The thought of businesses, malls, schools etc. being shut down globally would probably have been unfathomable a mere four months back. Yet, we find ourselves living this precarious reality where uncertainty is abundant. In just a matter of a few weeks, with the outbreak of COVID-19, daily life had to be changed dramatically.
Uncertainty revolving around the COVID-19 outbreak ranges from existential worries about the increasing mortality rate of the disease globally to the fear of contracting it yourself. The feeling of uncertainty is often associated with a perception of lack of control over one’s life and can make one feel quite helpless about the present, as well as the future.
Though we may not always be able to avoid these reactions, it is natural to experience them. These reactions can sometimes be unhelpful and even counterproductive as we try to adapt ourselves to this uncertain situation. Certain unhelpful exaggerated and irrational thought patterns are the hallmark of stress, and sometimes, even depression and anxiety. These thoughts lead us to perceive reality inaccurately, and in most instances, in a negative manner, while realistic thoughts tend to be more objective and make us feel calm and in control of the situation.
Thus, whenever you are feeling afraid or overwhelmed, you can deal with it by bringing to your awareness, the following:
- what is under your control (e.g., eating well, exercising, maintaining hygiene); what is under your influence (e.g., spreading verified information/messages); and what is not under your control and influence (e.g., other people’s decisions and health, the government’s actions, the news, state of the healthcare system);
- checking if you are unnecessarily worrying about only the worst things that can happen rather than what’s most likely to happen;
- the manner in which you managed an equally stressful situation in the past; and
- things you can do to help yourself and to be positive.
Here are some examples to help you get an idea of what unhelpful thoughts may be, the reason why they are unhelpful, and what kind of helpful thoughts they may be replaced with.
|Unhelpful Thoughts||Reason||Alternative Thoughts|
|I will definitely not get COVID-19 as I am a healthy individual.||This minimizes the threat posed by the pandemic to oneself and also, is indicative of narcissistic defences wherein one believes themselves to be superior to others.||I am as fallible to the disease as anyone else is. However, by following proper protocol regarding sanitation and social distancing, I can reduce my chances of contracting it.|
|4421 people contracted COVID-19 hence I will definitely contract COVID-19.||This concludes/predicts a negative outcome by generalizing a fact.||There is a possibility of me contracting COVID-19 if I am not cautious with the guidelines.|
|There is danger everywhere and whatever I do is inadequate||This blows the reality out of proportion and shrinks the importance of one’s efforts inappropriately.||To ensure minimum danger to myself, I can follow the recommendations of the scientists who know more about the virus than I do.|
|The world is headed towards its doom with the death of so many people.||This catastrophizes the situation and is a result of magnifying the negatives, combined with an expectation for something disastrous to occur.||There are many people who have succumbed to the virus, and many who have recovered from it. While the death toll remains at a high, experts are trying their best to control the situation.|
|He/she is a doctor treating patients of COVID-19 and therefore, carries the virus home. I must not allow him/her to live in the apartment next to me even if I have to force them to move out violently.||This is a combination of labelling someone and jumping to conclusions without adequate background information. While, in this scenario, it is good to take precautionary measures, discrimination based on inadequate information is not ideal.||While his/her profession as a doctor keeps him/her in close quarters with COVID-19 patients, it also means that he/she knows enough about the disease to know what measures he/she should take to contain the virus outbreak. For my own safety, I can ensure that he/she takes the required steps to maintain sanitation and it would be better to maintain social distance from him/her.|
|I am so bored at home. If I go out for a quick walk, nothing will happen to me.||This minimizes the importance of the advice given and the steps taken by local and global authorities. Also, it opens up the path to rationalize other behaviours such as going for long walks to far off places, going out in groups, and so on.||Even a quick walk puts me in danger of contracting the virus, especially at a time when the government has mandated quarantine and a lockdown. Therefore, I shall go out only when needed and not out of boredom.|
|What if I lose access to the essential services in the lockdown?
What if I run out of my groceries in the lockdown?
|Worrying about something is a natural reaction. It ends up being unhelpful when the worry includes ‘what-if’ thoughts as it puts emphasis on the future instead of the present.||I do have access to the required essential services now even if I run out of the groceries I can repurchase them.|
|I fear for my loved ones, hence they must be in danger.||This can be unhelpful as it is based on the emotions experienced which aren’t as reliable.||I worry about my loved ones, but they’re safe as they’re following the protocols.|
Other things you may do:
- Acknowledge and express your distress,
- Remember to unwind,
- Distract yourself in a healthy manner,
- Take care of yourself,
- Manage your anxiety,
- Connect with significant others,
- Browse and share information from reliable sources, and
- Reach out to mental health helplines if any negative emotions persist.
You may find more information on how to manage panic and anxiety around COVID-19, here: Managing panic and anxiety around COVID-19.
Being a global pandemic, the COVID-19 outbreak brings home the reality that “We are in the same boat.” While this reality is harsh, it also brings a sense of unity. Therefore, in these times, kindness to others and kindness to oneself comes to the fore. To do so, developing actions, feelings, and thoughts conducive to dealing with the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic become an essential service to own self and to the people around.
You can always connect to iCALL to reach out and seek help. Our details are as follows:
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Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (2020). Minding our minds during the COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/MindingourmindsduringCoronaeditedat.pdf on 6/04/2020.
World Health Organisation (2020). Coronavirus. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_1 on 6/04/2020.
The Wellness Society (2020). Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook. Retrieved from https://thewellnesssociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Coronavirus-Anxiety-Workbook.pdf on 6/04/2020.