FF Recommends: Coping with the pandemic

April 17, 2021 | FF Daily #350: How to deal with the fatigue and the mental stress

Founding Fuel

[Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash]

Good morning,

We are in the middle of a second wave of coronavirus infections. By all accounts it threatens to be far worse than the first. Already, the number of infections per day has crossed 2 lakh. Medical infrastructure in several cities is creaking at the seams. A lockdown seems imminent, not just in a few states, but across the country. The fatigue and the mental stress is likely to be debilitating for families. It will spare no one. How should you be better prepared?

That is the focus of this week’s FF Recommends. 

How to cope with the pandemic

The times we live in now, the Serenity Prayer comes to mind. 

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Because if there is one thing most of us need over all else to cope with all that is unfolding, it is serenity. Now, it is one thing to pray for serenity. It is another thing to work towards acquiring it in these turbulent times. How are we to do that?

Accept what is

There is a problem all over. There is very little most of us can do to change the course of the universe. But there is a world that we live in where our lives intersect with that of our children, spouse, parents, neighbours and friends. But if we accept that how we behave influences the lives of those who live in the world around us, there is much work to be done. And it begins by caring for the self. 

Love thyself

When the first wave of the pandemic hit and a lockdown was imposed last year, we turned to Kuldeep Datay, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist to offer pointers on how individuals can care for themselves and build resilience to survive times such as these. 

Basis his experience, Datay pointed out that when we don the hat of someone caring for those around us, most of us assume the role of a strong person. However, he wrote, “A prototypical, traditional ‘strong’ person is often also a pretty emotionally unintelligent person. That’s because ‘being strong’ is often associated with the denial and suppression of emotions and the first tenet of emotional intelligence is ‘self-awareness’. More specifically, being aware of one’s emotions.

“So, for the not-so-emotionally-intelligent person, it’s likely to be a tug of war between emotions and suppression. And both emotions and trying to suppress those emotions draw energy from the same resource—the same person.

“In the current difficult times, then, perhaps a different strategy is called for—a more emotionally intelligent strategy which begins with an increased awareness of emotions, ultimately leading to their better acceptance, and better management.”

To do this, Datay recommended three mood tracking and virtual therapy apps. 

Three apps that can help you check in with your mood

“These are the apps that I usually recommend, largely because they seem to serve all three functions—tracking moods, asking specific intelligent questions about what led to the mood state, and also at times making specific recommendations about what the user can do,” Datay wrote. You can read more about it here

Watch the kids

The previous year has been difficult for children across all age groups. Many have been confined to their homes and their schools, once familiar places where they used to meet friends, have been reduced to pixels on screens. Without adults realizing it, the lives of children have changed and become stressful. 

Just how do adults help them cope? A comprehensive presentation by UNICEF on just how to go about it offers much hope. “School shutdown is also a chance to strengthen relationships with our children and adolescents. Quality time is free and fun. It makes children feel loved and secure, and shows them that they are important.”  

  • Set aside time with each child. It can be for just 20 minutes or longer—it’s up to us. It can be at the same time each day so children or teenagers can look forward to it.
  • Ask your children what they would like to do. Choosing builds their self confidence. If they want to do something that isn’t OK with physical distancing, then this is a chance to talk about it.
  • Switch off the television and phone. This is virus-free time.
  • Listen to them. Look at them. Give them your full attention. Have fun!
  • Use positive words like “Please put your toys away” instead of “Don’t make a mess”
  • Teens especially need to be able to communicate with their friends. Try to give them the space to express themselves—especially if they want to talk about their fears and concerns.

Some rules have changed as well. Until last year, there were curbs on screen time. But, the recommendation now is, “Let children be online, connect with friends.” This, however, comes with responsibilities that a parent must carry on what it takes to educate them about how to stay safe when they are online.

May we urge you to click here and download the document? This has a comprehensive list of dos and don’ts with pointers to resources that include ideas on how to keep children of different ages, including teenagers, engaged.

Caring for elders

Then there are elders that many of us must care for. And it was only last month that we asked Dr Siddika Panjwani, Rumjhum Chatterjee, co-founder at Feedback Infra and our colleague Sveta Basraon to offer us a take on how best to handle them.

Through an audiogram, Dr Panjwani placed in perspective how Covid-19 has made the elderly even more vulnerable and many of them now feel increased fear, isolation and stress. 

On their parts, Chatterjee and Basraon explained how they have been at work to manage their lives and help parents navigate the pandemic. “Like the airline safety instruction says, put on your oxygen mask before assisting others,” Basraon wrote then. 

Here are three things to keep in mind from her experience. 

Give them the control, but learn to stand firm too: The first thing I’ve internalized is that doctor’s advice on quality of life. If it makes my dad feel better when he makes tea and breakfast for us, let him do it. There’s no room for guilt about “having an elder do chores.”

Keep interest alive; get them to explore things: In the early months, we had turned off TV news—it was only adding to the panic. Newspapers were out too in the early days of the lockdown. So, we downloaded a couple of news apps on my dad’s phone. He’s “gone digital” now and reads a lot on that medium, though the newspaper habit hasn’t gone away. For my mother, we started by reading a Hindi newspaper aloud to her; she’s now well enough to sit up and read it by herself.

Let it out once in a while: It’s ok to feel frustrated and weary sometimes. I learnt that from friends who are in a similar life stage and with aged parents, some of them seriously ill. I write it down on scraps of paper to get it out of my system—and then tear it up into tiny pieces. It works for me and I return with a better frame of mind.             

Read the full edition here

Given the current surge in positive cases, there are also things you can organise at a community level to take care of elderly neighbours living alone. During the lockdown last year, a group of residents in one housing society in Noida had volunteered to help their elderly neighbours order food and medicines online and even assist them with their regular doctor consultations through video calls.

When the coronavirus strikes

Meanwhile, the numbers are mounting and things outside don’t look pretty. Haresh Chawla, a contributor to Founding Fuel and partner at True North, witnessed it from very close quarters last year. Soon after that, in a first person account, he wrote, “I am reasonably convinced the probability that many people whom I know will contract the virus is high. Worse still, what I can now see is a healthcare system under severe stress, especially in Mumbai, where I live. There is a shortage of well-equipped beds and trained healthcare workers. The authorities sound unsure as well with the goal posts around testing, isolation and hospital admission thresholds being moved around arbitrarily. With the Unlock underway, and cases yet to peak, things are about to get worse.

“That is why I feel morally obliged now to share this narrative. My endeavour here is to help you understand this disease better, get diagnosed faster and seek professional advice earlier if you or anyone you know may need it.”

The bad news is, since the time he wrote this account, the second wave has hit India and the system is stretched some more. The good news is, there is a vaccine and people have started to get innoculated. But it will take a while to contain the virus and Chawla’s advice remains relevant and is worth revisiting.

As Chawla mentioned, in a disaster situation, being prepared is key. 

Watch for symptoms: Loss of taste / smell; fever; tiredness

Get a pulse oximeter, now: You can buy one for Rs 2,000

Stock up on oxygen: You can organize oxygen cylinders for your society or rent an oxygen concentrator

Keep helpline numbers handy. Of labs that can collect samples from your home for a test; of hospital ambulance services in case you should need one; of the contact person in your housing society who will help you deal with the protocols of reporting to health authorities. 

If you or a loved one does fall ill, hunting for these numbers will only cause more stress.    

Preparation is also key to staving off fear and panic.

Figure out the best source for your monthly stocks of food and medicine. Will it be online delivery, or from a trusted local shop that follows all the protocols and is strict about physical distancing? 

And go easy on following the bad news!  

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