After the first wave, the second wave of Covid-19 has taken a heavy toll in terms of a number of cases, serious effects, and deaths. It has destabilized the health infrastructure in the country and posed a challenging situation
in front of the government, machinery to provide temporary hospitals, ICU beds, oxygen, medicines, transportation, and vaccination.
People have got panicked watching and reading excessive news on different news media about the devastating effects of the Corona pandemic which has adversely affected their mental health. Covid anxiety has affected the mental health of people the most. This has diluted their willpower to fight the ill effects of the disease. Covid-19 has not only affected physical health but also the mental health of all the patients and also that of relatives, friends, and the society at large.
For this, ICMR has laid down the guidelines for Psychosocial counselling for Covid 19 patients and their family members. Whenever a Covid patient or a family member approaches the counsellor, the counsellor deals with the client with warmth, acceptance and flexibility. The counsellor encourages the client to express him/herself without hesitation and provides knowledge about the Covid in an optimistic manner. The Counsellor collaborates with the client and works on the weakness and strengths. Some of the points that are ensured while counselling is confidentiality, empathy, a non-judgemental attitude towards the client and safe space.
Now, let us understand what is Covid Anxiety, and is there any difference between anxiety and Covid anxiety? Anxiety is a body’s natural response to stress. It may come as fear, nervousness, panic, uneasiness, sleep problem, faster breathing, palpitation, restlessness, nightmares. It has physical reactions as well like headache, body ache, stomach problems, difficulty in concentrating, decision making, memory issues, lack of self-care, trouble in relaxing, lack of interest in eating, withdrawal etcetera.
Covid anxiety is not different from general anxiety except that it is related and concentrated to Covid. The affected person is indulged in
constantly thinking about the disease, its adverse effects, actions, precautions etcetera.
Anxiety doesn’t start suddenly and takes its severe form. It follows a certain trend. For example, first of all, a person would face triggers in the form of event or thoughts or feeling, then the thought would occupy most of
the day’s time by worrying or obsession or self-doubt or catastrophic feeling, next would follow anxiety/stress which includes tight chest, sore stomach, shaking, nausea, etc.
After the phase of anxiety comes coping where a person would do whatever seems to it right like substance abuse, over-analysis, double-checking, seeking reassurance. When this won’t help the person, s/he would want to escape or get angry or irritated or feel sad or guilty. These things would again start the whole vicious cycle. Whenever a pandemic-like emergency happens people feel trapped and helpless which leads to panic. The traumatic feeling comes when someone gets ill or grief or isolated.
Studies say that anxiety disorder, depression, and alcohol misuse are more common than PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). To diagnose someone with PTSD, at least 1 month’s signs and symptoms are important guidelines.
Sometimes people do feel distressed especially during emergencies or trauma. The reason behind it is uncertainty, loss of control, and disruption of support.
There are certain secondary stressors that make situations more distressing like employment, housing, relationships, mental health problems, education, finance, people with disabilities, old age, children, and
many more. Now if these secondary stressors are consistent then long-term effects would be anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, PTSD, and worsening of comorbidity including pre-existing mental health.
Researches say 80% of people experience distress after an emergency/disaster but they also get support from their own people like family members, friends, and community which is more preferable as well. But 20% of those require mental health professional intervention as they develop mental health problems.
We need to understand the fact that not all distressed people develop mental health issues and to know who needs intervention depends on certain factors like persistence, severity, and effect of it on their lives.
Let us talk about resilience which means the ability to cope, adaptation or bouncing back. All don’t find it easy to do so but also there are some who do more than this which will be termed bouncing forward meaning
Qualities that make bouncing forward easy, are :
- How much support are they getting from their environment
- Perceived capacity to cope
- Nature and severity of the situation
- Learning from the previous distressing events
However, to bounce forward, psychosocial resilience is needed by the person. It means, does that person has the ability to accept and use support? Does that person have the ability to deal with circumstances realistically? Does that person have strong self-belief and values?
Now let us talk about what plays a role in coping with Covid
Social support: Interpersonal relationships should be caring, comforting, and readily available. It can be provided by friends, relatives, individuals in the community, or volunteers.
Positive coping: It includes problem-solving ( finding solutions and working on the best one) and acceptance ( it has happened and now work to get out of it or live with it efficiently).
One has to understand that denial help in short-term coping but it is not helpful in long-term coping.
To cope well with Covid one has to list down the following points :
- Do breathing exercise to strengthen lungs
- Do meditation.
- Stay connected with all.
- Keep disciplined routine
- Exercise regularly
- Get sufficient sleep
- Avoid substance use like (smoking, alcohol consumption, tobacco intake, drug, etc)
- Control listening/watching or reading negative news and getting news from reliable sources once or twice a day.
- Follow directions from appropriate authorities.
- Practice mindfulness
- May join faith-based organizations for peace
- Keep the mind active by solving puzzles or crosswords or quiz.
- Get vaccinated
These are the basics that everyone must follow to stay fit during covid and not hesitate to contact mental health professionals if one finds it difficult to cope.
Member of WICCI National Mental Health Council
Certified Psychological Covid first aid counselor (Public Health England)