“While we’re surrounded by the grim reaper on the roads, in hospitals, in fast food joints, dating apps, and cigarette boxes, why’re we freaking out about the ‘Rona?” asks psychotherapist Omar Tauseef. He breaks down our anxiety and gives us strategies he’s successfully helped people with.
We’ve all seen those movies where zombie are taking over the world, or Thanos is snapping us to dust. And then a handful of heroes save the day, celebrations break out in control rooms, people cheer and hug.
This COVID-19 isn’t turning up like those movies. As the number of cases and fatalities increase globally, the level of anxiety is increasing. I will attempt to convince you that this too shall pass, and what you can do till then. My reflections on this topic are based on hundreds of hours of therapy sessions I’ve conducted over the past few weeks, and what has helped people through this tough time.
NUMBERS MAKE SENSE IN RELATION TO OTHER NUMBERS
While we’re surrounded by the grim reaper on the roads, in hospitals, in fast food joints, dating apps, and cigarette boxes, why’re we freaking out about the ‘Rona? More than 15 million people died globally from heart related diseases in 2016. Diabetes took away 1.6 million lives; cancer, 8.9 million, diarrheal diseases, 1.4 million. Road traffic deaths in 2016: 1.35 million.
Collectively, smoking, alcohol and illicit drug use kills 11.8 million people each year, which comes to around 30,000 people dying each day though we don’t see cover stories titled: ’30,000 perish today from substance abuse’. Let alone your putting down that smoke or drink RIGHT NOW.
AVOID SELECTIVE ATTENTION
In this age of an information overload our attention is selective, narrow and immediate. Remember how a few months ago the Amazon was burning, the AQI was hitting the ceiling, the glaciers were melting, ground water running out and the bushfires were raging? It seemed like the world was ending right that month, and we were all doomed.
For every panic there eventually is a return to normalcy
Understand history – there have been, and will always be crises: big, small, national or pandemic. It is true that most of us have never faced a pandemic before, but our ancestors have. And we all being alive today is a testament to our ability to bounce back from even the most devastating crises. For every panic there eventually is a return to normalcy.
Imagine a huge set back you faced 10 years ago – that doesn’t look that big any longer, right? This one won’t either in the near future. Soon, this crisis may be over and be replaced with a new one: guaranteed.
KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
Ask yourself: Am I assuming something bad will happen based on my anxiety or the reality of the virus?
When we are stressed it is easy to see things worse than they actually are. While it is completely normal for people to experience anxiety when they feel that their health is under threat, it is important to keep it at a manageable level. Ask yourself: Am I assuming something bad will happen based on my anxiety or the reality of the virus?
Notice how we’re attending to the figure of the people who have sadly died from the virus than those hundreds of thousands who recovered. Don’t overestimate how bad the consequences will be. The worst hit Chinese cities like Wuhan and Hubei are now returning to normal. So will we.
IT IS OUTSIDE YOUR CONTROL
Worrying about a problem incessantly is not going to fix the issue. It is important to focus on small things you can do as an ordinary citizen and keep yourself safe. Otherwise, everything we do in our daily lives like driving a car, climbing up stairs, sleeping at night etc. carries a risk.
Don’t focus on what isn’t in your control. Let the scientists do their job
Even in the pre-Corona times, we took that gamble every day to be on the roads and flying on a plane. We surrender to what is not in our control. If you wear your seat belt, be alert and follow the traffic rules, chances are you’ll be fine. Similarly, follow the health advisories being made by public health officials and international bodies. Let the scientists do their job. If they saved us from HIV, TB, Small Pox, Measles and the like, they will save us from this too.
ENJOY THE SILVER LINING
My experience, and that of a number of my colleagues, in the past few weeks has been that a large majority of our clients are actually doing quite well. This observation was strange at first. How are people faring well in such a catastrophic time? But it seems like this forced slowing down has a silver lining. People are doing things they hadn’t done in years. Families are coming together and playing games, walking, biking, talking and watching TV together. Spouses are seeing each other for all meals of the day for the first time. Children are reconnecting with parents and vice versa.
This forced slowing down has a silver lining. People are doing things they hadn’t done in years
Obviously these may be individuals coming from a certain privilege who haven’t been impacted financially. But even those who have lost jobs, are finding themselves enjoying the quiet, peace and connection this time is bringing them. They assure me, “this will pass”. Even the most despairing of my clients seem deeply reflective, and wondering what needs to change moving forward.
TURN DOWN THE VOLUME
People tend to talk about what is wrong rather than what is going right. See The World Health Organization information advisory or another reliable source of information once a day for what you need to do, or not do, and switch off all unnecessary noise from your social media.
TAKE REASONABLE PRECAUTIONS
Being proactive can keep your anxiety at bay because our brain needs to know that it has a plan than knowing what exactly it is. The World Health Organization recommends the following: wash your hands frequently; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; stay at home if you begin to feel unwell until you fully recover; and seek medical care early if you have a fever, cough or experience breathing difficulties. They didn’t recommend worrying or panicking.
This isn’t easy on you, so be nice to yourself. Things you may consider doing can include maintaining good social connections and communicating openly, doing activities and hobbies you enjoy, keeping up a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting quality sleep and avoiding the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs to cope with stress. Practicing meditation and mindfulness will also give your body a chance to settle and readjust to a calm state.
FACE YOUR EXISTENTIAL DREAD
Our mind tries to fit facts to what we already know from our past experience. The mind is also wary of whatever is unknown and unchartered. Obviously a novel virus with an undiscovered cure is meant to make us feel threatened.
Obviously a novel virus with an undiscovered cure is meant to make us feel threatened
Crises like these bring to the surface our inherent fragility amidst an unpredictable world. It is very important to remind yourself at such times that the medical, scientific and public health experts around the world are working hard to contain the virus, treat those affected and develop a vaccine as quickly as possible. We’ll make it!
LEND A HAND
When we’re unable to help ourselves, it helps to help someone else
Sometimes when we’re unable to help ourselves and fall into despair, it helps to help someone else. Remember the privilege you may have. Look for ways to take care of someone less fortunate than you. Being too interested in someone’s chandeliers wastes valuable time that you could spend helping someone in need.
THE SUMMER OF LOVE
Right after wars, depressions and calamities there’s a counter force that energises people. That’s just around the corner
As it has happened in history before, right after wars, depressions and calamities there’s a counter force that energises people. That’s just around the corner. This time it’ll be global, and it’ll change the world as it exists today. Wait for it, the change is already in the air wherever the lockdowns are being lifted. The economies may also bounce back. How are you planning to cash that in? Plan now!
“Every adversity carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit” – Napoleon Hill
Growth and change are usually uncomfortable processes. But once over, they leave behind something more valuable. In the wake of every major crisis our technology, systems and relationships change. We hope that this pandemic will bring us closer together and change some of the fundamental ways we live. This too shall pass! Till then as Rilke’s advised, “Have patience with everything unresolved and try to love the questions themselves.”