WELL-BEING

Surviving pandemic

Surviving pandemic

Pic for representational purpose only. iStock

Dr Deepti Arora

Fears about COVID-19 have taken an emotional toll on many of us. In times of the current pandemic, people are victimised with the fear of getting infected with the virus. Some of us are in areas where the coronavirus infection rates are getting worse. Others are bracing for what may come next. And all of us are watching the headlines and wondering, “When is this going to end?” For many people, the uncertainty is the hardest thing to handle. We still don’t know exactly how we’ll be impacted, how long this will last, or how bad things might get.

The fear of the unknown, termed as anxiety, is the body’s natural response to stress. It is natural to feel anxiety when we face a crisis or a sudden change and the first instinct is to panic. It is a normal to feel the need for safety, certainty and control. When we're overwhelmed by anxiety, we're less able to rise to a challenge, and more often than not we get stuck. Negative thoughts take root in the mind and distort the severity of the situation.

We have to learn to accept anxiety as one of many human emotions. It’s a cry for help. Anxiety can be used as an alert signal to prompt us to adapt. Don't ignore it, or fight it, or be afraid of it. Don't judge yourself for feeling it. Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to be human.

Severe anxiety and stress can result in a complete meltdown and unfortunately, this can cause long-term damage to health and lower the ability to perform optimally.

Let me tell you from my experience of having met hundreds of patients over the last one year - the current pandemic is the hardest battle most of us will ever face in our life. But the upside is, we will only emerge stronger.

Here are some proactive steps which may help tide over

Accept

One way to overcome anxiety is to learn to accept that not every intrusive thought is a legitimate reason to worry. Simply put, not every thought is true. Notice, label, and accept your emotions. When you feel anxious, quietly say to yourself, "OK, there's my anxiety again." Just putting a label on what we feel helps reduce our concern. When we are mindful of such thoughts, they begin to recede from our awareness.

Stay positive

When stressful situations occur, mind wanders in a thousand directions. The more the mind wanders, the more difficult it is to remain calm. Stop yourself from beginning to imagine the worst-case scenario. Instead, let go of negative thoughts and re-focus your mind on something positive, no matter how small.

Never ask “what if?”

This worst question you could ask yourself or others in the middle of a crisis begins with "what if." This line of questioning induces sheer panic and forces you to process situations that have not occurred and may never happen. “What if” questions compound the fear and escalate the problem.

Take care of your body

If you make your personal health a priority, you’ll be better equipped to handle this situation. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep. Exercise lowers the level of stress hormones and helps the body function at its highest level. By improving your health, you’ll increase your self-control, memory and emotional intelligence -- important characteristics that will help you respond well to an emergency.

Disconnect from the situation

Pull away from the situation for a while, even if only for an hour or two. When you give yourself time to process a dilemma and the surrounding emotions, you’ll be able to approach the situation with a fresh perspective.

Call a trusted friend

Use your support system and don’t be afraid to ask help. When you reach out to people you trust and respect, you’ll feel more grounded. That security will help you control your stress and anxiety. As you talk, you may even start to share your thoughts out loud, which might prompt you to discover a new approach or thought process to deal with your anxiety.

Limit caffeine/high sugar drinks

Caffeine and sugary drinks may trigger a release of adrenaline, giving you a quick burst of energy and physical strength, only to be followed by a crash marked by fatigue and irritability in some cases. Instead of reaching for that cup of coffee, soda or an energy drink, hydrate yourself with water and electrolytes.

Redirect your attention

When you notice anxious thoughts, know that you don't have to dwell on them. Direct your attention to things that help you feel calm. Practicing deep breathing can calm you in a difficult moment. It can help you pause and give you time to choose how to react.

Practice Mindfulness

Develop a ritual to meditate during the day. Mindfulness allows you to become aware of the present moment and safely explore stress and worry. By going with what’s happening rather than expending energy to fight it, you create the opportunity to gain insight into what’s driving your concerns. Mindfulness helps you create space around your worries so they don’t consume you.

Overcoming anxiety is about challenging your fears, asking yourself if they’re true, and seeing how & where you can take back control of your life. This takes efforts and practice but once you learn to be composed, sufficiently self-assured and strong enough to move mental mountains, you are poised for success.

The writer is a Chandigarh-based Physician & Diabetologist

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