New Delhi, one of the busiest cities in the world, with its streets always filled with the hustle and bustle of people, has suddenly hit an eerie silence. Post the announcement of the 21-day lockdown, major roads of Delhi looked no less than a ‘Ghost Town’. While self-isolation is of utmost importance in the battle against COVID-19, one must not overlook the uncertainty it has brought on the entire country. While we all have this panic in common, those living away from home, are the worst hit.
People who had migrated to different cities or countries for further education or to earn a living, are now constrained to the four walls of their houses, all alone. Under normal circumstances, when one had to leave for classes or office in the morning and maybe catch up with a friend in the evening, this wouldn’t be such a bad thing. However, the current scenario can be an extremely daunting experience, particularly if you have no one to share it with.
In addition to the fear we all have about supplies running out, the lockdown getting extended or falling sick, these individuals have the added burden of the uncertainty regarding when they will be able to go home or questions such as ‘who will take care of me if I fall sick.’ With the absence of the voices of children playing in the streets or cars honking, this sort of arrangement can bring upon a horrifying silence for these people. When the closest you get to human contact is the occasional voices in the corridor or the smiles you exchange with your neighbours from balconies, experiencing anxiety is not uncommon. In fact, research has suggested that loneliness is related to poor health outcomes, such as increased risk of high blood pressure (Hawkley, Thisted, Masi & Cacioppo, 2010) as well as depression and suicide (Grover et al., 2018).
This extended period of social distancing, coupled with the never ending uncertainty is sure to impact our mental health. To cope better during this situation, particularly if you’re living away from home, taking small steps can also be beneficial.
1. Connect with your loved ones; virtually ofcourse: While we all engage in ‘social distancing’, we all must remember that it doesn’t necessarily need to be so ‘anti-social’. This is a great time for one to simply reconnect with friends and family. You can utilize the power of the internet now more so than ever, whether it is video calling your loved ones, playing the once loved board games online or joining an online support network, connecting virtually during these times can be an extremely helpful way to curb loneliness, particularly when you live alone and don’t have flatmates or family members around. For those living away from their partners, scheduling dinner dates over facetime or watching a movie together on Netflix party can be exciting ideas.
2. Maintain a routine: It’s hard to wake up at 7:00 am and trade your sweatpants for a pair of jeans on a Sunday right? Now imagine how hard it is to do the same when a 21 day lockdown means weekend everyday. Exactly! While it is understandable that having a planned schedule during these times is difficult, one must remember that without one, so much free time may actually adversely affect you. To combat this, it is a good idea to come up with a rough plan for the day that will keep you occupied and not let you get trapped in a vicious cycle of negative thoughts. The schedule should not only focus on aspects of work, it must also include leisure activities like playing a game online, baking a cake, or learning a new skill. Taking the time and playing dress up can also be helpful in elevating your mood.
3. Don’t be too hard on yourself: As a Counselling Psychologist, I have had clients, particularly during this period, ruminate over the guilt about not being productive, while their friends have covered an entire 30 minute workout on their latest instagram post even before they have woken up. “I don’t have a routine”, “I wake up so late”, “I waste my time watching Netflix”, these statements have popped up numerous times in client’s narratives. If you feel the same way, just remember, there is no right way to feel at the moment. None of us have had a safety drill on ‘how to deal with a pandemic’. A trick that usually helps is to measure productivity in terms of the tasks done instead of counting the number of hours you put it or what time you started your day. Rewarding yourself for small things like a grocery run or checking up on a friend can also be seen as a productive use of your time. Moreover, don’t feel pressured to chase the ‘Positivity Bandwagon’. Being pressured to have a positive outlook even when things are bad, or worse so, when the whole world is fighting a pandemic, can do more harm than good.
4. Give yourself a break: Checking the latest update on the number of Coronavirus cases with one eye open, while we are barely awake, seems to be the new ‘normal’ for most of us. While it is good to be updated on the happenings of the world, it is important to keep the information overload in check. With your whatsapp buzzing all day with multiple messages about ‘newly discovered’ cure for the virus, or the inshorts app giving you timely updates about the situation, ignoring the endless news about this situation does seem sort of impossible. However, it is necessary to engage in that digital detox. One strategy is to set apart certain times during the day to read the news. Try not to get caught in the cycle of whatsapp forwards and be sure to verify everything that you read online. Pause for 2 minutes every now and then during the day and check in with yourself. Practicing mindfulness, taking a few deep breaths or simply trying on that face mask you always wanted, is a good way to unwind and relax. Self-care during this period is crucial.
5. It’s okay to talk: The question ‘When will I get to go home’, the concern about your family, the stress of the new work from home routine, or just being constrained in an apartment all alone, are all factors that can cause one to feel particularly overwhelmed. If you ever find yourself feeling this way or nearing a breakdown, you must always remember that you always have the option to seek help. Talking to a mental health professional during these times can be a good way to put things in perspective. Also, it might give you the assurance that you are not alone in this, and there are others experiencing the same. Reach out if you think you need additional help. Remember, it is okay to talk! While this is a difficult period for all and nothing can compensate for the physical presence of your loved one, finding ways to reach out and offer support can make a huge difference.
1. Hawkley, L., Thisted, R., Masi, C., & Cacioppo, J. (2010). Loneliness predicts increased blood pressure: 5-year cross-lagged analyses in middle-aged and older adults. Psychology And Aging, 25(1), 132-141.
2. Grover, S., Avasthi, A., Sahoo, S., Lakdawala, B., Dan, A., & Nebhinani, N. et al. (2018). Relationship of loneliness and social connectedness with depression in elderly: A multicentric study under the aegis of Indian Association for Geriatric Mental Health. Journal Of Geriatric Mental Health, 5(2), 99. doi: 10.4103/jgmh.jgmh_26_18