This too shall pass

Picture credits: Pure Source Recruitment

I know I am not the only one who has been hit psychologically by the pandemic especially the second wave in India. I also know well enough that there are people who are going through the worst time of their lives. Either their own lives are in danger or the lives of their loved ones. People who are not getting infected with the COVID-19 virus are surely getting infected with anxiety or depression. Psychological disturbance during the pandemic in itself a big deal because it paralyses you and actually makes you sick.

If you open Google search and start typing ‘how to deal with anxiety‘, you will find infinite amount of information. Some will suggest you to exercise meditation (mindfulness meditation or simply deep breathing exercises), some will suggest to take care of your body by exercising and consuming a healthy diet. Journalling will also come up, I am sure. These are all evidence based suggestions and people suffering from anxiety these days can introduce them in their daily routine. While the above mentioned suggestions are helpful in easing anxiety levels I am quite sure you, me and everyone is wondering:

WHEN IT IS GOING TO END?

Quite honestly, it’s a difficult question with answers people will not enjoy listening to. Based on my limited knowledge, I believe the pandemic is going to go away when approximately 70-80% of the world’s population is vaccinated. Until then, the waves are going to come and go and come and go….In spite of that, we should not forget how far we have come. Thanks to science and those scientists who managed to come up with vaccines so soon.

Everyone wants the pandemic to end. While pondering upon this thought I was reminded of a Persian adage:THIS TOO SHALL PASS.” Yes, it will pass. The pandemic will pass. Human lives are going to get back to normality. We are going to have days when we don’t have to wear masks and maintain social distancing (physical distancing not emotional distancing). Obviously, we are not going to forget these times. They are going to stay with us as long as we are alive. But remember, THIS TOO SHALL PASS….

THIS TOO SHALL PASS is another way of thinking that nothing in life stays forever. Buddhism revolves around the idea of impermanence: everything is transitory and nothing is permanent. Whatever it is- your feelings, moments, lives , it’s changing all the time.

  • People who are with you right now are not going to be there till eternity.
  • You are not going to be there forever either.
  • Your circumstances are going to change and they won’t remain constant.
  • Your feelings are going to get replaced with other feelings (good for bad and bad for good).

In the same way, this pandemic is not going to stay forever because it shall pass. We may feel right now that this black cloud is going nowhere. But it will pass. It, too, shall pass. Trust me, the lesson of impermanence hasn’t been digested by me completely. I am still learning. But I am glad I have started walking down this path.

We are going through some of the most difficult times right now. Stay wise and please act wisely.

A deadly second wave is here. Make sure you take care of your Mental health too.

Picture credits: NDTV.com

On April 18, 2021 India had a record number of cases and deaths: 2.75 lakhs and 1,620 respectively. It’s something very very serious. People are standing in long queues to get themselves tested for the infection. Healthcare system has collapsed completely that not enough beds and oxygen cylinders are available for COVID-19 patients. People are dying. What could be more worse than that?

While the second wave in India is affecting our physiology we should not forget that it’s also taking a huge toll on our mental health as well. Everyone is stressed. Some wise minds have fear too of contracting the virus. People are very much worried. Quite honestly, stress, fear and worry during these unprecedented times is very common. When situations arise unexpectedly and there is uncertainty around us it’s ordinary to lose grip over our mental well-being. What’s important to know is that we should not let ourselves not prioritise our psychological well-being. While the pandemic is not under our control (although we could have been more careful since the beginning) what’s under our control is how we keep ourselves and our families safe. Moreover, taking good care of our mental health is also under our control.

The worst part is that the pandemic may subside (hard to be exact which year) but the way it’s deteriorating people’s mental health is very concerning. “I don’t think this is going to go back to baseline anytime soon,” says clinical psychologist Luana Marques, at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. Luana Marques is constantly monitoring the mental-health impacts of the crisis in US populations and elsewhere. According to a survey conducted by US Census Bureau it was found that more than 42% of people reported having symptoms of anxiety or depression in December 2020. The number has increased significantly from 11% between January-June 2019. The times are difficult and alarming. Things aren’t very rosy in India as well. The second wave is so deadly that many people (including me) are facing anxiety on a regular basis.

An important question comes up: how to preserve our mental health?

  1. Make time for the activities you enjoy: Some people like to write while others enjoy cooking, reading, watching movies & tv series, etc. Everyone has different activities they enjoy engaging in. Find out what interests you and make time each day for it. It helps take the mind off the pandemic situation.
  2. Talk to people (virtually): The pandemic has made us all feel isolated and lonely. We are unable to meet our friends and relatives. Thanks to technology we have an alternative (although not a permanent one). Talk to your loved ones- call them, Skype them, whatever’s possible. Talk about what you’re feeling. Listen to what they have to say.
  3. Meditate and exercise: It cannot be stressed enough that meditation improves not just our physical health but mental health as well. People who meditate have stronger neural connections which allows for more synchronised communication. Meditating for 5-10 minutes in a day is enough if you’re a beginner. Exercise also have many benefits and make sure you add it to your daily routine.
  4. Eat healthy food: While it is common to gorge on unhealthy food items during times like these, we should not forget to take a healthy and balanced diet. Reduce carbohydrates and sugar in your diet. Add healthy fats. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. There are evidences from scientific studies that diet does play an important role in regulating our mood.
  5. Prioritise your sleep: We often lose our sleep during crises. Having trouble falling asleep or having nightmares becomes common. Make sure to go to bed at a fixed time. Keep your bedroom quiet, dark with a temperature that is not too hot or too cold. Don’t consume caffeine or alchohol before bedtime.
  6. Don’t forget to take breaks from news stories: Consuming news stories constantly all day can definitely create a lot of stress. That is why it’s crucial to take occasional breaks from news stories (on television, social media, etc). It’s fine to keep yourself updated but that shouldn’t mean you let it affect you psychologically. Set a time and frequency for watching the news updates. By doing that you will protect yourself from the stressors.

Can we use ‘disgust’ to combat COVID-19?

Picture credits: The Brink

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV-2) which causes COVID-19 has completely changed the course of our lives. We are already experiencing the social and economic implications. What’s notable is that such implications are going to unfold more in the coming years. Evolutionary scientists are paying attention to many evolutionary insights that can help us better understand the pandemic and how it can be tackled. One such evolutionary insight is the use of ‘disgust’ emotion. 

Surprised? Confused? I mean what could possibly a single emotion called disgust help us craft solutions to the problems related to the pandemic. I believe it can. Evolutionary psychologists believe it can.

In recent years a great deal of psychological research has been conducted to study the emotion called disgust. Psychologists have found that disgust influences our social, political and moral judgements. People who are easily disgusted have different opinions in social, political and moral domains than people who are not so easily disgusted in their everyday lives. Evolutionary scientists propose that disgust is a ‘social protective system’ and tells a lot about how it continued to be a part of our evolutionary past. Disgust is a part of:

  1. Food psychology
  2. Sexual psychology 
  3. Physical contact psychology

When it comes to food psychology, the emotion protects us from ingesting food items that are rotten and full of toxins & pathogens. It had been helping our ancestors and it is helping us as well. When it comes to sexual psychology, disgust helps us to not get involved sexually with people (e.g. family members). Finally being a part of physical contact psychology, disgust makes sure we do not get in physical contact with surfaces displaying unknown bodily fluids, microbial infestation and people having some sort of visible infection.

When disgusting things are visible to the naked eye it is quite easy to stay away from them. For an example, if some food item is rotten and yet it is resting in our refrigerator we will immediately get rid of it because of the bad appearance and foul smell. However, that is not the case during the pandemic. A virus is not visible to a naked eye. And approximately 80% of the population stay asymptomatic while transmitting the virus at the same time. So when our closed relatives, friends and colleagues look perfectly well (even though they might be infected) we believe they are all well because a disgusting pathogen like SARS-CoV-2 is beyond our visibility. 

Psychologists believe we can use disgust to tackle the situation. But how? By showing images of people who are sick due to COVID-19 or images of the pathogen sitting on surfaces. This might trigger our ancient disgust system and people might start practicing physical distancing and and they might start wearing masks. It may sound unethical because it can be traumatic for some people. So it should be done with proper care. 

(This blog is inspired by one of the arguments presented in a paper titled “The pandemic exposes human nature: 10 evolutionary insights”).

The worst virus you could possibly get infected with

Picture credits: thespiritscience.net

Let me start by asking a very simple question: “What do you think is a virus?”

Let me help you a bit. A virus is an ‘infective’ agent that is ‘too small’ to be seen by light microscopy and multiplies only within living cells of a host.

Coronavirus disease is caused by one of the types of coronaviruses. So, yes it is a virus. What I have been seeing lately is that people are not only getting infected with corona-virus but also a virus of illogical beliefs and unscientific ideas. It is infectious, no doubt. It passes from one person to another and then throughout communities. It is so small that you cannot look at a person and say he/she is suffering from this virus. Their qualifications and living standards might trick you into believing that they are sane people when actually they are very dumb.

I see many people not wearing masks. I see people not following social distancing. And I also know many people who are travelling as if there never was any COVID-19 pandemic. Do I feel angry at them? Of course I do. I get very frustrated. But more than frustration I feel sorry for them. I feel sorry because they are suffering from such a deadly virus of stupid beliefs and they do not even know about it. What’s even more saddening is that so many of them are qualified, smart and good people. But the pandemic has brought about their true colors. The stoics were wise enough to know how such a kind of virus is so deadly and lethal. Marcus Aurelius, a famous stoic around 2,000 years ago said very aptly during the Antonine Plague, “An infected mind is a far more dangerous pestilence than any plague. One only threatens your life; the other destroys your character.” I do not mean to sound judgemental and rude but I am getting a very fine idea about people’s characters these days.

Research has shown that wearing masks actually reduces the spread of virus to a greater extent. Yet people do not do it. Why is it that people do not want to wear masks? Why are they so hesitant and arrogant enough to put their and other people’s lives in danger by not wearing masks? As it turns out there are many reasons to it.

People do not like it whenever they are told what to do. It is simply a human psychology. So, when they are asked to wear face masks they start believing their freedom has been snatched away from them and so they act out and do the opposite. “People value their freedoms. They may become distressed or indignant or morally outraged when people are trying to encroach on their freedoms.” said Steven Taylor, a clinical psychologist at University British Columbia and an author of a book “The Psychology of Pandemics”.

Everyone is exposed to different kind of information and the kind of information they have always been exposed to determine their ability to perceive anything. In this case, everyone’s risk perception towards COVID-19 varies a lot. And it decides if people are going to wear masks or not. Also, a direct experience with the virus will also shape your ability to wear a mask. People who had/have contracted the virus and suffered because of it will be much more careful than the ones who didn’t get an infection.

It is also common among people to believe that wearing masks make them look weak in front of others. So to compensate for that people do not wear masks at all. They do not want others to think of them as ‘scared beings’.

It is not easy to change human psychology especially during these uncertain and difficult times. A belief about anything cannot be changed in a moment. So, if people are infected with close-mindedness, they are impervious to reason and scientific evidences then the job becomes really hard.

We still need to try. As I said, the job is not easy but we have to try. We should and we must. Telling people blatantly to wear masks might not be the best way to make them wear one. Julia Marcus, an epidemiologist and professor at Harvard wrote an article on males who wouldn’t wear masks with a marked lack of shaming. After that many men got in touch with her and opened their minds to listen to her views. We can try changing people’s beliefs about things if we show some empathy towards them. Also, there is a need to make things less confusing- leaders, famous and successful people should set up good examples. If these people are not going to wear masks themselves and follow social distancing then it will definitely get very confusing for others to figure out what should be done.

How are you dealing with the pandemic while you’re home?

Picture credits: Private School Review

It’s been more than 8 months now since the whole world has been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is causing deaths of many people on a daily basis. It has economic implications too because of which GDP of the countries are suffering, people are losing their jobs, etc. Above all these issues the pandemic is taking a surprising toll on people’s psychological well-being. According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in late June 2020, 40% of the adults in the US reported struggling with mental health crisis or substance use. According to a study conducted at University of Oxford, researchers found that anxiety, depression and insomnia are the leading mental health issues recovered patients from COVID-19 are dealing with. They further found that 1 in every 5 recovered patients from COVID-19 reported having a first time diagnosis of anxiety, depression or insomnia.

The times are hard. Staying home most of the time and not been able to meet our closed ones including friends, family members and colleagues can be very challenging. Therefore, it is more important than ever that we keep ourselves psychologically fit. It is not easy working at home. It is not easy studying online for months. Overall, it is not easy to accept these new realities. But we humans are very resilient and there are some things we can do every single day to ensure our good mental health.

1. Build a routine
Picture credits: charlesstone.com

Having a routine is the most important thing right now. By building a routine we allow ourselves to have some structure during the day. Routine helps us remain focused and not get distracted by the unimportant things. Rachel Goldman, who is a psychologist and clinical assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine says, “When people don’t have a routine or structure to their day it can cause increased stress and anxiety, as well as overwhelming feelings, lack of concentration, and focus.” Having a routine does not mean we should have a very strict schedule. The rationale behind a routine is to give a structure to our day so that we have some sense of control over it. Furthermore, routine is more than crossing off our to-do lists. There should be sufficient time for self-care as well. When people have a regular routine their stress levels are low, they are much more productive and are able to form good daily habits. In the end what matters is that we follow a routine that works best for us and not forget that everything takes time.

2. Moderately consume the news
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We are living in the 21st century where gathering information is not a problem anymore unlike older times when information was still scarce. The real challenge is to eliminate what is not important and relevant and consume what needs to be consumed. We all suffer from information overloading. This is why it is more important than ever that we consume information moderately especially the news related to the pandemic. We do not realize it but news affects us unconsciously and the negative affect it has on us comes out in form of our behaviors. Just the way excessive sugar is toxic for our bodies,’ news is toxic too. We do not feel any changes taking place in our bodies so we keep on consuming news mindlessly without realizing that it is harming our minds. There is so much the media is feeding us 24*7 and it is not relevant at all.

3. Eat healthy food items and exercise regularly
Picture credits: Archana’s Kitchen

Keeping healthy eating habits and exercising regularly can definitely keep us both physically and psychologically fit. So many people are complaining gaining weight as their routine has been completely disrupted. Guess what? Whatever routine you are having is a new reality and you might as well adjust to that. According to a report published by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on 27th March, 2020 good nutrition becomes very crucial before, during and after an infection. While eating healthy food does not prevent anyone from contracting the virus it becomes important in supporting a strong immune system. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, eating nuts and whole grain foods, avoiding too much sugar, fats and salt, drinking plenty of water can be among the first steps towards a healthy diet. We are supposed to move our body parts and they work better if we remain physically active. Some research suggests that elevated levels of aerobic activity (exercise that significantly raises our heart rates) may be associated with greater reductions in depressive symptoms.

4. Connect with people
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The pandemic has changed how we interact and connect with people. Fortunately, we have technology because of which we are able to know about the well-being of our loved ones even if they are thousands of miles away from us. It is important that we understand social distancing is physical distancing and not emotional distancing. Since we should be physically distant during these times in order to avoid the spread of the virus we should keep in mind to stay connected with each other. Call your friends from time to time. Call your family members from time to time. Keep a close check on them even if it is virtually. Ask them about their activities, jobs, studies, etc. Keep them in a loop so that they do not feel isolated. A key finding in one of the latest studies was that time spent consistently with the family members was related to better mental health. People spending more time with parents and siblings face to face or via video/messaging was related to less loneliness and less depression. So, don’t forget to connect with people on a regular basis.

5. Get a good night’s sleep
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Sleep is something which should never be compromised with especially when times are stressful. An adult human body requires 7-8 hours of an uninterrupted sleep. Sadly, people sacrifice their sleep because they wrongly perceive it as a luxury. Sleep is not a luxury. It is a necessity just like the air we breathe in. No matter how stressed you are for whatever reasons make sure you get a good night sleep every single day. Sleep empowers an effective immune system and heightens our brain functions. It further enhances our mood. Try to remember the time when you didn’t get enough sleep at night and you were all cranky the whole day. Make sure you sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Avoid your screen time at least 1 hour before going to bed. Prioritize your sleep and you are prioritizing your life.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting our very important need right now

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It is August 2020. A year before, it was August 2019. Not very complicated to comprehend, right? But I am pretty sure that the current situation we are in right now was 100% beyond the comprehension of a human mind, exactly a year before.

Yet, here we are.

It was March 11, 2020, when the WHO (World Health Organization) declared that the novel corona-virus (COVID-19) is a global pandemic. It was no more an epidemic or an outbreak because over the past two weeks China saw its number of cases increasing 13 times while the number of countries with cases increased 3 times. The pandemic is not only a health emergency; it’s also a social and economic emergency. Due to the non- pharmaceutical interventions like social distancing people are getting affected to a greater extent due to a sense of isolation. Economies aren’t doing that well- in the month of August UK declared that its economy has suffered its biggest slump in a period of 11 years due to the corona-virus lock down between April and June. The economy of the UK shrank 20.4% in relation to first 3 months of the year 2020. One of the most badly affected industries is Travel and tourism industry.

Times are such that everyone wants to go out and rejuvenate themselves by taking a vacation. Paradoxically that’s the exact thing we can’t do right now. The COVID-19 is jeopardizing our very important need right now.

Want to but Can’t

Every single human being who is alive right now and trying to survive the current times is struggling in his/her unique ways. Everyone wants to take a break. Everyone wants to be able to go outside without bothering about the likelihood of getting infected with the virus. Everyone wants to be able to eliminate the physical distance between us. Everyone wants to be able to take a vacation without giving it a second thought. But it is not possible especially if we want to come alive out of the pandemic, especially if we want to refrain ourselves from worsening the situation. People working from home are dealing with their own kind of struggles- there doesn’t seem to be any fixed working hours. Companies are thinking that since people are at home doing nothing much should be made to work as much as possible. Mental health problems are on the rise. All the healthcare and front line workers are suffering with varied psychological issues including increased anxiety, depressive symptoms, insomnia, etc. It would not be wrong to assert that everyone wants to fulfill a very important need i.e. a vacation to escape from all the stress. Unfortunately, we can’t. As much as we want to we cannot and we shouldn’t. The pandemic is taking a toll on all of us.

Now what?

Nature doesn’t like complying with our conveniences. In life, there are things that we control and the things that we don’t. The pandemic is something which we can’t go back in time and change. It’s here now and its effect on every aspect of our lives is also here. So, there is no point in cribbing about it. It’s out of our hands. But what we do control is how wisely we are responding to the situation by following the guidelines provided by authentic sources and people.

It is true we can’t book a ticket and land on any part of any country (due to health reasons and travel restrictions) in order to rejuvenate ourselves. The methods have now changed, at least for a while. But that shouldn’t mean we can’t have a sense of adventure. We can. All we need is a little shift in our perception.

  1. Make little things count

While all of our big plans are on hold we should be perceptive enough to focus on little things. Being grateful of every little event that is happening every single day can help us seek our own sense of adventure. Call a friend. Ask how he or she is. Go down the memory lane while talking. Revisit all the good memories. Will it be bad enough to call it a little adventure?

2. Take occasional breaks at home only

It is quite plausible to get bored of staying at home most of the time. So, take a break. Promise yourself to work 5 or 6 days a week and give yourself a break for the whole day. Don’t do anything that involves work. Just give yourself some ‘me time’ (I know it sounds easier than done but with practice we can surely get better).

3. Do something you’ve been delaying for a long time

It is not wise and smart to let your brain be completely free because that gives birth to a whole set of new problems. That is why it is advisable to keep ourselves busy (and I don’t mean too busy). So, figure out something you have been delaying for quite a long time and do it (if it can be done at home). That just might compensate for that vacation you had planned.

We, humans, are a lot more resilient than we think. We know how to survive the worst of the situations. We are already surviving the current situation. A lot has been put on hold but it is not permanent. Everything is transitory.