The global Covid-19 pandemic has not only incurred immense challenges to the health systems and economies of the world but also affected the overall well-being of individuals. The pandemic has led to lockdowns, panic buying, hoarding of grocery and consumable items, increased anxiety related to health and physical distancing/isolation. Children have lost their routine of going to school, studying and socialising. Parents face a difficult task of not only dealing with their own stress but also providing a structure for their children.
The fear of contracting disease or a loved one falling ill is an expected psychological function of the human mind, but at times psychological fear of the disease creates more angst than the disease itself. While some levels of fear or stress are helpful in maintaining precautions and health seeking behaviours, insurmountable anxiety can be counterproductive. Social distancing behaviours, which are completely unnatural to humans, are adding to mental distress, especially in the local context where gatherings with friends and families is a primary source of entertainment in majority family setups.
Moreover, the nature of the virus as “novel” can generate exaggerated fear responses, as opposed to a health condition that most individuals will be familiar with, such as dengue and influenza.
Covid-19 is unfamiliar and unknown and hence the immense trepidation associated with it. In the quest to know more, the general public also succumbs to rumours and false information available in abundance on the internet and then circulated through social media. This dread is not only limited to adults but is also passed onto children who can react with increased irritability, fearfulness, insomnia, oppositional behaviour and somatic complaints. Social communication can be more supportive by avoiding discussions related to Covid-19 on social forums and not indulging in mass forwarding of social media messages.
Adults and children can also mentally strengthen themselves by following a routine and a sleep-wake schedule as an unstructured day will result in boredom and stress; by remembering that physical distancing is for the greater good and staying connected with friends and family online. One can even practise hobbies one doesn’t get time for in their usual routine. Eating healthy meals with the family and exercising daily, practising spirituality/religion and completing tasks also gives a sense of achievement. One should also limit access to coverage of Covid-19 and prefer authentic institution-based communique, focus on positive news and reassure yourself and others that the change is not permanent and can help us learn about what is really important in life.
Additionally, become a role model for your children to create a support system for them. Talking to children about Covid-19 honestly in accordance to their developmental level and providing reliable reading material for older adolescents is a good start. Understand your child’s anxiety and don’t force a long conversation while allowing them to ask questions. Focus on the positive news but mention the protective measures they can take while reassuring them. Introduce leisure time with your children to engage in activities of interest (sports within the home, art, music, gardening, cooking, board games, etc.) and practise relaxation techniques with them (mindful breathing, music, etc).
The world is going through a state of massive fear and uncertainty. But in every chaos, hope is a unique human attribute which can make each passing day a little more tolerable. As has been rightly said by Celine Dion, “Life imposes things on you that you can’t control, but you still have the choice of how you’re going to live through this.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2020.
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