Historically, a pandemic seems to have occurred once in a 100 years, roughly. That means, for most of us alive today, this is a completely new experience! We have had little experience with a situation like this.
What does this bring about? Uncertainty, change leading to more change, unexpected change bringing about anxiety – anxiety about getting infected, family getting infected, anxiety about pay cuts, lost jobs, about having to stay home. Sometimes, the lack of activity and distraction can even bring up stored emotions or past hurt.
Dealing with this can be difficult. We’ve tried to put down some ideas about how one can deal with this:
Working through Anxiety during a Pandemic – What it could mean for you
Recognize and Reconcile:
‘What you resist, persists’
In a situation like this, the mind and the whole psyche wants to push to feel in control and on top of the situation. Expecting yourself to feel in control will only worsen your irritability and helplessness. The first step to any kind of mental peace always starts with recognition and reconciliation.
Recognize deeply that you needn’t fight your feelings. While you can take all the precaution needed, recognize that it is understandable to feel anxious, worried, bored, restless and uncomfortable. This situation is uncomfortable for every single one of us. Taking some comfort in the fact that your feelings are valid and understandable can do a lot to ease your emotional burden.
Observe and Breathe:
The mind is like Velcro. It pulls attention to its thoughts and what’s more, it tries to beat one thought with another. Very often, you will see that one thought leads to another and before you know it, you’ve spun a web of stories about the situation, how bad it is, what you could have done to prevent it, how so and so is responsible and so on.
Most of us don’t recognize that we have an option to ‘watch’, or ‘notice’ the mind, without necessarily engaging too much with it. The mind has its own nature and its own wiring. No matter how much you know consciously that worrying is not of much use, it continues to have thoughts and thought streams of worry. What you can do is, instead of trying to beat one thought with another, just observe that thoughts of worry have come up, that it is natural for this to happen, and gently come back to the present moment. You can return to your breath or to any aspect of the present moment. Learning to gently let go of chatter and rest in the moment is immensely valuable in a situation like this.
Seeing this word might trigger irritation at the beginning and that is understandable!
Contrary to this initial reaction, accepting the moment does more for us than we typically imagine. We think of acceptance as passive surrender, but that’s not the case.
Acceptance is an active recognition that – this is what it is. This situation is what it is. Pushing and pulling, fighting your feelings is only going to worsen it. Acceptance allows you to work with what is, than what is not. It brings down stress and hypervigilance and clears your mind to work and support yourself best in this situation. As I often tell my clients when they are in a similar space – ‘half your energy is getting spent on resisting the situation mentally.’ Once you allow yourself to accept the situation, you start generating energy to truly support yourself through it.
It gets easier here onwards – these three steps are difficult, and most of you who have already been through this would agree that to reach acceptance is the hard bit, once you’re through with that, the rest becomes easier!
Access the Calmer Side of the Brain:
The limbic system is the part of the nervous system that is responsible for the fight or flight response, and for anxiety. It’s job is to alert you so that you can protect yourself. However, because as human beings we have the function of thinking, we get stuck in the anxious mode. Letting go of thoughts for a while and consciously calming down gives you access to the calmer side of the brain that has less extreme, more realistic ideas about the situation.
Look for the Hidden Treasures:
Every situation has something to offer. Even seemingly dull, boring situations like these have something to offer – maybe it is opportunity to deeply introspect, maybe it is opportunity to reflect and develop some part of yourself that you haven’t been able to, maybe its just about developing some comfort with doing less and staying with yourself; or about doing your workout through household chores! Whether you know it or not, you are constantly learning and growing through situations. Once you see this, you will be in a more joyful and less negative space.
You must have seen enough information on social media about how social distancing does not have to mean disconnecting. In fact, it could actually mean connecting in a whole different way! Just getting time and space to have deep conversation, to really observe and get to know your family or roommates better, notice and savor the little things and we don’t get the space to savor otherwise!
Rest and Rejuvenate:
More space and less stimulation have been seen as the essentials of mental health. They have also been seen as the bedrock of creativity. Most of us live our lives being bombarded by stimulation and information. We constantly do and rarely get space to just be. While it is understandable that this is a bit of a prolonged break, it still is a break unlike one you may not have had in a long time. Use it to rejuvenate. Explore the things you were never able to do while you were constantly outside.
Once you get comfortable with doing less and with being with yourself, your need to constantly distract yourself, from yourself, through external stimulation will come down. You will be more connected to yourself even when things return to normal.
Practicing these steps over and again will help you get acclimatized to them and ease into the situation.
We wish you a peaceful and healthful lockdown!
This blog post has been conceptualized by Sadia Saeed and written by Malini Krishnan. Sadia is the chief psychologist and Malini is a therapist at Inner Space. Know more about them here.