COVID-19: The Mental Health Guide For All

Mental health practitioners are here to help combat the various issues we are collectively dealing with during the pandemic.

Prachi Sibal

The second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic has pushed the country into its worst-ever health crisis. As citizens scramble for beds, life-saving drugs and medical oxygen, the collective grief and isolation has left us all disturbed and anxious. Varkha Chulani, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, Lilavati Hospital and Asees Kaur Chadha, psychotherapist and founder, Soul Therapy, detail ways in which we can help ourselves.  

1. For those who have been tested COVID-19 positive

Asees Chadha: For Covid-19 patients, the main concern is the risk of spreading the virus to others, especially if you stay with your family. The isolation, on the other hand, becomes more pronounced if you stay alone. It is a feeling of being shut in that leads to agitation after a prolonged spell of staying in. Normally, I suggest deep breathing as a coping technique, but that isn’t advisable when you have COVID. This disease comes with a lot of contradictions. Here’s what can help you cope:

  • Realise the importance of reaching out to friends and family.
  • Understand that people in your family and close circles are going through the same stress.
  • Give journaling a try. It gives you clarity and helps you process your emotions.
  • It’s important to focus on what’s in your control and not what isn’t.
  • Making your peace with what you can and cannot do can be calming.
  • Take the time out to do something creative. Look back at what has worked for you in the past.
  • Maintain a routine. I would not recommend physical activity.
  • I cannot stress on the importance of meditation enough.
  • Keep off an information overload.
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Varkha Chulani: A large part of the difficulty is the attitude here. With the fear and the paranoia created in our minds due to constantly being bombarded with news updates, the fear of death has set in and the imagery is that of us gasping for breath. In such a scenario, it becomes extremely difficult to calm a person down. An anxious mind cannot be a sensible mind. However, here are some ways to ward off this fear:

  • Look at the practical aspects. Monitor your oxygen saturation.
  • Check if you can do household things.
  • Practice emotional muscle building by understanding the probabilistic measure and not looking for guarantees.
  • Get off social media.
  • Distract yourself from anything to do with COVID. Not talking about it also helps.
  • Keep yourself immersed and engaged in an activity that has nothing to do with the illness. Keep your isolation productive.

2. For those who are caregivers

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Asees Chadha: Sometimes caregivers end up suffering from more stress and anxiety than the patient themselves. 

  • It is important to take some time out for yourself. As not worrying may not be an option when it involves a loved one.
  • Don’t jump the gun and imagine the worst.
  • Take it one day at a time.
  • Physical activity helps with endorphin release, better sleep, and appetite. It may not be high intensity, just stretches can help too.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation technique can be useful.
  • If you are stressing about something, meditate for three minutes and then go back to it. You will feel the difference.

Varkha Chulani:  One has to manage oneself as much as they manage the other person. It is important to take care of yourself and be mindful of the fact that you may not be infected. You can’t be foolhardy but you can’t be stressed all the time. 

  • Take adequate precautions like double masking.
  • Manage your own health and vitamins.
  • The mental toll is the result of poor thinking. Don’t allow the mind to get the better of you.
  • Immerse yourself in something significant like writing, or other creative outlets.

3. For those who are living alone

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Asees Chadha: Living alone is not ideal for anyone in this situation. It depends on how mentally and emotionally healthy you are to begin with. Being away from family at this time can cause considerable distress. Your concern for loved ones takes over and you imagine the worst. A sense of helplessness often sets in. However, there are certain things that can help you cope. 

  • Reaching out to people is paramount.
  • Having a certain structure for the day really helps.
  • Get enough sleep. Not getting eight hours of sleep can leave you agitated the next day.
  • Take simple healthy steps every day. Sleep well and keep yourself hydrated.
  • Return to an old hobby.
  • If binge-watching helps you, go ahead and do that.
  • Keeping your mind engaged is important.
  • Try a yoga or meditation class.
  • Take one day at a time.

Varkha Chulani: Use your mental faculties and don’t allow the mind to get the better of you. Following a routine, consistent day-to-day activities can keep you in good stead. 

  • Use media sensibly, limit bad news and cancel out the noise.
  • Focus on things that bring some semblance of sanity.
  • Engage with people, have Zoom calls, write long letters to people who matter to you.

4. For everyone who is working from home

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Asees Chadha: When people started working from home last year, everyone was happy in the short term. However, now, people are ready to go back. A lot of people receive solace in their workplace. Most clients and friends I speak to, in 9 to 5 jobs, say their workload has increased manifold with WFH. You tend to take more breaks in an office and sometimes the commute can be therapeutic too. Here’s what can help:

  • You need to keep yourself engaged but not with more work.
  • Having a routine is important but don’t try to fit your old routine into WFH. It may not work. The new normal calls for a new routine.
  • For those who are introverts, social interaction is extremely important.
  • It helps to keep a record of your feelings so you can break them down logically later.
  • Surround yourself with positive stimuli.

Varkha Chulani:

  • Follow some sense of regularity like having meals on time.
  • Maintaining a routine really helps. Consistent day-to-day activities are important.
Photo: Shutterstock

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