ANKARA: Long weeks of social isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic have sown uncertainty about the future and left many people anxious, and could fuel longer-term problems, according to psychologists.
“Uncertainty is one of the biggest challenges people face these days. We find it very difficult to deal with uncertainty, because it’s a feeling of being unsafe,” Burcu Aksongur, a psychologist with a private practice in Turkey's capital Ankara, told Anadolu Agency.
“What will happen tomorrow? When will this process end? Will I get sick? Will anything happen to my loved ones?” said Aksongur, ticking off some of the questions the long lockdown has left burning in many people’s minds.
Higher levels of stress may cause sleep disorders, anxiety, torpor, distress, and anger, and in the face of this we must try to inspire ourselves and our environment, Aksongur said.
Urging people to try to avoid negative feelings, she added: “We have to remember that this will pass. It would also be good to do more activities that make us feel better.”
To spur better feelings, she recommended people try such activities as breathing exercises, relaxing, talking to loved ones, praying, learning something new, thinking hopefully about the future, and sharing our troubles if we cannot cope with them ourselves.
We all have different features of our personality, she explained, such as values, coping skills, and flexibility, which determine how we perceive and treat incidents such as the pandemic.
“There are people who are negatively affected, as well as those who can focus on their individual development with an awareness that can produce positive results,” she said.
"There are also those who strengthen their family structures, and adapt themselves by staying alone,” she said.
“Those who are younger than 20 or older than 65 felt the biggest challenge in this situation since they were away from their social environment,” she added, referring to the tighter restrictions in Turkey on those age groups.
"While children and teens were looking for their friends, elderly people missed spending time with their children and grandchildren,” Aksongur said.
Changes in behavior after pandemic
Aksongur said even after the pandemic has faded, people may change their behavior and habits.
“I think that the desire to come together and participate in collective activities will continue,” she said.
People still crave “meetings with friends, trips, sports activities, family visits, going to the movies and plays, concerts, cafes, restaurants, hotels, holiday resorts” and the like, she said.
“We may observe changes in all of them in the future. But my opinion is that we will tend to continue to maintain our habits,” she added
There will be more of a focus on personal hygiene, Aksongur said, but warned that people with obsessive-compulsive disorders and those with cleaning obsessions may worsen.
Adapting to new world may take time
As the lockdown forced people to stay indoors to stem the spread of Covid-19, social distancing has meant many of us have been unable to see or feel the touch of our loved ones, said Duygu Rotsinger, an Istanbul-born psychologist currently based in St. Andrews, Scotland.
While trying to adapt ourselves to changing routines, we also try to ensure our emotional well-being, she explained.
“In this process, the uncertainty and loss of the feeling of control can lead to an increase in anxiety, panic, and depression,” she said, adding those feelings especially hit hard people who are fighting off the virus or who lost loved ones to it.
She stressed that anxiety and depression can pave the way for sleeping and eating disorders, chronic unhappiness and pessimism, lack of concentration, and outbursts of anger.
Underlining that humans are social beings with a strong ability to adapt, she said those who have not faced trauma and lack a tendency to depression or anxiety will have an easier time adapting to the state of things once life returns to normal.
Warning that the adaptation process may take time for some, she said the traumatic times that people go through will determine their adaptation process.
"It may take time to return to normal for people who faced economic losses, who lost their family members, or struggled with the virus during the isolation process,” she added.
She also stressed that the process could trigger an increase in obsession among people, especially those who had obsessive tendencies before the pandemic.
When everything returns to normal, we could continue to see the effects of social distance and cleaning obsessions, she added.