Like with many of you, I too have to report to work every day. Amidst a phased lockdown we are trying to grapple with the new normal. The question in everybody’s mind is: ‘How safe am I? ’What doesn’t make it easier are the multiple messages we end up receiving everyday on various social media sites. Most headlines scream COVID and death (even the Bachchan’s have not escaped this).
It is but natural to feel fear and stressful. Like most species, humans too are programed to react in the face of danger for survival. You see our ancestors had to fight off dangerous animals while gathering food or seeking shelter. Also called as our evolutionary brain (the limbic system) takes over, flooding the brain with various neurotransmitters so that the body gets ready to either fight the danger or flee from it. You might have heard about people gaining sudden surge of strength to save themselves or lift up trucks to save their trapped child.
Even though, we do not have lions and tigers to fight, the limbic system gets activated as soon as it perceives danger. These neurotransmitters and hormones are great as long as the threat is real. But otherwise imagine being flooded with neurotransmitters that activate your heart rate, digestive juices and alertness. What will happen to your body when it is not being utilised for purpose of survival? Over time you end up damaging your gut with ulcers, coronary diseases/hypertension and being on edge.
This is what we call, in psychology, the effects of stress. The stress of COVID-19 is not any different. So it won’t be surprising if you might be feeling on edge over COVID and end up only accessing negative information.
A little anxiety is good for you, it keeps you alert to potential danger, but (there is a big but here), if the anxiety is unfounded, then your bodily reactions could put you in greater harm’s way. So instead of protecting yourself, you are putting yourself at risk.
You see, we are very lucky to be dealing with a pandemic in today’s day and age. There is such advancement in technology and science that we are able to know more about this virus than ever before. There are strict guidelines that ensure you of your protection.
• Wash your hands as often as possible and sanitise when you cannot wash your hands. Ensure that your mouth and nose are covered while interacting with others especially when you are having a chat. (Don’t look at it as disrespectful) and never think it is okay to drop the mask below your mouth in public. The saliva which is not visible to the naked eye contains the virus and may enter your nose, mouth or eyes.
• Keep safe distance. A minimum of six feet when talking, shopping, travelling or whatever could be the reason you have left the house.
• Minimise social interactions and stay at home as much as possible.
• Make it a habit to touch your face only after washing your hands. Remember your eyes are potential recipients of the virus so in public places where spectacles. Sanitise them when you get home.
• Cover your body, especially your hair when going shopping. This way you can wash your clothes with soap and not worry about washing your hair every day.
• Exercise to build immunity. Do it open spaces/sanitised environments and alone or with family members.
• Keep your body well nourished and eat food that will boost your immunity.
• Get enough sleep.
One of the biggest suppressers of our immunity is stress. And this is the irony about your worry of COVID. The more you worry about it the higher your chances of getting affected by it. Worry stops us from seeing things as they are.
What you need now is a calm mind, stay positive and minimise stress.
You need to find ways to flood your body with positive neurotransmitters and replace the negative ones.
Positive hormones are released when we exercise, pursue a hobby, meditate or play with our pets. Other great immune boosters are empathy, altruism and gratitude. Be part of a community that cares rather than rejects. These are special times and you need special measures. Find ways to support those who are either directly affected by the virus like the COVID patients or indirectly affected like the doctors, nurses, hospital staff, all type of services, older people and just about anybody. We have the miracle of the internet and there are many ways through which we could make people feel loved and cared for. A phone call, some aid or anything will help.
Pandemics have been part of human civilisation for centuries. The Spanish flu is a classic example. But we are amongst the luckiest because science has advanced and we have some amazing technology that is helping us through these times.
Be hopeful not hopeless. Your chance of survival will be greater. (Writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and the HOD of psychology at Carmel College for Women)