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Avoid fear, stress and anxiety during the pandemic

Mental health in the time of COVID-19

What is a pandemic other than a vicious outbreak of a disease that kills mercilessly and indiscriminately? Is it a mirror that reflects the mistakes and the greed with which we live? Is it an opportunity for a new beginning? Or is it a reminder of how delicate life is, something which we easily forget until we cross paths with death? History has it that it’s a little bit of everything.

Every time our world has been hit by a pandemic, societies have capsized and lifestyles have changed. It has made us rethink life and death; re-evaluate our priorities and what’s important to us; and reimagine health in a whole new way.

Other than being a threat to life, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is a breeding ground for mental and psychological issues. It doesn’t come as a surprise because when you have death roaming the streets, fear, stress, depression is what you get. But for a community that shies away from talking about mental health—mostly due to the stigma and at times due to the lack of knowledge—how do we deal with these pressing psychological issues?

Much like everyone else, I too have been affected by this pandemic. Not infected but affected due to the stress, the fear, the anxiety brought along by the wave of the virus.  Usually an optimist, for the first time I felt like I was living a nightmare. The fear of contracting the virus, the endless worrying for my family and friends, and living in isolation for weeks that could easily turn into months—the nightmare seemed long and neverending.

Bottling up our fears and negative thoughts is something we all do, and so did I. Finding myself unable to focus on a job I love, I figured I must be getting lazy. But what finally made me sit up and take notice were the sudden shivers, weakness, pounding heart, and stomach ailments. They came unannounced just like the pandemic. It was only after consulting the doctor, I found it was anxiety crippling me one day at a time.

An anxiety disorder is not an intermittent feeling like event-based anxiety before an exam. This disorder stems from the bitter emotions you can’t control, which keep on growing if left unchecked. Anxiety and any mental issue for that matter can be treated by proper medication and supervision. But more than a doctor, you need awareness, acknowledgment, and knowledge to rise above the anxiety and stress, the offspring of the pandemic.

Here are some of the aspects I learned about mental health that helped me take control of my emotions and anxiety and made me calmer and stronger.

It can happen to anyone

Mental illness can happen to anyone—a simple yet powerful fact that I had heard about but never paid much attention to. Most of us are unaware of the most common mental health disorders such as anxiety, and believe that such mental and psychological concerns are rare and only “happen to others”. This is the biggest myth of all. According to a WHO report, 1 in 4 people in the world will be affected by a mental disorder at some point in their lives.

When you know you are not alone, the stigma around mental issues begins to disappear. Even our beloved celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Chris Evans, Sophie Turner, and Prince Harry recently opened up about their struggles with mental illness—further emphasising on the fact that it can happen to anyone.

There are always signs

Much like any illness, even mental and psychological disorders have visible signs and symptoms, which we usually overlook or prefer not to discuss. Unlike diabetes or cancer, there are no tests to accurately diagnose mental illnesses, and at times reading and understanding their symptoms aren’t easy. But the easiest way to identify these warning signs is to learn and stay informed about them. Among the most common indicators—sleeplessness, overthinking, over-eating, not eating at all, profusely sweating when nervous, unexplained behavioural changes could all direct to a mental or a psychological disease that can be treated when detected timely.

Sharing your feelings helps

During the ongoing crisis, one thing I discovered that can curb stress and anxiety is the power of human connection. While I assumed I was the only one getting anxious, worried, and scared, a candid conversation with a friend made me realise otherwise. She too was going through something similar and sharing my challenges gave me new perspectives. When you share your feelings and talk to someone you trust—a friend, family member, or an expert—you feel instantly better.

Much like any illness, even mental and psychological disorders have visible signs and symptoms, which we usually overlook or prefer not to discuss.

Our everyday activities can make us or break us

Staying informed, especially amidst the global crisis we are all in today is imperative. But the seemingly harmless activity of surfing the internet for latest developments or falling for the fake news being circulated on social media can severely impact your mental health. Controlling these activities shows immediate positive effects. I for one, have felt less anxious and stressed after controlling my social media consumption.

I used the extra hours to meditate, exercise, eat healthy food to calm my nerves and overpower my anxiety. Taking care of your mind and body, like a mother who cares for her child, is the way to defeat your demons.

Self-care, self-love, and introspection are important

Each time I read about mental health on the internet, I come across articles that emphasise on the importance of self-care, self-appreciation, and spending time knowing yourself better. This self-reflection not only helps us deal with our repressed emotions better, but it also gives us insights on what works best for our mental health. For instance, now I know after a lot of introspection that listing down my stressors on a piece of paper helps me deal with them better.

Talk about mental health ‘the new normal’

While all the information about mental health may have existed for decades, real conversations have rarely happened. We have always feared the topic or neglected it, but now is the perfect opportunity to talk about this invisible enemy and how to defeat it. This is the only way we can prevent the rise of the mental illness pandemic.

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