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Helping people can bring us joy, especially in the time of a pandemic. Psychiatrist Dr. Gaurav Kulkarni says doing selfless things for others, however small they may be, has great benefit for our mind. It gives us a sense of purpose and promotes mental well being. It also helps us overcome guilt if we aren’t able to help our own friends or family who may be far away during this time.
“When you help people and see them do better, it gives you a sense of strength,” Dr. Kulkarni says. He spoke to Femoai about coping with pandemic-related anxiety. Edited excerpts:
How can people deal with pandemic-related anxiety?
The situation has been frightening for most of us and the fear and uncertainty is manifesting itself in various ways. People are scared of infection and then there is the financial and emotional impact of the pandemic. People are losing their jobs, their loved ones, sources of income etc, and it’s impacting their mental health.
In this uncertain time, we are telling patients to remain focused and not be obsessive. People should try to not obsessively talk about Covid or constantly looking at data. We can set up a time everyday to check the latest updates instead of doing it constantly.
There is also fake news, which add to our stress and anxiety. Whenever people are seeking information, they should look at only trusted sources and limit the time they’re spending on it. The rest of the time, try to keep a normal routine as much as possible. We also ask patients to try and focus on things that they can control.
Journaling can help as well. It is helpful to write about your concerns and express your fears. When you express something in writing, you feel lighter. Sometimes writing things also helps us generate an alternative thought or look at things from a different perspective. If someone feels they are writing the same thing everyday and it is making them more fearful, they can try some other relaxation techniques. If it’s hard to relax on your own, try assisted relaxation. You can listen to calming music or exercise. Exercise boosts neurochemical activity in the brain which helps us relax.
People have also been feeling lonely because of the lockdown, or if they are in quarantine or self isolation. Our advice is to stay connected digitally. It reduces the fear of being left out and being alone.
Try to use as much of your support system during this time; your support system could be your family, a friend, a colleague, or a mental health professional. Seek support but make sure the person you are seeking support from is in a position to support you. If you gravitate towards someone vulnerable, it may add to your stress and anxiety further. It shouldn’t become a situation where two people only talk about their worries everyday, that’s not helpful.
Seek support but make sure the person you are seeking support from is in a position to support you. If you gravitate towards someone vulnerable, it may add to your stress and anxiety further. It shouldn’t become a situation where two people only talk about their worries everyday, that’s not helpful.
It is also important to take care of your physical health during this time and take adequate precaution, this can make you feel in control of your own body and ease your mind.
And finally, try to look for happiness in small actions, do things that you have not been able to do. In such times, helping others can bring a lot of joy. When you help people and see them do better, it gives you a sense of strength. A situation like a pandemic can make you feel you’re running out of resources to cope. You need to rebuild that. You have to make yourself believe that you have your resources, and a way of dealing with fear, that’s really important.
A situation like a pandemic can make you feel you’re running out of resources to cope. You need to rebuild that. You have to make yourself believe that you have your resources, and a way of dealing with fear, that’s really important.
How does helping people help our mental health?
For some reason, we believe that help has to be voluminous. It isn’t so. It could be as simple as offering a meal to someone, driving someone from one place to the other, something which doesn’t take a lot of time or effort. These are some things you can do during this time and continue to do them.
Many of us are also battling with a sense of loss or a sense that we may not be able to provide for people we love, especially those in different cities or countries. If you are not able to help someone far away, channelise that effort in helping someone who is around you. It makes us feel that since a family member is not around, maybe a stranger will help them; it motivates us to help a stranger as well. These are coping mechanisms that help us pacify our guilt, and gives us a sense of well being; it makes us feel that we are in a position to do something for someone and we are doing it. These are small techniques but they really help our mental health because you are consuming your time in a positive way.
Talk to us about some of the physical symptoms of anxiety that people shouldn’t ignore.
Before the pandemic, we would advocate that if someone feels anxious or stressed, they should first try to resolve it on their own, but during this time our advice is that if someone feels things are going out of control, they should definitely seek professional help. Our advice now is that if someone feels anxious and panicky, they shouldn’t waste time. They should try all the measures that they can because once these situations become chronic, they become harder to deal with.
If someone notices symptoms that lead to a strong sense of anxiety, or panic, they definitely should see a mental health professional, whether it’s at a clinic or a virtual consultation.
Some amount of anxiety is a normal phenomenon, we are driven by anxiety and it motivates us. But what we are seeing right now is definitely not the positive kind.
The symptoms of anxiety can be physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioural.
The cognitive symptoms are — a constant sense of fear, worry, and uncertainty. If you feel that you’re constantly stressed out, you’re not able to stop your thoughts, you feel you’re constantly preoccupied with something that is keeping you away from work, family or normal life, then you are cognitively very stressed out.
As the cognitive symptoms increase, the mind starts affecting the body and you see various physical symptoms. People often become hyper vigilant; they start to notice the smallest possible changes that happen around them and they’re uncomfortable with it. Hyper vigilance about the self, about your surroundings is a symptom of anxiety. This has definitely increased due to Covid.
The physical symptoms are — feeling restless, emotionally unstable, butterflies in the stomach, palpitations, increased heart rate, breathing difficulty, tremors in the hands or the body, a sudden sense of weakness, feeling a heavy weight on your chest, frequent trips to the loo, inability to sit in one place, and difficulty with focusing.
In corporate employees, we often notice attention issues rather than physical symptoms. The brain is so overworked with anxiety-ridden thoughts, that they are not able to focus. They may have attention span issues, focus issues, and panic, which is a heightened state of anxiety.
When all these symptoms are coming into play, people start becoming emotionally affected. They start experiencing symptoms like mood swings or other behavioural symptoms like wanting to stay at home, isolating themselves, not going out. Some people even avoid social contact over the phone. If people identify these symptoms and they sustain, they definitely need to seek intervention.
Dr. Gaurav Kulkarni
MBBS, M.D. (Psychiatry)
Psychiatrist, Sexologist, Addiction Psychiatrist
Ph: +91 99875 45314
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