Full disclosure : I used to be a hypochondriac who also feared doctors, white coats, needles, blood, hospitals, syringes, pills, medicines, tests. I would do anything to keep from falling ill and when I WAS ill, I’d downplay it and do anything to not go to a doctor. I realised it’s stupid, I am now aware, that our bodies are like vehicles that need servicing, a bit of lubrication every now and then, repairing, polishing, cleaning, good quality fuel and when the time comes parts replacement. And an older vehicle requires more upkeep than a newer one.
I’ve lived through many epidemics in the past, mostly reading about them in the newspapers.
- 2009 flu pandemic in India.
- 2009 Gujarat hepatitis outbreak.
- 2014 Odisha jaundice outbreak.
- 2015 Indian swine flu outbreak.
- 2018 Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala
But never have I experienced the mass hysteria currently spurring people around the world to engage in panic bomb-shelter style stocking up of supplies, devouring news coverage, forwarding coronavirus related WhatsApp messages left right and centre, stealing hand sanitizers and face masks and fretting about every sneeze being a fatal illness.
I haven’t succumbed yet to full Covid-19 anxiety but I did just buy one extra bottle of hand wash and two extra rolls of toilet paper. And the thought did cross my mind – should I stock up on non perishable food items?
I have read and watched my fair share of dystopic end of the world stuff including zombie apocalyptic tales. But this is anxiety at another level in a very short period of time too. I suddenly find myself worrying about the safety and well being of my friends and loved ones. At times, I’ve felt fearful and anxious too.
It doesn’t help that we are dealing with something that’s unfamiliar and has a lot of medical uncertainties. I’m also worried if there will be enough help and resources accessible to get well, monetarily and otherwise.
Covid-19 distress has reached such levels that the World Health Organization on Tuesday issued guidelines for protecting mental health during the outbreak. “Avoid watching, reading or listening to news that cause you to feel anxious or distressed; seek information mainly to take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and loved ones,” it advised. “Seek information updates at specific times during the day once or twice. The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried.”
Some anxiety is clearly warranted, especially if it pushes people to take precautions against contracting or spreading the novel coronavirus. On Wednesday, the WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic, health care systems in some countries are being pushed to the breaking point, and the Indian healthcare system could also be overwhelmed, with shortages of hospital beds and ventilators. Covid-19 is more transmissible than seasonal flu and also more deadly, with a fatality rate that appears to be 20 to 30 times higher. And unlike flu, no one has any immunity against this coronavirus from either previous exposure or vaccination.
What am I doing to feel less anxious?
“ trying and keeping it in perspective”
Instead of reading every article and going to every website, I’m staying away from the web and it’s probably a good idea if you’re concerned. You can get a lot of bad information and anecdotal reports that have nothing to do with what’s likely happening to you or anyone else. I’m pursuing constructive activities instead of hyper-focusing on the thing that I’m suddenly worried about.
Other things that are helping me are following the usual structure of my day. Including exercise as much as I can, a combination of strength training, cardio, yoga, mindful meditation and deep breathing exercises. When we are exercising, we have a physiological response that combats anxiety. Social connection also helps. I do things with people I know that are not centered around virus conversations — doing something I usually do, that I enjoy, like going for a walk or bike inside our community is a really good way to not focus on the anxiety. I’m also spending a lot of time planning and preparing nourishing meals and upping my intake of Vitamin C. I’m reading Hoda Kotb’s current NY Times Bestseller ‘I Really Needed This Today’ and listening to a lot of relaxing, blissful ‘Pure Yoga’, ‘Pure Meditation’ music playlists on Apple Music while sipping on copious amounts of herbal green teas. I also catch up on a light hearted comedy on Netflix for half an hour in the evening. If I can’t find anything – I watch an episode of ‘Friends’ – always funny. I’ve been drawing, sketching and painting too and that really is the best form of meditation and anti-anxiety therapy for me. If you don’t draw or paint, I suggest you pick up one of the many adult colouring books. Truly meditative and relaxing!
Stay safe everyone – this too shall pass!