The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a drastic toll, not just on physical health, but on our mental well-being as well. With the uncertainty and ever-shifting contours of the pandemic, people across the globe have also experienced a gamut of complex emotions.
Given the nature of this unprecedented situation, people have been experiencing increased anxiety – worry about their own health and those of our friends and family members, as well as worry about the economic impact of the pandemic. For many, social distancing led to a sense of emotional isolation and alienation. For those living alone or in different cities from their families, this sense of isolation was even deeper. Work from home led to disruptions in routine, impacting the sleep-awake cycle and reducing physical activity. For some, the constraints of working from home, and unavoidable distractions impacted focus and productivity. The excessive consumption of news stories regarding the pandemic has also taken a toll. The distress caused by the pandemic has both triggered mental health conditions and exacerbated existing ones. According to the World Health Organization, people may be facing an increased level of drug and alcohol use, insomnia and anxiety. In fact, those infected by COVID-19 also experienced an uptick in mental health symptoms such as delirium and agitation.
While the pandemic has affected us all in some way or the other, its impact has been even greater for some more than others – the elderly, workers in unorganized sectors, and those cut off from access to digital services. Race, gender and other socio-economic factors have also played a significant role in the way the pandemic has touched lives.
As the first wave abated and many of us believed that the worst was behind us, the second wave caught us off-guard and was devastating in its impact. The acute shortfall of healthcare services brought with it a sense of panic, helplessness and despair. Beyond sadness, guilt, anger and shock are all facets of grief. In this pandemic, we all experienced a sense of loss – the loss of loved ones, the loss of jobs, the loss of a home, or the loss of a sense of safety and security.
Even before the pandemic, there have been conversations on urban loneliness. But if there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is that we are all interconnected. This interconnectedness has perhaps been the reason the virus has spread to this extent and at this speed. At the same time, it is also this interconnectedness that has been the greatest source of strength for human society.
What we must remember, is that no matter how dire the situation is or how choiceless we feel, our thoughts, our attitudes and our actions are always in our control. And so, even while confronted with similar situations, people have responded differently – based on their own values and belief systems.
The most significant marker of well-being across the past year and a half has been people’s sense of connectedness. Those who were able to stay emotionally connected to friends, family, classmates or co-workers fared more positively. Now more than ever, people realised the importance of neighbours – hitherto forgotten with the growing globalization and digitalization.
Even with the constraints of being confined to the four walls, maintaining a sense of routine brought rhythmicity to life. Sleeping and waking at the same time as before the pandemic, creating a working environment at home, taking time for physical activity, learning new skills and hobbies, and maintaining a work-life balance have all been effective coping strategies to cope with the challenges of working from home.
In any challenge that comes our way, a core component of success is psychological flexibility. Keeping an open mind, accepting difficult situations as they are, thinking out of the box and using difficult moments as opportunities for growth and change are resilience and adaptation.
The most obvious form of change and adaptation was probably observed in the acceptance of the digital in many spheres we hadn’t been all that open to before. But there have been other, more subtle shifts within the social fabric as well. The pandemic forced us to go beyond ourselves and look out for one another. While there were stories of shortages, hoarding and other acts of selfishness, the acts of kindness and compassion far outweighed them. Members of the community stepped up like never before – whether to provide food, take care of children or pets, or help to provide essential supplies. In the courage of healthcare and frontline workers, we found a new generation of role models. In difficult times, it’s our value system that determines how we want to live, the impact we want to create, and the legacy we wish to leave behind. At the end of the day, when challenges come our way, it’s our sense of meaning and purpose that becomes paramount.
Even once the pandemic is behind us, life will continue to challenge and surprise us. It’s up to us what we want to take away from this experience, and how we can choose to live more meaningful lives and lead a more connected, compassionate and caring existence.
The author is Dr Samir Parikh, Psychiatrist, Director, Fortis National Mental Health Program, Fortis Healthcare. The views expressed are personal
(Edited by : Jomy Jos Pullokaran)
First Published: IST