The Anxiety pandemic that follows, and how to prevent that
Human response to any stress can be variable, but one emotion that this Covid-19 pandemic has uniformly instilled in all populations of the world, is fear. In fact, the standard reassuring response of adults to their children “don’t worry, everything will be OK”, has transformed into “I’m not sure either when it will be OK”. We are being told by the health professionals and governments to adopt such preventive measures, which often lead as a by-product to fear, to protect ourselves from this illness. This fear can lead to anxiety, which results from a feeling of losing control. Our mind gets engaged in unhealthy ways to cope with anxiety, and we can start focusing on the worst-case scenarios. This often leads to physical signs of increased stress and tension, and psychologically gives rise to anger and irritability, which explains the rise in domestic violence since the pandemic is taking its effect. The times of stress can bring out the best and the worst in humans.
We are heading towards a social anxiety pandemic which will have both psychological and physical ramifications. More and more people are likely to be suffering from various forms of anxiety, that can give rise to range of mental health problems. If preventive measures are not carefully considered at this time at individual and societal levels, it can lead to a serious surge in psychological distress and collective anxiety as we come out of this pandemic.
I have always been interested in prevention, which is indeed better than cure. We can view this time as a blessing, and utilize it to develop positive coping skills, which would not only help us deal better with the lockdown for now, but also help us build our psychological strengths for the post-Covid-19 future. Many of us may be aware of helpful ways of well-being, but its not always easy to implement them in our daily lives. I would therefore, urge you to consider to:
- Connect with others: This is indeed a time for physical distancing but social connection using modern technology has never been easier. A hundred years ago, when our forefather faced Spanish Flu around 1919, they did not have the likes of Skype, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams. Connecting with people is also linked to longevity, improved immunity, enhanced self-esteem and empathy, and even better physical health and reduced mental health problems. What matters is the quality of interaction, hence, putting energy and love into those relationships we have, would serve to build our resilience resource for the future.
- Give to yourself and others: Most importantly, give to yourself, the care and love that you’ve deserved but not been able to give before. Remember, you can not take care of others unless you take care of yourself. Whether its reading, gardening, music, or playing video games, taking care of oneself is not being selfish. Also be mindful to set boundaries if you are working from home and take planned rest.
Giving to others is not limited to financial means, being kind to others is also a charity. The altruistic act of giving to others provides the sense of meaning to life, a sense of usefulness, positivity, productivity and contentment.
- Learn and play: As George Bernard Shaw said “we don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing”. Its time to re-enact that joyful magical childhood, either by playing with children or practicing one of those wishes you could not do before, be it learning an instrument, dancing, or a new language. Playful learning just one new skill during these times can seriously help uplift your spirits significantly.
- Being active: It has been proved that being active is not only beneficial for our physical health, but it is even more beneficial for our mental health. We now know that exercising activates our cells in the brain and releases hormones, which makes us feel happy and productive. And it also gives a break to those parts of brain which are constantly worrying.
- Eat well: We are what we eat (and drink). Its not just a necessity for our physical body, the fact of the matter is what we ingest effects how we feel and think. Eating more plant based, fresh foods, and less of refined carbs and fatty foods, would automatically make us feel better in our body and in our mind.
- Sleep well: Its not only there to make us feel fresh, Good quality sleep is vital for our memory and creativity, and it also boosts our immunity. So in today’s time, when we all need to improve our immune system, make sure you get ample sleep. Also, disrupting your sleep-wake cycle too much is not a good idea for your brain either, so no too late night Netflix anymore!
- Notice: We always complain we never get enough time to sit and relax, our mind is running all the time. Well, this is the time to take a pause, and try and bring one’s attention to the current moment, that is Mindfulness. Whether one believes in meditative exercises, yoga, or prayers, any practice which involves accessing “the power of Now”, ie, focusing ones full attention to this second right now, and not worrying about the past or the future, holds the key to happiness. This would also lead to gratefulness for each and everything we possess, rather than complaining about what we do not have. Remember, if you focus on problems, the problems grow. On the other hand, positivity breeds positivity; hence, consciously attempting to focus on the positive aspects of where we are today, would naturally lead us to be able to notice more positive things, leading to a more grateful self. Why not write 3 best things you are grateful for today.
Whatever faith or no faith one has got, the situations prompts us as a society to introspect and reflect in the current moment. There is light at the end of the tunnel, this situation will get over. Why not encourage each other to hope, pray and practice relaxation and mindfulness techniques to manage our anxieties, to be able to come out of this pandemic with a better self, individually and collectively.
Dr. Saqib Latif
MBBS, MA, MRCPsych, CCT(UK)
Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology