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On 24 March 2020, India's Prime Minister announced a nationwide lockdown for 21 days to fight the spread of the 2019-20 coronavirus infection. This, naturally, turned many of our lives upside down.

While we continue to deal with the logistics and ensure we’re taking all the precautions recommended by health officials, mental health can often take a backseat in such situations.

There is a massive uptick in feelings of anxiety. Many of us have never been this stressed before. And some of us, who already had mental issues before this lockdown, don’t have access to our regular outlets.

So how can we take care of our mental health in the time of COVID-19? In a webinar, on 31 March 2020, Dr Samir Parikh, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, addressed this question in detail. Here are his top tips:

  1. How do I deal with being under lockdown?
  2. Acceptance doesn’t come easy; how should I go about it?
  3. Anxiety and coronavirus infection both cause breathing difficulty. How can I tell them apart?
  4. How should I deal with being away from family?
  5. How to efficiently work from home during this time?
  6. What should one do if they have an addiction?
  7. My kids have become stubborn. What should I do?
  8. What are the symptoms of panic disorder?
  9. The economic situation is so scary right now. How should I remain calm about it?
  10. What can I do to help my friends? Is there a therapy I can learn?
  11. Why is working from home more stressful?
  12. How to stay happy? There is so much bad news
  13. Therapists are so expensive. What should I do?
  14. What to do immediately when you’re panicking?
  15. How to not fight with my spouse during the lockdown?
  16. How should one deal with the stigma attached to mental issues?
  17. Is there any specific food for better mental health?
  18. How should one go about taking a major decision at this time?
  19. Reading the scriptures, eating sattvic food - do these help?
  20. What is the difference between depression and feeling low?
  21. Do you recommend medicines for how we’re feeling during the pandemic?
  22. What should we do if someone is self-medicating with sedatives?
  23. What can be done about the increase in domestic violence?
  24. Doctors for How to protect your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic
  25. 7 steps to beat the fatigue of virtual meetings

The key is to accept it and not try to fight it. Don’t let yourself believe that you’re immune. Follow the instructions and stay at home. We used to have no work-life balance, no time to spend with our families before this and it used to cause us so much stress and unhappiness. Now suddenly we have time and we don’t know what to do with it. We’re facing withdrawal from our previous situation. Be positive, connect with your family and stay in touch with others through social media.

Read more: 10 safe ways to engage socially while maintaining a healthy distance

When we talk about acceptance, it means to accept the worry, uncertainty and change in lifestyle. That’ll help you adapt to the situation. Don’t accept in a way that you don’t do anything to keep yourself safe - you have to still remain on guard.

Read more: Hygiene and social distancing while buying groceries and other essentials

The novel coronavirus infection doesn’t come only with breathlessness. There are many other symptoms like cough, fever, gastrointestinal issues, etc. Acute breathing issues induced by anxiety will go away by themselves. Restlessness, sleep problems may also accompany anxiety. If you’re still doubtful, call a doctor. You can even try telemedicine - it is very popular and widespread right now. 

If you live in a different city, it’s the same as when we didn’t have the virus threat. The only difference is that you can’t travel to see them, which if you’re in a job, you couldn’t have done at the drop of a hat anyway. So do what you did before - stay in touch with your family and talk to your friends when you feel alone. Send jokes, forwards - stay connected. 

The best tip is to have a routine. It is extremely important to stick to your routine daily to maintain productivity. Getting dressed in your work clothes also helps. It’s all about the conditioning of the brain - your mind might not feel ready for work if you’re still in your home clothes.

Read more: Tips on how to work from home during a lockdown

Use this as an opportunity to give it up. Whether it’s substance abuse like alcoholism or smoking addiction or a gaming addiction - this time can be used to remove the temptation and give it up completely. Keep yourself hydrated, pick up healthy activities. Talk to a doctor in case of extreme withdrawal symptoms, like nausea, physical distress, tremors, etc.

Read more: How to give up smoking

 

Kids can’t go out to play and they can’t meet their friends - they’re all having a really tough time. If they have creative interests, encourage them to pursue those. Get them to speak with their friends on the phone or online. You can read with them or play board games as a family activity. Keep them occupied as much as you can. And don’t worry about them watching too much television right now - let them do what they want. Movies, TV shows, it’s all okay. Just don’t push them too much right now.

Read more: COVID-19 prevention tips for parents with young children

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder in which you have frequent panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden episode of extreme panic. Each episode would last for an average time of 45 minutes. The symptoms can be sweating, shaking, choking, dizziness, increased heart rate, giddiness, nausea, gastrointestinal symptoms, etc. Panic attacks can be unprovoked as well. In panic disorder, your mind starts anticipating the next attack and you start trying to avoid triggers - like being in a certain physical space, certain people, etc.

The honest answer is that we don’t know what’s going to happen - there is a lot of uncertainty right now. We don’t know what will happen but what’s important to know is that this situation can’t last forever. We don’t know what it’ll be like when it gets over but we’ll get through it together. Each and every one of us has faced many odds and come through them. This is a collective setback, not a personal one - we’re all going through this. All you have to do is maintain your self-belief. 

 

Instead of therapy, turn to music, poetry, dance! Take whatever you enjoy and share those experiences with your friends. When it comes to music, slow beats and positive lyrics may help more - but anything you like goes.

A few months ago, we wanted more days to work from home and now that we have them, we don’t like it. We’ve been asked to adjust to a new situation that we weren’t prepared for. And we weren’t given an option. Earlier, you could complain about the commute and traffic - we just don’t have any of those things to complain about now. So we complain about work from home. If you maintain a schedule, stay positive and manage your time, you may feel less stressed.

Don’t watch the news, don’t let it preoccupy your mind. Stay updated, of course, but don’t constantly watch the news or read it online. Happiness and satisfaction come from within. Our problems also might not be related to the outside world but coming from within. Be in the here-and-now and try to have joyful experiences to feel happy.

Read more: How to deal with the anxiety of living through a pandemic

Therapy in India, compared to worldwide standards, isn’t all that expensive. But, of course, that depends on the individual and what their financial situation is as well. Not everyone needs therapy but there are helplines available if you can’t afford therapy. Please call if you’re in a crisis and you will get help. You just need to reach out. Most people in the government health sector are remarkable and they’re so involved in academics. Even the private sector has great resources. Now you can get therapy online as well. So mental health care isn’t very expensive if you think about that. 

Please talk to someone you find comforting. Change your location or distract yourself. Have a glass of water - that helps many people calm themselves down. Try to get your breathing under control. Find out which of these techniques works best for you.

Read more: What to do if you are hyperventilating

No matter what your relationship is, the more time you spend together, the more you will fight. But life is all about people. We need to understand that everyone is feeling similarly stressed out and on edge. Our reaction threshold has become wobbly. (Read more: What is cabin fever?)

Try to have some structure - like designated personal time and shared time - and that’ll help. People who can’t meet each other are also fighting more. It’s all very normal in this situation. 

Read more: Tips for healthy relationship

The stigma associated with mental health began in older times when medications weren’t so advanced. They could sometimes cause changes in temperament and personality. But medications today are much more advanced and don’t cause the same side-effects - so the stigma doesn’t stand true. In popular fiction, comedy, crime and violence are being correlated to mental health, which feeds the stigma. Fighting the stigma starts with you - take initiative and ensure your circle thinks of mental health disorders as medical problems.

We can’t say with absolute certainty that food and mental health have a strong relationship. So eat what you like eating - as long as you take care of your medical needs. To me - food is all that counts. 

Read more: What to eat during lockdown

 

Ignore the short-term situation. The pandemic will not last forever but your decisions may affect you for a while to come. Take the call based on the long term in which COVID-19 isn’t a problem. 

Faith plays a positive role in most people’s lives. How it helps you - depends on you. I believe that science and faith can go hand in hand. If you have a condition and praying makes you feel good, do it. But don’t ignore medicines you’re prescribed by a doctor for it.

Depression is a disorder. It affects more than 264 million people globally. The symptoms are loss of interest, appetite, and concentration, hopelessness, sadness and fatigue. If these symptoms persist for two weeks or more and it impairs your life functionality in a consistent manner, it could point to depression. Depression is a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. If there are other stressors, psychotherapy may be advised. It needs to be seen as a medical illness.

On the other hand, a short-term emotion like feeling low is not a disorder - but a mood.

No, in my opinion, popping a pill isn’t the answer. Treat this as a disaster, like a fire in the house, for example. You wouldn’t just take a pill and go off to sleep. You’ll escape and call for help. So do what is recommended during the pandemic. Stay home, practice hand hygiene and take all the precautions possible. 

I find it very surprising that they were able to procure sedatives as there are many checks and controls in place. What you should do is report the supply and supplier. Treat this as an addiction and get them the help they need. 

Domestic violence is very serious and should be dealt with seriously. Factors behind the act or any explanations for it do not matter - it should not be allowed in society. Please report it and seek help.

Dr. Ajay Kumar

Dr. Ajay Kumar

Psychiatry
14 Years of Experience

Dr. Saurabh Mehrotra

Dr. Saurabh Mehrotra

Psychiatry
24 Years of Experience

Dr. Om Prakash L

Dr. Om Prakash L

Psychiatry
3 Years of Experience

Dr. Anil Kumar

Dr. Anil Kumar

Psychiatry
12 Years of Experience

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