Keeping it together: Coping with the third wave of Covid
Once again, fear is taking over the emotions of many Sri Lankan citizens with the concerning talks of a third wave. With the number of cases nearing almost 2,000 a day, it is no surprise that many have resorted to panicking as anxiety runs wild. The third wave of Covid brought back the now-familiar sense of fear and anxiety.
Interestingly enough, this time around we are seeing two almost extreme reactions to the pandemic and our health and safety.
In public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety. But as new measures and impacts are introduced – especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines, or livelihoods – levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour are also expected to rise.
Young adults have experienced a number of pandemic-related consequences, such as closures of universities and loss of income, that may contribute to poor mental health. Prior to the pandemic, young adults were already at high risk of poor mental health and substance use disorder, though many did not receive treatment, the situation is seemingly only getting worse.
Job loss – another factor of risk due to Covid – is associated with increased depression, anxiety, distress, and low self-esteem, and may lead to higher rates of substance use disorder and suicide. During the pandemic, adults in households with job loss or lower incomes report higher rates of symptoms of mental illness than those without job or income loss.
Research during the pandemic points to concerns around poor mental health and wellbeing for children and their parents, particularly mothers, as many are experiencing challenges with school closures and lack of childcare. Many essential workers also continue to face a number of challenges, including a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus than other workers, which again sows emotions of fear and anxiety.
Impact of Covid on the mind
Speaking to psychologist Kartini Booso on how the incoming third wave could affect people mentally, she commented that in her observations, people seem to be struggling at differing levels with adopting the changes required as per the health guidelines. “For some of us, this third wave is scarier than ever; given that it is spreading at a faster rate, and the perceived protective bubble that we had due to being of younger age has now burst.” This time around, more people personally know individuals who have tested positive, and who are under quarantine and treatment, which obviously will result in mental strain.
Unfortunately, Booso observed, there are also individuals who are resisting the health guidelines more than ever; having “survived” two waves of Covid thus far, and also the process of adjusting and readjusting to a number of “new normals” over the past year has had a toll on most people’s psyche and attitude towards Covid.
These people have a sense of perceived invulnerability to Covid, which leads to them disregarding health guidelines. The problem with such a misconception is that their carelessness and disregard of guidelines is what could potentially cause the virus to spread further, putting thousands of other lives in danger.
Humans can be inherently selfish creatures, but during a global pandemic, such as Covid-19, it is more important than ever to band together and follow the respective rules and regulations to ensure both one’s personal safety and the safety of others.
Coping with the sense of uncertainty
There is a sense of uncertainty on so many accounts, stated Booso. “Questions such as ‘will there be a lockdown?’, ‘will we get vaccinated?’, ‘will vaccination help me?’, ‘will my work be affected?’, etc. arise. These questions, to the human mind, are experienced as a threat. This perception of threat and the feeling that we don’t have the resources we need to cope with this threat, translates to stress and anxiety for humans at a neurological level.”
Booso added that these feelings of fear, anxiety, and frustration are normal during this time. It is acceptable and expected that you may feel drained of energy as a result of these high levels of stress as well.
When asked for advice on how one may cope with such feelings, Booso commented that coping with uncertainty is not easy; but not impossible. She advises the general public that filling their routine with small habits or practices that increase their overall sense of well-being is very important.
Giving us some options on what we can do to alleviate these emotions, she commented: “A good routine can create a sense of control over your situation which can be very positive. Fitting in some form of exercise routine can bring a rush of endorphins that is very helpful with coping. Making time to connect digitally with your friends, family, and loved ones in a socially distanced manner can also be helpful.
“Starting new habits like keeping a gratitude journal, gardening, mindfulness, reading, etc. will not only help your wellbeing during this period of uncertainty but are also sustainable long-term habits that will help you in the long run.”
She further stated that there are many online sessions happening at the moment on practices like mindfulness-based meditation, yoga, and many more practices that can be very helpful in helping you kickstart these habits.
Concluding, she reassured the citizens of the country to remember, just because there are so many variables out of our control, does not mean that there is nothing within control. “Make the changes you can to bring the sense of routine and predictability you can to your life, whilst keeping safe.”