Safety, closeness, and comfort are at the very core of humankind, of being human. Our brains are not wired in any other way, the reason why happiness is indefinable. Over ages, human beings have adapted and evolved to endure, to shield themselves and stay safe. And therefore, like anything else, it takes practice to nurture happiness that is persistent, happiness that is unending. But, during any point in his life, when a man is put outside his comfort zone, hurled into an arrangement alien to him, he inclines towards having a breakdown, he panics, he reacts undesirably towards the situation.
This is a narrative of my life, days that have been serene, days that have followed a routine over the last few decades. Getting up in the morning at a certain time, nourishing myself with a healthy breakfast spread, sending off my child to school and then heading to the office and partaking in the numerous actions lined up for the day. Each day, every day has been the same, repetitive, productive, and opportune.
Although life was a hard teacher, it was a big adventure!
Although life was a crazy ride, it was a beautiful journey!
For a lot of you who are reading this article, you will relate to what I am recounting here. I have claustrophobia and although I have a big house with bay windows that circulate fresh air, my mind is not at ease, my body is not at rest. Over the last few months, even as the coronavirus pandemic has developed into an unstoppable force questioning mankind's very existence and the economy's, our world's survival, our lives have come to a halt, so sudden, everything in the path has been chaotic. Timetables have become anarchic, emotions are in a turmoil, sentiments have been clashing and overall, our minds have become the nucleus for mayhem and unrest. Earlier, in each moment, I would choose which side I had to embrace and that affected my mind, my body, my soul positively, my present and my future, the person I wanted to become, and for the loved ones in my life. Today, the case is no more.
As humans, we love certainty, the conviction that tomorrow morning when we awaken, our lives will pursue the same track we have been abiding by for eons. But, here has come a contagion so widespread that our status quo has been rapidly unraveled reaping catastrophic consequences on our physical well-being and mental health. Ambiguous predictions, impending severe scarcities of basic resources, unforeseen decisions taxing man's most significant roti, kapda aur makaan maxim, imposition of never seen before public health measures that are trespassing our personal freedoms and growing financial losses are contributing to massive and widespread emotional distress.
I am depressed? No. I am anxious? Yes.
I feel like breaking down? No. I feel like sobbing? Yes!
Not just for doctors, nurses, medical professionals, essentials delivery agents operating valiantly on the frontlines of this battleground, but also for folks working from home, navigating unchartered territories, isolated from co-workers, friends and family, the abrupt assault on our mental health has been tremendous.
Our minds are plagued with a constant barrage of thoughts all the time. It's in human nature to overthink situations that have ensued, rehash conversations we've had yesterday, anticipate every decision we have made or have to make and virtually envision disastrous outcomes and conjure tragic images. Imagine when four people are living under the same roof with so much going through their minds, will the situation be intelligible? Amidst the pandemic that is unfolding outside, our minds currently resemble a movie, a rollercoaster joyride!
Then again, a volley of questions raids my mind. When will I be able to go out, back into the world? Will I be the same person ever again?
I am a people person, I like to socialize, meet friends, connect with family members and simply paint the town red. But, right now, these are challenges that stop me in my path. How can I shake hands with my contemporaries? How can I hug my best friend? How can I sit with my dearest aunt and share a cup of coffee? What were once social traditions, have become a profanity for our very existence.
Will I feel love like I used to? I am sure a lot of you will share the emotions I am recognizing right now.
I have had swine flu 3 years back and the phase was daunting and excruciating to say the least. My lungs today are significantly weaker than yours. It took me a long time to convalesce and get over the influenza pandemic. Today, as the world weighs down under the Coronavirus epidemic, the COVID 19 disease is probably 4 times deadlier than anything man has witnessed before. Can you imagine my worry? Can you imagine the constant apprehension cruising through my mind right now?
I am writing this article because I am sure a lot of share the same emotions as I do.
There's a powerful reason why world-renowned scientists and psychologists have studied the human brain for eons. Our brains are conditioned to function under a certain set of rules that bind us. A routine, a habit. We react differently under different circumstances. How do you react when you head out for a function? How do you feel when attending a memorial? What are your reactions when you come back home after a long day at work? What emotions do you experience when your child who you haven't since you woke up comes back from school? How do you feel when reprimanded by your boss at work? You responded differently to each one of my questions, didn't you?
Your home is your fortress of solitude, your bastion for relaxation and recreation. Whilst your office is your sanctuary of hard work, the forefront of your toil. What happens when your home turns into your place of work? Your mind gets inundated with chores and errands and office work and deadlines, doesn't it?
The moment the delicate line between your office and home distorts, mental issues surface. When the couch you watched your favorite show on becomes your workstation, you tend to stop appreciating the minute aspects of your life. The joy of seeing your wife at home after the grueling hours at the office or the contentment with which your daughter would wait for you to return or the errands that your father would have lined up for you when you got back. Anything, when it becomes monotonous and constant, it lashes out as repulsion.
So, how do we resolve this?
Here's what we can do to protect the most vulnerable. Intervene. Comprehensive, multifaceted intervention. Make yourself available to talk of someone's fears, answer questions, no matter how laughable they are and reassure them that this, like everything else, will end soon. Getting correct news on time, knowing that daily needs will be met when required and understanding that people are rapidly resolving the coronavirus enigma can minimize stress to a large extent. Afterall, good crisis management is in itself good mental health management, right?
As an individual here is what you should do. Take care of yourself. The news is bursting with false stories and hogwash; stop fixating! Prioritize what matters to you and stick to a routine that works for you. Panic and awareness differ by a thread. With panic, comes a fire that destroys everything on its path. With awareness, comes accountability, respect for how large the problem really is and the susceptibility of what needs to be done. Most importantly, stay connected. Thanks to technology, talking to our loved ones is a simple click of a button.
No matter which part of the world you are right now, take the walk you used to take every evening. Take up that hobby that has been on your bucket list forever. Master the craft, the art that you have been wishing to study since you can remember. Take up the classical music course you used to watch your mother learn from behind the folds of the curtains. Dance, dance to your heart's content to your favorite tunes. So, what the world has come to a standstill, your life hasn't right? Mark my words, as long as you maintain social distance and stay within obligatory boundaries, getting infected with the COVID-19 virus is not possible.
Why should mental health be an afterthought of a pandemic? It has taken us years merely to start talking about mental health accountability. This time let's talk, talk hard, and act in the right direction. Yes, our mental health system is deeply flawed and enormously shorthanded. This time let's get our act together and change that.
As a proud advocate of mental health wellbeing, here are my final thoughts. Never feel humiliated of talking to someone about your psychological health, more so in being vulnerable and feeling unnerved. Its only human to feel defenseless and ineffective. Right now, no response is the correct response and contextualizing and corroborating our emotions is essential to reducing fear and protecting our mental health. Yes, do sympathize with those whose lives are being endangered, but also ensure that you show yourself compassion and empathy as we lose control over every aspect of our lives. The ability to assert control over our lives, make rational plans and decisions, rests in our hands, is a pivotal element of man's very existence. But, to lose control to fear, bewilderment and perplexity is also in our very hands. The choice is yours to make - an integral sense of stability and permanence or the insignificance of chaos and pandemonium?
[Somdutta Singh is an entrepreneur and former vice-chairperson of NASSCOM Product Council. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of International Business Times, India]