Managing uncertainty during the pandemic

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Risk and uncertainty are the two biggest challenges the people are facing in the pandemic. Risk means danger, and uncertainty is a sense of moving into the unknown where one feels the loss of control. The former has a known probability of occurrence whereas in the latter this is not true. Humanity may have rarely experienced such a collective sense of vulnerability where both body and soul are involved.

While the risk magnitude of Coronavirus Pandemic is unprecedented, there is an uncertainty surrounding almost every facet of it. May it be the threat of contracting the virus and subsequent death, economic losses, job insecurity, social isolation or the social stigma, the pandemic has caused deep psychological impacts on our lives? It has led to an increase in fear, anxiety, stress and depression, sparking a major global mental health crisis. According to psychiatrists, there is a universal presence of heightened anxiety due to pandemic mostly affecting poor, unemployed, people with Covid infection and those who have psycho-social issues such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, depression, loneliness etc. People are confused and lost. How can they prevent themselves from sinking into the pit of despair? It is imperative that we take a look on guidelines, SOPs and other resources to see how possible measures could be undertaken to reduce the increased psychological distress.

Pandemic has been a situation that would test the strongest among us, let alone those more vulnerable to depression, paranoia and suicidal tendencies. While protecting physical health from the virus attack, we have also to take care of our emotional wellbeing and contain the fear and stress to a level that is adaptive? No doubt it is so difficult to stay physically fit when you are forced to stay indoors in the lock-down but physical fitness is not just crucial for a healthy body but imperative for a healthy mind and emotional wellbeing.

Experts say that regular physical activity, good sleep, taking nutritious diet, vegetables, fruits, and staying calm are the best precautions against the coronavirus. With necessary precautions, we can undertake brisk morning walks/exercises for at least an hour with a few glasses of lemon water empty stomach every day. As we keep ourselves hydrated, get some fresh air and exercise as part of our daily regimen, there are other small steps one can take to support mental well-being.

The pandemic gave us an opportunity to slow down and reconnect with family and close friends. Many people are reading/writing books, playing indoor-games, rediscovering hobbies, doing some creative work of art, literature, painting, gardening or spending time doing activities one enjoys. Music, watching TV, meditation are just a few other things which can divert you from developing negative emotions.

A man cannot lead an isolated life to get rid of his suffering because he is created weak and is not capable of satisfying all his needs alone. People generally thrive on social interaction. They recharge themselves while talking to others; communicating their feelings and thoughts that gives them clarity in thinking, helping them forming strategies that prevents their loneliness and despair.

In this era of information technology one can do wonders to stay cheerful. Being connected via any network like Face-book, WhatsApp, Messenger etc where one can have instant chat or live video calls, can give a person the sense of being connected. The pandemic has been breeding ground for rumors, misinformation and sensationalism which have added to our woes.

Many associate pandemic with race, ethnicity and religion and stigmatize those who contract Covid. People with inbuilt obsessive tendencies show increase in obsession in the pandemic. Many are showing signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), where they constantly clean their hands with sanitizer.

The common symptoms like fever, common cold are being mistaken as Corona infection. While we are finding our own ways of coping with the situation, it is important to check source and avoid sharing information that does not have a dependable reference. Remember, knowledge is power; the more you know about a certain issue, the less fearful you are.

There has been a growing concern among parents regarding the mental well-being of children. With schools, colleges closed for an unforeseeable time, children have not stepped out from their homes for a long. Their classrooms have turned into mobile phones. With their lack of exposure to the outside world they can’t express their emotions but show temper tantrum behavioral changes. At this juncture, children need extra love and care. We need to create opportunities for them to play, entertain and help them to stay active. Front-line workers like medicos and other people being not only at a high risk of infection and under tremendous pressure for the safety of their own life and families but are also overburdened which further accentuate their stress levels. They are the first and the last line of defense against the pandemic. Their psychological well-being is as important as our life. We have lost many brilliant doctors fighting against the Covid and we all need to care for them and ensure that they are with all the equipments and the necessary protective gear.

Stress and anxiety are two main factors that can decrease our immunity. We should not ignore it at all; their symptoms can lead to other health issues. Many experts and organizations have stepped forward with awareness and counseling programs, for those finding it difficult to navigate the psychological challenges thrown up by the pandemic, to help them nurture their mental health themselves. We have seen webinars, workshops, lectures, on mental health, stress management and other psycho-social concerns being organized by various institutions and universities. Psychiatrists and psychologists can help people to stave off boredom, provide practical advice on stress management techniques and coping fear. Of course, the psychological fallout due to Covid-19 cannot be merely solved by counseling but through a multi-dimensional approach, one important issue includes the financial support to the deserving people. We need to ensure that those who are marginalized and isolated, facing the worst effects of this crisis get help.

Life is full of ups and downs. There are good and bad times, the success and failures. They are inherent part of nature and you cannot stop them. But there is a powerful force called hope, which can pull you from the depths of despair. Even when things get murkier and uncertain, hope always persists. Moreover, humans have a wide range of adaptation strategies in response to environmental changes. When times are hardest they gain inner strength and toughness. Even if the pandemic is brought under control in a year or so, its psychological effects are going to linger for many years and it may take time to return to normal life. What life may throws should make us strong and give us the courage to stand and fight not only for ourselves but also for others. Let us reaffirm our resolve to come out of the present crisis at the earliest. We will be stronger and more resilient if we take care of one another. Tough times don’t last and this too will pass.

Dr Mohammad Amin Malik is a College Principal