How to keep anxiety at bay during self-isolation in the time of coronavirus

Stress leads to panic and, in turn, to the slow and steady growth of anxiety disorders and depression that can actually debilitate people’s lives. Here's how you can keep sane during the time of coronavirus.

With the entire world reeling from the novel coronavirus pandemic and its resulting illness – COVID-19, most of us are now sequestered within the confines of our homes. 1.35 billion Indians are currently under the biggest and unprecedented lockdown ever.

But here lies the dichotomy: while a prolonged period of isolation and lockdown can definitely help flatten the curve of the novel coronavirus spread, it can also have a negative impact on people’s minds.

Isolation from society, the gloomy influx of coronavirus-related information, fear of contracting the disease, stress regarding the future vis-a-vis job security and the looming economic recession, and a sense of helplessness – are all wreaking havoc on people’s mental health. Stress leads to panic and, in turn, to the slow and steady growth of anxiety disorders and depression that can actually debilitate people’s lives.

People with existing psychological symptoms are seeing a sharp spike in their mental health issues. Just the fear of having contracted the novel coronavirus has led to so many suicides.

In a country like ours, women are the glue that holds the family together. Indian women, from all walks of life, work to support the family financially and double up as hands-on wives and mothers. Studies show that women are far more prone to depression, anxiety, stress and other psychological disorders. Worrying not just for themselves but for the entire family is bound to make them vulnerable to a host of anxiety disorders.

We are already seeing instances of discrimination and social stigma against coronavirus victims and survivors. Housing societies are even stigmatising doctors and medical personnel and preventing them from entering their own homes. Women are bound to feel the impact of this stigma the most, as, traditionally, they have been on the receiving end of discrimination and stigma.

Being confined in the house also has the potential to lead to an alarming rise in domestic abuse. Feeling imprisoned and frustrated, men can turn on their women and raise their hands on them. The problem of abuse and assault is further compounded in families where the men are addicted to alcohol or drugs and unable to procure them right now.

In this scenario of self-isolation and lockdown, what is it that we Indians, and women in particular, can do to keep anxiety at bay?

The answer lies in practising self-care in various ways and at multiple levels.

Everyone is afraid of contracting the dreaded coronavirus. And understandably, people are panicking at the slightest of symptoms. It is important, however, to not to jump to conclusions. Get an initial diagnosis from the family doctor on a video call. Your doctor can then decide whether you need to get tested for coronavirus or not.

Practising the prescribed hygiene routines of washing hands regularly, wearing a mask, using sanitisers and social distancing can help relieve the fear of contracting the coronavirus.

We must also not seek medical help unnecessarily. By allowing our fears to play out and holding up medical professionals or emergency helplines, we are hindering people who genuinely need timely medical help from getting it.

Eating well-balanced and nutritious meals can help us stay healthy. A healthy diet can help us avoid deficiencies and boost our immune system as well. New research about the ‘food-mood connection’ reveals that when we don’t eat healthy, we’re likely to start showing symptoms of mental health issues. And so, eating healthy is extremely crucial right now.

If one can’t go to the gym, one can come up with a new exercise routine that involves the entire family. Online Yoga classes or even dancing to music will do the trick. It is a proven fact that exercising helps reduce elevated cortisol levels, the body’s primary stress hormone. It also releases endorphins, our happiness hormones.

We humans are social creatures. Our daily routines before the lockdown involved us going out of the house and indulging in a host of activities that involved our livelihoods, education, social engagements and entertainment. No longer being able to interact in person with relatives, friends and colleagues can unnerve people and lead to feelings of restlessness, anger, stress and anxiety.

We can counter this new void in our lives by having a schedule and staying busy. Studies clearly indicate that having a schedule tends to increase productivity and improve mental health. This lockdown is an opportunity to make new time-tables, divide the household chores between all members, cook and eat meals together, clean and organise the house and play family games and watch movies. In fact, by creating a new routine, we can make our time of isolation a family holiday in itself. Also, the sharing of household chores will dramatically reduce the burden on the women in particular.

We must also make it a point to stay connected with people by way of phone calls, video calls or virtual meets. It is also a good time to search for old friends on Facebook. In fact, those who live alone can ward off anxiety and depression by making sure that they don’t cut themselves off from the world. We have to remember that we are practicing ‘Social Distancing’, not ‘Emotional Distancing’.

For women, it is extremely important to stay connected with friends and colleagues outside of the family. It can allow them a bit of ‘me time’ to de-stress and relax.

What is important, however, is to limit distressing conversation about the pandemic and the global crisis. Talking instead about ‘other things’ can help lighten the mood.

This is also the time to rediscover a hobby or acquire a new skill set. Thanks to online tutorials, one can take music classes or learn to cook. One can learn to meditate. Even puzzles and riddles can stimulate the brain. Research clearly indicates that having a hobby or taking up an activity can help with mental wellbeing and reduce stress and the chances of depression.

Studies even prove that reading a book for only a few minutes can lower blood pressure and ease the tension in our muscles. Catching up on a movie or a web series can take one’s mind away from the harsh realities. Even listening to your favourite music can be therapeutic.

Importantly, we need to stop seeking sensationalised information. Stories of impending doom, false information, rumour mongering, superstitious beliefs and blame-games that are doing the rounds can add to the feeling of gloom and misery in people who are already panic-prone.

People need to avoid falling into the trap of spiralling negativity and regulate the amount of media intake by differentiating between staying informed and getting overwhelmed by an information overload.

All of us can also do our bit by actively raising our voice on the social media against the discrimination and stigma that coronavirus fighters and victims are being subjected to. It can give us a sense of purpose and help rid us of the feelings of helplessness that we may experience.

And lastly, we can practice mindfulness – the ability to focus in the present moment on the awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations and the surrounding environment in a therapeutic and non-judgmental manner. Right now, try not to worry about the future. Try and live in the moment. Be grateful that you are safe and healthy.

This is the time for us to:

  • Reset our body clocks,
  • Rewire our brains and get rid of the bad habits acquired from our busy and competitive schedules,
  • Help those who are less fortunate some way or another, and
  • Spend quality time with our families.

For women, it is extremely important to look after their own mental health first. As they say on flights: if the oxygen mask deploys in case of an emergency, put your own mask on first before assisting a child or any other passenger.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.) 


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