COVID-19: Psychosocial way out of crisis

With many countries still on lockdown, more than 160,000 deaths globally and no particular medicine for treatment till date, there is fear in every individual globally. Many symptoms of COVID-19 being similar to the seasonal flu (sneezing, fever, coughing and headache), even a cough when exposed to smoke is scaring people. Hence, maintaining social distance (physical distance) is the only way to “flatten the curve” and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

It has already been more than three weeks since the lockdown went into effect in our country. With 31 COVID-19 patients and two recoveries till date, Nepal is among the countries least affected by this pandemic. Hence, this lockdown can be taken as an opportunity to do a lot of things.

The lockdown has compelled us to make do with limited resources as going out is out of the question in the present scenario. This has provided us with the opportunity to mobilise local resources, identify what our real necessities are and make our life simpler with the limited resources.

Due to the stress caused by the ongoing pandemic, no individual is in his or her perfect mindset to grab the content of a formal education. But this is a perfect opportunity to learn or teach informally. Various interest-based life skills can be learned or taught during this time.

Our daily hassles never provided us with enough time to properly understand the role of our family members. An exchange of roles has benefits, i.e., understanding and respecting other members’ roles become easy, and junior family members can learn essential household activities like keeping the home clean, cooking and budgeting.

Every community comes with its own traditional, cultural and religious skills. With a lot of leisure time, it’s a perfect opportunity to teach those skills to the newer generation.

Limited time and inadequate learning opportunity have made human reactive. With time in our hands, there is no haste to reply or take decisions instantly. This is thus an opportunity to think creatively and make decisions based on facts and become more proactive.

By nature, human life is very simple, but with unnecessary competition, fear, anger, grudge, excitement and fallacy, life became complex. With the lockdown, complexity, which rose from unnecessary relationships, social exchange, physical and materialistic needs, has been put aside and has helped in making life simpler.

The lockdown has become an opportunity for nature to thrive again. With various pictures circulating in the social media regarding less pollution, wild animals roaming in the streets and exploring the cities, and whales returning to the oceans, it is an opportunity for us to breathe less polluted air, enjoy the beauty of nature, fall in love with nature and to teach the newer generations ways to take full advantage of nature by limiting its use.

Maintaining physical distance is necessary to prevent the spread, but the lockdown is an opportunity to decrease the social distance and rekindle our relationships.

With no more daily hassles, the first week of the lockdown certainly had been amazing for many individual. But with increase in the lockdown days, that feeling started being replaced with boredom, sadness, irritation, fear, anger, stress and anxiety. There are certain ways to get past the stress that is hampering our psychological well-being.

This is an extraordinary situation where the whole world is in a lockdown, so fostering positive thinking is very important. Remember, all these emotional reactions (anger, fear and the like) and the behavioural reaction (sleep disturbance, change in eating habit, sleep disturbances) due to the pandemic “is a normal reaction in an extraordinary circumstance”. Due to the lockdown, “if you have the feeling of your independence being seized”, then replace the feeling by “it’s for your own survival”.

With constant exposure to news regarding COVID-19, our brain tends to interpret the information that we are at risk of being infected and dying, which, in turn, causes a lot of stress and anxiety. So, limit the time spent on the media regarding news and stick to using credible sources for factual information.

The most important way to keep ourselves free from stress is to keep ourselves engaged. Don’t be in stress if you are not able to be productive. With more than 160,000 deaths globally, we are barely able to cope with the sense of threat the disease poses to us and our loved ones. Hence, this is not a normal situation or a normal holiday where we can feel relaxed and engage ourselves in complex and productive activities. Engage in activities that make you feel good, like cleaning, gardening, reading a book, and listening to music.

Physical exercise is an essential component in improving both the physical and mental health, so exercising on a regular basis is important. Simply walking up and down the stairs for 15-20 minutes or using a jumping/skipping rope can be effective as well.

There are a few proven techniques that are helpful in decreasing the level of stress. They are: a) Breathing exercises, which can be done standing up, sitting or lying down. (Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, keeping your shoulders relaxed, your abdomen expanded and your chest raised a little. Then exhale slowly through your mouth.) b) Progressive relaxation techniques (start at your head or toes, slowly tighten and then relax the particular muscles. Do this gradually until you reach the other end of the body.) c) Mindfulness meditation (it’s about being aware of what is happening without attempting to change it and can be practised by sitting quietly and focussing on your breathing and senses.)

When fear, stress and anxiety are excessive and get in the way of one's ability to properly function on a daily basis, these are cues signalling that one may need professional help. There are, however, many mental health professionals who are offering telehealth/telepsychology counseling through phone, chat, video. These options can be used instead of professional help.

Recognise that there are things about this situation that we can't control; no amount of worry will change that, but believing that we are helpless would only worsen our well-being. But with the recovery ratio greater than the death ratio among those infected, instead of over-exaggerating the pandemic, having a mindset that “we are in control and we can manage this together” will greatly help as it’s up to us to break the chain of the COVID-19 outbreak by following the protocols of the lockdown.

Giree is lecturer at the Department of Social Work, TU, and Golden Gate International College, and Sapkota is a lecturer in psychology at Golden Gate International College and Trichandra Multiple Campus