How unpredictable our lives indeed are? In the last year, life, as we know it, has snowballed at a rapid rate into the unexpected, uncertain, and unimaginable chaos it is today. So much has changed for people across all walks of life since March 2020, and with the skyrocketing daily cases reported in India’s second wave and the accompanying rise in deaths, it looks like we have a long battle ahead of us. It’s becoming harder to imagine a life after COVID-19.
The widespread nationwide lockdowns, system-wide complacency, and the lack of healthcare infrastructure have caused irreversible damage and unimaginable horrors. Markets are crashing, and businesses are floundering. Families struggling to find necessary medical intervention or just to keep food on the table are bitter realities we are forced to face today.
But there’s an invisible crisis unfolding that’s hardly spoken about. While everyone is busy dealing with the gross physical consequences of the pandemic, there is a hidden impact that could cause a heavier toll over time. That is the crisis of deteriorating mental health during the pandemic—a concern that’s only worsening with negligence as the battle against COVID-19 prolongs.
The Effects of COVID-19 on Everyone
The current pandemic could leave generations mentally scarred for the rest of our lives. Frontline workers who took the oath to treat the ill to the best of their abilities face trauma like no other. From dreaming of saving lives to triaging and deciding who gets to live, these COVID warriors will carry a heavy emotional burden even after the pandemic.
For our parents, this is a fearful time. COVID-19 and the news of death all around them act as a constant reminder of their own mortality. The world they knew and the people who gave them familiarity is shrinking.
On the other side, it is a lethal cocktail of overwhelm, anxiety, fear, and insecurity for the younger working-class professionals. Most professionals are at the edge of their sanity with endless paranoia about job loss and its consequences. The fear of what tomorrow will bring and the uncertainty make them lose their sleep today.
And for those reasonably secure about their jobs, there’s a constant sense of overwhelm, dread, lack of inclination, focus, and concentration to deliver on their responsibilities. How much does what most of us do as work really matter when there are more pressing life-threatening issues to worry about?
For entrepreneurs and risk-takers, the pandemic is a grim reminder of the fragility of their enterprise. The levels of uncertainty, the mounting pressure to support their employees and suppliers, continuously changing statutory rules and regulations—all leave a business owner gasping for air as they run around and manage multiple responsibilities with little or no support.
For children growing up in this climate, their innocence is lost much earlier than it should have. Children mature faster in these times. Moreover, children today are growing up wholly cut off from peers and could grow up to be even lonelier a generation than today’s Gen Z.
Young adults with a memory of a pre-covid world are in no better position as they struggle with the uncertainty of their future life after COVID-19. With universities shut, job market opportunities slim, and continuous peer pressure thanks to social media, the last 12 months have been taxing for these youngsters.
We Are in It for the Long Haul
While no one can say how many more waves COVID-19 has in store for us, the emotional toll of this pandemic is becoming costlier with every passing day. Vaccines might buy us some time in the interim. However, it looks like COVID-19 is here to stay for a few years until scientists find a foolproof cure for all possible virus mutations.
In the meantime, emotional resilience is the need of the hour. Adults need to be continuously mindful of their mental health and take action or preventive steps to damage control and provide necessary love, attention, and emotional support to near and dear ones to limit the consequences.
How to Mentally Prepare for a Life After COVID-19
Here are a few ways we could build emotional resilience and better prepare ourselves mentally for life after COVID-19.
1. Acceptance of the New Reality
To begin with, all of us need to grieve the loss of life as we knew it and bury the dreams of what we had planned for the next few years. We need to confront the new reality and accept it totally. Complete acceptance requires letting go of thoughts like “what if,” “I wish,” “if only,” “it should be,” or “must have been.”
We need to accept our new reality as is—a reality filled with uncertainty, fear of infection, and a sketchy future. A lot of us believe acceptance as meek, passive, and an act of the weak, but it’s quite the contrary. Acceptance requires tremendous courage to face the harsh realities of the current circumstances.
2. Process It, Don’t Numb It
We all love running away from our emotions. We’d rather overlook, neglect, ignore, or numb the feelings because, let’s be honest, we don’t know how to deal with them.
Today, we are dealing with a tsunami of emotions, and we have no idea where to begin. How does one work through the pile without crumbling under the weight of all these emotions?
And so we look the other way. We pretend that these feelings do not exist. We binge-watch Netflix, or worse, turn to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. But that doesn’t resolve it. It’s only temporarily forgotten like the waves crashing and receding back to the ocean. But the waves return, and so will these emotions—they will come back and come back with more force than ever.
So, don’t neglect it, process it. Share what you’re feeling with friends and family who can provide a non-judgmental ear. If not, reach out to mental health helplines, counselors, and therapists to process the emotions and ease the pain.
3. Seek and Provide Emotional Support
Make sure to check in with how your loved ones are doing. Go a few steps beyond “How are you doing?” to really know if they are doing okay. Ask them how their mental health is in these times. Are they sleeping okay? How are they coping with the uncertainty and fear?
If they open up to you, hold space and lend a listening ear without judgment. Don’t rush to share your stories or offer unsolicited advice. Let them know you’re there for them and that it’s okay to seek professional help if they cannot cope.
However, remember that this is not a one-way street. While you make yourself available for your loved ones, make sure you seek help and support when you need it. Don’t try to be a super savior neglecting your needs.
Like Bill Wither’s song goes:
“Lean on me, when you’re not strong,
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on…
For it won’t be long, Till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on
Please swallow your pride, If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill, Those of your needs that you won’t let show.”
4. Stay Connected With Your Tribe
I firmly believe in the power of the collective. Whatever your tribe is—whether it’s a subgroup of work colleagues, an art class gang, workout buddies, fellow entrepreneurs in a networking group, or the extended family of friends and cousins—support and seek support from the collective and find some solace during these times.
There’s a great relief in knowing you’re not alone, particularly when we are distanced from the people we love and restricted from doing things we love.
Leverage technology to at least keep the conversations going. Zoom sessions to the rescue! Be it creating art together or coming online to break a sweat and burn those calories, make sure to stay connected with your tribe, especially as you envision life after COVID-19.
5. Make Time to Create Moments of Joy
While the battle against the virus might feel disheartening, it is essential to cultivate practices that give us joy—whether it is that meditation in the darkness and quiet before the sunrise, that cup of coffee on the balcony, journaling thoughts and emotions, completing a crossword puzzle, a Schitt’s Creek or Office watch party, Facetime video calls with the family, or the weekend zoom game nights with friends.
Engage in activities beyond the constant COVID talk that give you moments of joy even in these times of crisis. It might be the little things, but they can help preserve your sanity and restore mental balance.
Is It All a Loss?
We all stand to lose something as we defend humanity against this deadly virus. Many of us will grieve the loss of loved ones and seek to fill a void that can never be filled, and almost all of us will leave a part of ourselves behind because life will never be the same again.
As the saying goes, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
But it’s not all bad.
I firmly believe that the pandemic will also be a time of awakening, where we finally open our eyes to what truly matters as we long for life after COVID-19.
Maybe, once the pandemic is behind us, we will find more joy in the everyday things we took for granted. The morning rush to get kids ready for school, the commutes to work, boring office parties, conversations by the water cooler, and weekends.
We will probably be more grateful for the freedom to hang out with friends, visit our parents, or take a vacation. We will be more present and create lasting memories from simple birthday celebrations with friends to our big fat Indian weddings. We will love more, laugh more, and cherish more.
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Featured photo credit: Kate Trifo via unsplash.com