coronavirus and our mindset or understanding of it, has seen a shift from “what is that?” to “what is this going to mean for my life?” This shift has transpired at an alarmingly rapid rate over the past few weeks. The rapidly spreading virus is touching all aspects of our personal and community life. Our health, social, academic, work, faith and financial systems are struggling to cope with these times of uncertainty and the need for a fast-paced readjustment. We are physically distancing ourselves from each other from being infected or spreading the disease.
The public attitude seemed to go from “the virus won’t affect us, we will be alright” to “everybody hunker down in isolation for several weeks or months even, and do not leave your home”. Circumstances seemed safe, and then they weren’t. Though work continues for a small percentage of the world, everything else has come to a screeching halt – social visits, community events, dining out rendezvous, and something as elementary as leaving the house.
It is important to pause and acknowledge that our entire reality has shifted fundamentally, both collectively and individually, over the span of a few days. We are experiencing feelings of being cooped up and restlessness in our homes, when two weeks ago, most of us could go out and freely operate without much of a care of our health – physical and mental health. It seems we have entered an alternate reality, wherein we are – a) physically limited, b) socially isolated, c) uncertain about the future, and d) each of our individual choices has enormous ripple effects and dire consequences on the collective good.
From afar, the Coronavirus seemed surreal and did not look real. And now it is. We find ourselves now in a bit of a dystopian nightmare. And so, begins a mechanical “self-improvement phase”. But there is loss, there is grief, there is anxiety, and there is fear, that comes with what we all are experiencing. Do we deny ourselves of such feelings to focus on the “self” then? What if we are just subduing and suppressing these feelings and thoughts? It is my understanding that such feelings have an ugly nature of lurking in the background, demanding our attention, until we acknowledge and process them, on our own and together.
As we move forward in this changing environment, I write to encourage a pause, to let it all sink in. Stay with the feelings; do nothing for a little bit and see what feelings are inside you. If there is melancholy, uncertainty, fear, anxiety, or uncertainty, allow those feelings to be there. Distractions are handy and effective pacifiers, allowing us to safely gain distance from the surrounding circumstances. However, this won’t solve our woes. Denying what we feel, even to ourselves, takes us further away from true connection with ourselves and others.
The key is to explore an alternative mindset and thought patterns through various activities. Let’s consider the following alternative ways of coping.
- Identify the feelings to yourself
- Feel them in your body
- Find positive ways to express debilitating feelings – dance, move, sing, create, run, write, cry. Do whatever feels expressive of the feelings in you.
- Mute or reduce the usage of terms related to the outbreak, that may cause anxiety.
- Avoid consuming anxiety-provoking news – seek updates once, as constant news can cause distress.
- Use reliable sources, like the WHO Website.
- Meditate and draw boundaries for your space, especially when you are at home 24 hours now for a prolonged period of time.
- Take an online course – not only does this help to upgrade your professional skills, but also to fight a sense of stagnation fostered by the pandemic.
- Contribute to society (social service) – develops compassion, enhances a sense of belongingness and improves psychological well-being.
- If you need help coping, share with a trusted friend or reach out to a mental health professional.
Ishanya India Foundation, Bangalore.