SAMHIN, South Asian Mental Health Initiative & Network, is a non-profit organization that strives to address the mental health needs of the South Asians. https://samhin.org/
These are very challenging times for all of us. No one is spared from the impact of COVID-19 pandemic. We are all very worried, confused, scared and fearful. The normal outlets of coping with stress are no longer available e.g. social events, movies, services at places of worship, satsangs, movies, yoga, gym, concerts, to name just a few.
Let us first define what this pandemic is. COVID-19 is a disease caused by coronavirus. Coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from common cold to more severe diseases such as MERS and SARS (WHO). Pandemic is when the virus has spread to many countries across different continents.
Many of us watch, read or listen to news 24/7 to keep up with what is happening and to find out what is being done. But, deep down, we also hope for a positive and reassuring message that coronavirus is receding, only to find out that the situation is getting from bad to worse. It feels like it will last forever and will destroy us all. But just because it feels that way it does not mean that it will last forever or that it will destroy us all.
Many probably remember or have heard of the H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak, SARS (2003-China, Taiwan and Vietnam); MERS in South Korea. The infamous Spanish flu of 1918 which killed 675,000 Americans. Those were also very serious. But they all ended. Many have even forgotten these even though at the time these were justifiable cause for fear and panic. Coronavirus pandemic is no different. It will end as well. Vaccine will be developed in time. Researchers all over the world are working on it.
When we watch the news constantly, we sense an imminent danger. Yes, the virus is dangerously contagious. But in reality, according to WHO (World Health Organization), COVID-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults, although, it can cause serious illness in some (about 1 in every 5 people who catch it need hospital care). It is therefore quite normal for people to worry about how the COVID-19 outbreak will affect them and their loved ones. Yes, there are many who have succumbed to the virus and died. But, remember, there are many more who have recovered. Research has shown that those with a positive outlook can manage stress better and actually live longer. So, next time you see the statistics make a note of how many people have recovered also. You will find that comforting. Don’t just think about all the missteps of different countries in the midst of the confusion. Think of what right steps are being taking now. Think of what you can do to help the situation. Think of all the great work so many are doing so that others can be safer and healthier. Pray for them.
While you want to be comforted by this, you should not become complacent. You must diligently follow all the precautions recommended by experts in public health. These can be found on CDC.gov, WHO.int and on the websites of each of the states.
Before the pandemic hit us, we often complained of being so busy. Do you remember saying, “I don’t have time, I am so busy”? Now, people have so much time but are feeling bored.
Here are some tips to ease your tension and worries during this Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis:
1. Follow the recommendations by CDC, WHO and your local governments.
2. Don’t follow or spread myths and false information on social media. Check and verify the information through credible sources.
3. Don't watch the news 24/7. It only increases your worries and fears. Watch it twice a day. If you must binge-watch, choose your favorite show or a movie. If the government has an urgent message for you, you will likely get an alert on your phone like the Amber alert.
4. Practice Compassion. Research has shown that altruism results in true and lasting happiness. Take a few minutes from your worries and find ways of helping those who are less fortunate and are struggling e.g. those who have been laid off – and there are many.
5. Set up a structure and daily routine for yourself and your children. With schools and colleges closed and working from home can make us forget what day it is.
6. Fear is contagious. Calm is also contagious. Set an example for those around you, especially children.
7. Stay positive. Don’t just pay attention to the number of people who have been infected or died. Check out how many have recovered. You will find that reassuring and calming.
8. Manage your boredom. Find ways of keeping yourself entertained. You can find creative games you can play with your family and children. Watch your old family videos, which have been collecting dust. Watch your favorite movie or show. Read that book you never had time to read. Watch funny videos. Read about creative coronavirus humor and share with others verbally and not just on social media.
9. Make calls to your loved ones and friends.
10. Isolation can be lonely and psychologically very challenging. Making video calls can take the bite out of the pain of isolation.
11. Exercise. Group exercise and yoga classes are cancelled but you can still pursue these in your home.
12. Don’t support or forward messages about holding any country or race responsible for the virus. There should be no place for bigotry in this war against this pandemic. We are all in this together.
13. Pay attention to news about other happenings besides coronavirus. Pay tribute to Kenny Rogers who popularized country music and died just a few days ago. Express your gratitude to those who are putting their lives in harm’s way so you can be safe and well e.g. healthcare workers, national guard, police, grocery stores and so on.
14. Help your children understand what is going on. Validate their fears and emotions in the face of so many disappointments after school closures. Give them a message of hope that there are many others including you who are worried just like them. Tell them that many people are helping those who get sick to help them get better. And, most people infected do get better.
Remember, no matter how bad it is, it is temporary. This too shall pass. And finally, don’t forget to wash your hands.
Vasudev N. Makhija, MD
Photos by Vasudev Makhija