Keep anxiety at bay

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Keep anxiety at bay

Tuesday, 24 March 2020 | Archana Jyoti

There is a fear pychosis due to COVID-19. ARCHANA JYOTI speaks with doctors who say there is no need for panic

Fortythree-year-old Sunandita Dasgupta, a Government servant in Delhi, has been freaking out about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) since last few days. “I have Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease which makes me prone to anxiety, but it is manageable. However, in the last few days it was going out of control, affecting my daily activities and worsening my physical condition. Moreover, I was feeling nervous with the flood of information on all media platforms,” she says.

It started with panic and before deeper anxiety set in, she decided to take professional help.

“I sought help of a counsellor who suggested a few methods to control my thoughts. Now, I am taking recourse to yoga, progressive muscle relaxation and other such techniques to reduce anxiety,” she says adding that she’s much settled now.

Sunandita’s is not the lone case of fear psychosis amidst the coronavirus scare in India. With cities after cities under unprecedented lockdown, and a major part of the earth’s population being in self-isolation, whether with families or individually, health professionals feel that a large number of people can go through mental health issues, mainly caused by fear and uncertainty. So far COVID-19 has infected over 3,82,000 people and claimed more than 18,000 lives.

Experts say that generally, the cause of a medical condition isn’t relevant, what matters is the condition itself. It’s likely that most people won’t require doctor’s help under these circumstances; but those who are mentally finding tough to deal with the situation because of stress, then they must seek professional help like Sunandita did.

Dr RC Jiloha, Professor of Psychiatry, Hamdard Institute of Medical sciences & Research, Delhi opines that pandemics are not just a medical phenomenon. They affect individuals and society on many levels, causing disruptions such as panic and stress. As concerns over the perceived threat grow, people may start to collect (and hoard) masks and other medical supplies. This is often followed by anxiety-related behaviours, sleep disturbances, and overall lower perceived state of health. Individuals with mental illness may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of widespread panic and threat.

He says, social distancing and self-quarantine, especially for the children and elderly may bring a feeling of  ostracism, abandonment and being neglected. This can make an already challenging situation far more difficult for the elderly people, particularly for those who have co-morbidity conditions, are victims of depression or other mental health problems.

However, there are ways to tackle the rise in panic accompanying COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. For instance, says Dr Smita Deshpande, Professor of Psychiatry at Dr RML hospital, Delhi, one should take break from watching TV, reading or listening to news items, including social media. “Go for the facts. But don’t overdo it. Eat healthy food, maintain regular routine and try to do what you like or planning to do for a long time but were not getting time. Talk to people you trust about your concerns and feelings.”

She asserts that meditation and yoga can help people come out of such negative thoughts in this crucial time. She cautions people not to take any anti-depressant medicines without doctors’ recommendations.

“Those already on medication, should continue taking medicine as situations will certainly improve with the passage of time,” she tells you. “Also, tele-consultation facilities for the patients reeling under anxiety or facing mental health problems should be made available. More so, when OPDs in most of the hospitals are being shut down,” suggests Dr Deshpande, saying that she has already written to the Union Health Ministry in this regard. .

Daniel Freeman, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford sums up: “We have to accept that no action is 100% risk-free and that we can’t totally control events, no matter how much we try. No matter how much we worry, we can’t know what’s in store for us. And we can’t prevent problems happening just by worrying about them. In the end, it is best to concentrate on what is meaningful in our lives.

“Notice the worry, acknowledge it, but don’t allow it to distract you. Stay as calm as you can, focus on what you’re doing and not what you’re thinking, and watch the worry recede into the distance.”

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