The pandemic has wreaked havoc worldwide and has not spared any country or strata of society. I am an Assistant Professor in Psychiatry and Clinical Psychologist at University of Massachusetts Medical School, in Massachusetts, USA. I have been conducting online sessions with clients for the last two months and know of many such initiatives in India during this time. I specialize in severe mental health conditions including anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and in suicide prevention. The fact is that the pandemic has blurred divisions of society and affected all individuals across age groups. As human beings, we are very similar at the core and have similar needs and struggles. I have observed that the isolation has made existing mental conditions more severe, and has brought up new issues for otherwise healthy individuals. There is a widespread fear of contracting the virus and impact on our jobs and incomes. Further, with the addition of catastrophic events like the super cyclone Amphan on the Indian east coast, it is easy to feel out of control of our fates.
Although the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented and brings new worries with it, the mental health symptoms are familiar and not impossible to resolve. You are not alone if you have been feeling that the rug has been pulled from under you and that the world around you is falling apart. You may have lost a loved one, lost your job, or live in the constant fear and dread of such catastrophe. Under such conditions, you may feel trapped, agitated, restless, irritable, and extremely stressed. We can make the problem worse by giving in to these emotions. If we can learn to ride out these crisis situations, then we can buy time to solve problems later. Here I would like to share some ideas for getting through the most difficult moments.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, first take a step back and recognize that a wave of emotions is washing over you but that it will subside eventually no matter how high it is. Next, try to bring down the intensity of your emotions by relaxing your body, either by engaging in intense exercise, taking deep breaths, or putting ice on your face. Try not to take any important decisions or impulsive actions when you are very distressed. Try to distract for a little while, with an intention to come back to the problem when you feel calmer. Focus on getting through the present moment, and it too shall pass.
Talk to someone that you trust. They may not be able to solve your problem, but a listening ear and emotional support can give you the strength to keep going. Also, reaching out to others does not mean that you are emotionally weak and cannot solve your own problems. Remember, others may be able to help you not because they are emotionally stronger, but because they are able to look at the problem objectively precisely because they are not going through intense emotions. Further, a sense of togetherness and shared humanity is known to help recover from traumatic events and catastrophes. Don’t be afraid to share with others or to lend an ear to someone! Remember that if you feel overwhelmed after following these steps, you should seek professional help through your local community.
Pooja Saraff, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts Medical School
and Center, USA