Calm and Careful - Dr. Savita Date

What can people do to overcome their fear of corona virus?
Fear of COVID-19 is a fear of the unknown. People don’t know how bad it will be if they get it. Will they survive? Will they have access to proper medical care? Will they be able to afford it? These factors are unknown now.

Some people have decided to handle the situation with abandon. They disregard caution and don’t care about rules. The other set of people have self-isolated so much that they have built a bubble around themselves.

Many of us are becoming anxious and sometimes even panicky. Some are not sleeping too well. Others have lost their motivation and interest. For many, loneliness and sadness are a result of isolation. Most of us feel a sense of restlessness in this new, not-so-normal life we are living in.

The reality is that we have limited control. So control what you can. And you can only achieve this if you change the ‘self-talk’. The voice in your head that talks to you – make it calm. Make it realistic. Don’t allow it to imagine the worst. Catch hold of it and keep it quiet. Make the self-talk positive and hopeful.

Breathing and relaxation exercises will help a great deal. Maintain a healthy daily routine and a sleep-wake cycle. A good fitness program will surprise you with its mental detox benefits. Don’t treat this as a holiday that has extended way too long. This is normal life now. So live it like that.

Howcan people deal with the uncertainty and the fear thattheir loved ones are experiencing?
One keyword: communicate. Talk as often as you can. Don’t postpone it to the weekend as you otherwise might. Address any issues that are lurking around and making relationships messy. Don’t allow the negativity to linger any longer. Extend yourself for them. You never know. You may need help, too. Look for the areas they need help in. Provide all the support you can. Knowing there is a shoulder they can lean on will greatly reduce their stress.

Manage your affairs the way a pregnant lady approaches her due date. Make sure your bag is packed, and your life, money, medicines, and to-do list for any eventuality arein order. You will be ready to handle any problems for your family.

How can one maintain their sleep cycle in times like this, when anxiety makes restful sleep more difficult?
You could always use the help of medication. But in the long run, relying on yourself will be healthier. Sleep is best when the mind is calm and relaxed. An excited or hassled mind will find it difficult to fall to sleep. Some simple steps of sleep hygiene will surely help.Demarcate the bedroom as your sleep zone. This area is meant for sleep only. And anything that helps sleep. So then, this is not your workspace. This is not that private area where you discuss and resolve your fights.

Make your sleep zone comfortable in temperature, ambience, bedding, sound and light. Maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle. Start with one of the two. Manage your wake-up time or your going to sleep time. The other will sort itself out in a little while.

You must give yourself 6-8 hours of sleep – preferably eight hours. Sleep is nature’s best health gift to you. This is nature’s meditation. You want a healthy immune system? Or for that matter, health for any system? Invest in your sleep hygiene. Not only will you feel healthier, but you will also look younger.

How do you think these few months will affect health care workers? 
You cannot begin to imagine the impact this is having and will continue to have on health care professionals. The population fears coronavirus. Hence it chooses to stay far away from it. But health care professionals are exposed to COVID-19 on a daily basis. They are in the company of COVID-19 all the time. They can see the majority of patients recovering and getting discharged. This being a new ailment, they struggle with ensuring the best treatment as well. They also face the strong possibility of testing positive themselves at some point. Yet they cannot turn away.

Prolonged work in most critical treatment areas becomes stressful for doctors and nurses. Normally they would be able to take a break. That is, however, not possible when professionals are limited and patients are growing.

PPE is surely important in such stressful working conditions. The long hours in this uniform with no relief even to visit the washroom – can we even conceive of this? In Indian hospitals, it is not uncommon to delegate some bedside care to the patient’s attendant. Yet coronavirus allows no attendants! The load of bedside care of an infected patient is totally on health professionals.

Will this pandemic be over? Probably. Will the virus go away? Who really has that answer?!

This means that doctors, nurses, technicians, and others are all in this for the long haul. In the short and long term, this stressful work will most certainly impact them.

During this phase, how have you kept your mind calm and stayed sane?  
The best thing that any health care professional can do is practice what you preach. Being locked down is not easy for a psychologist nor for her client. But coping with circumstances beyond one’s control is like therapy for oneself. I keep myself informed, and I choose to stay away from fear mongering. So I started allocating time for knowledge upgrade, both professionally and for life in general.

I started talking to friends and family more often than I usually do. I started replying to their messages quicker than I otherwise would. I began allocating time for yoga, strength exercises and walks. Pranayam, kapalabhati and meditation were a daily practice, too. Yes, this did take up a fair amount of time.

But this isolation has given us more time. Why not use it to our benefit? What gave me the most comfort was how my daughter was forced to return from her overseas academic programme. We were locked in together. This gave us time to talk in ways we hadn’t done in a long time, in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

The complete lockdown may have ended, but the isolation? Maybe not. Surround yourself with the few people who give you comfort. They don’t need to be your closest buddies. But you need a few friends who can make you laugh, and who can make you feel light-hearted and relaxed. And also provoke your thinking. This will help a great deal.       --- as told to Anahita