Life as we knew it is a thing of the past; as uncertainty looms large it is important to remain positive and healthy. At such times it is imperative to focus on one’s own inner strength and will to survive. As Freida Kahlo put it, “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can,” says Clinical Psychologist Pragati Sureka.

IANSlife caught up with Sureka at STIMULUS 2020, organised by The Global Luxury Group, Crosshairs Communications (PR Partner) & WIN (Women Inspiring Network (Content Partner). The digital initiative was an unprecedented, cerebral two-day webinar, designed to cut through the volume of rhetoric and despair surrounding the current COVID-19 scenario, which has declared the market slow-moving or outright stagnant.

Q. With the ongoing pandemic, in terms of mental health which ailments are expected to see a rise?

Pragati: Emerging trends are pointing out that this is going to be the worst mental health collective crisis seen by the world. During this bewildering time of ambiguity and fear, a sharp increase in mental health issues and substance use disorders will be seen.

In addition, there will be stress related disorders across all age groups and may lead to new mental health and substance use issues. Existing mental illness are likely to be aggravated by the pandemic, as sufferers will not have the same access to key mental health services.

Depression & anxiety related disorders: There will be a downward spiral in mood disorders like depression. Mood disorders involve severe alterations in the mood, which are intense and persistent and cause us problems in multiple areas. Social isolation is leading to negative mental health effects, particularly in groups that are already at risk for depression or anxiety disorders. While normal anxiety is to be expected under the current scenario, its progression to a disorder needs to be checked. It is likely to show up as a decrease in the overall functioning of a person. If left untreated, it will lead to an increasing negative view of self, others and the world around.

Substance use disorder: There will be higher rates of substance use disorder and abuse of alcohol to beat the blues. Many social drinkers are likely to escalate their drinking to problem drinking. It will likely manifest as problems with sleep, mood fluctuations, difficulty in controlling temper, escalating tension with family members, increased consumption due to increasing tolerance, sexual problems, stomach related issues, feeling a constant low which is seemingly relieved with alcohol, increasing craving for it, dependence and habit forming etc.

Stress related disorders: The chronic stress that all of humanity has been subjected to, due to this pandemic, is likely to cause or exacerbate stress related disorders in many people. Stress which carries on for a long period of time, over months,and reduces performance becomes chronic stress. It starts affecting individuals on physical, mental and social levels.

It is more likely than not, that in the face of uncertainty, wide scale job losses, pay cuts, relationship challenges and social isolation, stress related disorders are looming on the horizon.

Q. When it comes to anxiety, do you think people will suffer more from the trauma of what will be rather than what is?

Pragati: In my opinion, People will display an oscillatory mindset when it comes to anxiety related issues. Sometimes, the current challenges will be too overwhelming. At other times, the trauma faced currently, will appear puny, when faced with the implications of the aftermath of this crisis.

Suffering is there one way or the other. Each one’s individual vulnerability, temperament and resilience to life’s challenges, will determine what impacts them more.

Q. How will financial anxiety impact the road ahead?

Pragati: Financial anxiety is creating a Doomsday like scenario in the minds of many. The range may vary from minor financial crunch to total ruin; but no-one can escape the impact of the global economic slowdown.

Effectively handling the financial implications by taking firm hold of the nettle will help feel calmer. Doing a subjective SWOT (strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of finances will impact the road ahead for each person and society as a whole. Victor Frankl highlights this point well when he says, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Q. For those who have been in self isolation far from their loved ones, what should they do to prevent the onslaught of any ailments?

Pragati: To prevent onslaught of ailments, it is important that everyone stays in touch with their loved ones-via phone calls, social media or any other channel available to them. Humans are social beings and we do not thrive in isolation.

Q. For many families in lockdown life is not all pleasant, the negative environment at home adds to the pressure. What tools do you recommend one should adopt to maintaining the their own health and the health of their loved ones.

Pragati: Awareness and engagement in healthy behaviour is the key. Being mindful about using healthy strategies (instead of unhealthy coping mechanisms), is a step in the right direction towards coping with the challenges of being cooped up, under one roof.

Healthy strategies include following your circadian rhythm, maintaining a daily routine, having a balanced diet, daily workout, meditation, journaling and sharing jokes. It is vital to spend some meaningful time together and create humour, especially during difficult moments.

Hobbies like singing, dancing, making self make-up videos, helping out with chores, and creative expression in any form (even if it is via social media newbie like Tiktok videos), can help combat social withdrawal or feeling disconnected and emptiness.

Unhealthy coping mechanisms to refrain from, include excessive sleeping, insomnia, too much time on video games, binge watching TV, over eating, completely isolating from family members, speaking in an irritated manner to family members, short fuse, yelling at the slightest pretext, flaring tempers, withdrawing, increased alcohol consumption or any other substance abuse. It can also be harmful to fixate too much on news coverage of the pandemic. Unplugging periodically, from news bytes about the pandemic statistics and social media is imperative.

Regardless of the living conditions, unity in diversity is what will help the family tide over this crisis and maintain calm amidst chaos. What invariably helps, is keeping in mind, the following basic truths:

  • Blood is thicker than water.
  • United we stand, divided we fall.
  • Each one can be available, give space or reach out as required, and support others.

Q. Homemakers, who have been left with no me-time, and additional workload, may suffer breakdowns; how can one prevent this?

Pragati: Yes, if homemakers do more than they can, in an attempt to appease family members, then they may suffer breakdowns. “No-one can pour from an empty cup.”

To prevent burnouts, they can:

  • Set limits on what they can do and cannot
  • Set boundaries
  • Ask for help from other family members
  • Take help from others. Divide chores.
  • Be assertive
  • Meditate
  • Take short breaks multiple times in a day.
  • Refuse to take all the work -load.,
  • Inject humor in trying situations
  • Set aside one hour, daily to rejuvenate in whichever way, appeals to them.

If all else fails, it is important to keep in mind, one’s own inner strength and will to survive. Homemakers can decide to stay strong mentally, even if active support is not available from others. As Freida Kahlo put it, “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”