By: | Saira Ashraf Kanjoo |
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has presented an unusual challenge for mankind. It spread across planet earth within days, leaving everyone in a state of shock. People were unprepared to deal with the challenges in the wake of its outbreak.
As a consequence, many people are experiencing fear and uncertainty. The sudden onset and associated fatal consequences have led many of us to react in panic. The nature of the coronavirus and prevention strategies has finally been established by leading medical experts. The initial panic state should be channelized into active problem-solving to prevent further paranoia. We need a collective resolve to fight against this menace. Panic, fear, and uncertainty will adversely impact such efforts.
Several factors can inculcate anxiety disorders i.e. panic, phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc. Some of the significant contributing factors include:
- Exaggerated/ sensational media reports
- Conspiracy theories
- Personality traits vulnerable for anxiety disorders
- Irrational thinking patterns
- Acquaintance with pessimistic people (family, friends etc)
- Unhealthy life-style
The stressful circumstances that the whole world is experiencing make us susceptible to anxiety. These can be expected and should not be taken as ‘unusual’ responses. Nonetheless, we all need to understand the difference between ‘normal anxiety’ and ‘abnormal anxiety’. There is always a line drawn to differentiate between normal and abnormal emotional issues to save energies for coping with such emotional issues instead of investing all our energies in aggravating them.
Normal anxiety in the current situation refers to natural and justified worrisome thoughts around the coronavirus pandemic. The intensity of normal anxiety is strong enough to motivate us for taking precautionary measures. We may tend to stay updated and may plan to fulfill all our family needs in an effective manner. We might also remain alert and concerned about possible difficulties. Once we take all precautionary measures, we feel equipped and ready to cope with the current stressful situation. We try to maintain a healthy lifestyle to refrain from further further panic and coping issues.
Abnormal anxiety starts from worrisome thoughts but leads to obsession, fear and sensing a ‘loss of control’ over the situation. For example, a person may become obsessed with information overload regarding COVID-19. They may feel that precautionary measures are ‘inadequate’. One may assume unpredictable possibilities and may fatigue oneself in taking extraordinary and unnecessary precautionary measures just to fulfill their obsession.
A person could become obsessed with germs and cleanliness and daily routine life may become dysfunctional due to unnecessary cleanliness rituals.
Despite taking extraordinary precautionary measures, a person may still feel unsafe and may develop a phobia. They could become preoccupied with unforeseen incidents that may or may not happen. Consequently, their cognitive process can become dysfunctional thereby leading them to focus on negative information only. They might exaggerate information that confirms one’s fear and assumptions about possible worst-case scenarios (confirmation bias). Some might additionally experience mood swings, lack of sleep, loss of appetite and other physical symptoms.
Countermeasures against Anxiety Disorders
- Stay positive and have conviction on God Almighty.
- Engage in prayers and other faith-related activities.
- Stay updated by following authentic updates on COVID-19 from the Government of Pakistan, World Health Organisation (WHO) and avoid binge-watching mainstream media updates.
- Take only authentic information seriously, avoid falling prey to sensational unverified news articles, messages and videos etc.
- Understand the precautionary measures and only follow the measures prescribed by Government of Pakistan and WHO.
- Once you understand the prevention and have taken all measures, have faith in yourself.
- Avoid discussing the causes of the pandemic or conspiracy theories.
- Divert your attention and that of your family by indulging in healthy home-based activities.
- Develop a daily routine chart and assign all family members certain healthy routine activities.
- Try to maintain discipline regarding eating and sleeping behaviours of yourself and other family members, especially children.
- To avoid frustration, accept new routines and take it as an opportunity for positive activities rather than a punishment.
- Give each other (household members) emotional support.
- Accept your emotional vulnerability as a normal reaction to the developing situation.
The writer is an MS-qualified and experienced Clinical Psychologist who has counseled families and law enforcement personnel. She is founder of Mind Healer Psychological Services in Rawalpindi and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The writer tweets at; Saira Ashraf