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'Youngsters are most affected'

By ANITA AIKARA
Last updated on: August 03, 2021 10:47 IST
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'Our adult minds can use logic to understand the consequences, and our responsibilities have enabled us to accept this reality faster.'
'But our little ones still have no clue about what is going on.'

IMAGE: A migrant worker's family waits at a bus station, to board a bus to return to their village, after the Delhi government ordered a six-day lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ghaziabad on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, April 20, 2021.
Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Between multiple lockdowns, endless restrictions, two waves and a third one on the way, the pandemic has wreaked havoc in most of our lives.

Over a year of social distancing has taken a toll on people's mental health, leaving many with a feeling of anxiety, helplessness, fear and uncertainty.

"It has surfaced feelings of fear, uncertainty, loneliness, being stuck and falling ill, making people even more vulnerable to mental illness."

"Depending on the circumstances, more and more people today are experiencing anger, anxiety, boredom, confusion, mental fog, detachment, sadness, isolation and grief due to the crisis."

"Even rates of suicides or suicidal tendencies, self-harm, excessive smoking and alcoholism have increased," Luke Coutinho, co-founder at RESET, a holistic wellness centre located in Mumbai and Bengaluru, tells Anita Aikara/Rediff.com. The first of a multi-part interview:

How has the pandemic affected people's mental health?

Mental wellness is an aspect of health that needed focus and attention and the pandemic has highlighted the need to address it on priority.

Each one of us is facing its impact in some way or the other.

It only got hard for those who were already suffering from a mental condition or were vulnerable to it.

Today, almost 70 per cent of the cases that come to us need healing at an emotional level.

The pandemic has not just affected adults, but teens and kids too. In fact, youngsters are the most affected by it.

Our adult minds can use logic to understand the consequences, and our responsibilities have enabled us to accept this reality faster.

But our little ones still have no clue about what is going on.

The pandemic has surfaced feelings of fear, uncertainty, loneliness, being stuck and falling ill, making people even more vulnerable to mental illness.

Depending on the circumstances, more and more people today are experiencing anger, anxiety, boredom, confusion, mental fog, detachment, sadness, isolation and grief due to the crisis.

Even rates of suicides or suicidal tendencies, self-harm, excessive smoking and alcoholism have increased.

IMAGE: According to Luke Coutino, one must listen to one's body. 'It is always talking to you if you are mindful enough to listen.'
Photograph: Kind courtesy Luke Coutino

Is the pandemic's impact on mental health long-term or short-term?

It can be both, depending on the kind of challenges posed by the pandemic.

While all of us are sailing in the same boat, unfortunately the pandemic has hit some people really hard and brought difficulties like loss of job/unemployment, financial loss, loss of a loved one, immense suffering through sickness, etc.

Such challenges can have a long term impact on one's health, especially if not handled the right way and with the right kind of support.

It could even lead to development of conditions such as depression, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and insomnia.

With the pandemic, too many variables have changed and as much as we would like to believe that everything is going to be normal, the world is going to change, and everything is going to be new for all of us.

There are so many who haven't been able to overcome grief even after a year, and are away from their loved ones in crisis.

This kind of mental anguish can have a long lasting impact on one's health.

If there is another wave expected, how can people prepare themselves mentally?

It all starts with a mindset change and the way we perceive the third wave.

Yes, it is hard, but we got to do it for ourselves, our emotional health, peace, and overall wellness.

Start learning to embrace uncertainty instead of fearing it. Life was always uncertain.

We were anyway not capable of predicting the future, so why now?

Ask yourself, 'How can I peacefully coexist with this uncertainty? What actions can I take now?'

Yes, times are uncertain, but overthinking about it will not just drive you, but the people around you anxious too.

Uncertainty is a huge part of our everyday lives, and it is impossible to eradicate it even after the world fully recovers from the pandemic.

Today, it's the third wave; tomorrow, it could be another pandemic. So, should we continue fearing about what will happen next?

Or choose to do what we can to take care of our relationships, self and health in the hope that we will be taken care of no matter what?

This is also something that we are asking people to think about, in order to charge up their positive outlook.

That is why we are supposed to practice things like mindfulness (that teaches you to live in the present moment), valuing time, health, family and cherishing relationships we have.

A few things one can do to take care of their mental health:

  • Disconnect from the source of anxiety itself. It's good to be informed, but staying glued to news 24x7 isn't the best idea at this point.
  • Move into action. Use your fears to drive you into action, so whether it's making changes to your nutrition, exercise, mental health, sleep, and lifestyle in general.
  • Believe in providence; believe that you will be taken care of.
    Believe that there is a higher power who has your back. This belief system can be cultivated through faith.
  • Pray and cultivate hope. Pray with faith and trust and just surrender to the outcome.
  • Build boundaries -- if you don't build boundaries for yourself, you will allow others to build them for you.
    So whether it's your partner, child, parent, college, or boss, define your boundaries.
    Also, if you are emotionally unavailable to someone, it is okay to let them know.
    You rather take the time to fix, heal, nourish yourself first and then go out there and nourish others.

What is the biggest fear people are faced with during the pandemic?

It is loss of life -- either their own or of a loved one.

While this fear is genuine, one must also understand this fear can be limiting.

It will stop us from living in the present moment and enjoy the time we have on this planet.

I like to look at the fear of dying in a different light, and this is what life has taught me too through my work with terminally ill patients.

There is simplicity in death like there is simplicity in birth.

The bitter truth and realisation we must all come to know is that we are all going to die at some point.

In fact, the process of aging and dying starts from the moment we are born.

Should this truth about death cause us to be pessimistic about life?

That will happen, only if you are resisting the truth and not accepting the reality of death.

Instead, we must change our perception and this simple truth about death, should inspire and motivate us to appreciate life, people, family, friends, our health, loved ones, our planet which is our home, and our fellow human beings.

It should inspire us to live our life to the fullest.

We can't be happy all the time. Ups and downs are a natural and part of life.

But how much time, energy, and attention we give to the downs; the sadness, pain, betrayals, failures, let downs is how much of our precious life, headspace, heart space we are giving to someone, something that serves us no good.

Most people's fear of death is not just dying. It's also the fear of suffering.

The positive point is that a lot of our suffering is invented, it serves no purpose. Since it's created, it can be changed.

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ANITA AIKARA / Rediff.com