COVID-19 hit the world in 2019 and arrived in India in early 2020. The country saw the first wave of the pandemic last year, which peaked in September 2020. After a steady decrease in the number of cases, a much deadlier second wave hit India in March 2021, and it refuses to abate, with the peak and subsequent decline being nowhere in sight.
Among the many ways in which the second wave is affecting our lives, its psychological effects are undermined and unnoticed.
It is manifesting in different ways for different people. People have reported dealing with panic, insomnia, decreased appetite, headaches, and digestive problems, among other issues. It is also interesting to note the difference in the mental state of people during the first and the second wave of the pandemic.
When the first wave of the pandemic arrived, the coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease were new, and unheard of. There was fear of the unknown among the people and growing anxiety about the uncertain future. There were strict measures to curb the spread of the virus, including a lockdown, another concept that people had not been exposed to before these times.
The forced isolation at home due to the lockdown, and social distancing, also affected the mental health of many, and they found themselves feeling lonely, anxious, and depressed.
As 2020 ended, the number of COVID-19 infections went down, and the situation improved; people began to slowly breathe easy and get rid of their fear and anxiety. The lax lockdown measures and the announcements regarding the roll-out of vaccines against the coronavirus also boosted people’s spirits.
Everyone was hoping for the pandemic to end, and for life to slowly go back to normal. It was then the second wave of the pandemic hit India and hit harder than ever before.
The second wave has been brutal, with a meteoric rise in the number and speed of the infections. The news feeds are filled with numbers - numbers of infections, deaths, and families torn apart by the pandemic. There is a feeling of anger and anxiety about the unending pandemic, and a resignation to the uncertainty.
Fear and grief have engulfed people, as the second wave has hit closer to home than the first wave. Most people now know someone amongst friends and extended family, who has been infected or lost to the disease. People also suffer from survivor’s guilt, because they survived in this pandemic when so many others did not.
The possibility of repetition of lockdowns, and an indefinite extension of working from home has given rise to feelings of frustration and irritability. The economy, which was just starting to pick up pace after the devastating losses of last year, is struggling again, which spells financial trouble for a lot of people. All of these factors have left people reeling with mental health issues.
While mainly fear ruled during the first wave of the pandemic owing to the newness of the situation, the second wave is marked by grief, frustration, and anger due to the loss of loved ones, helplessness against the disease, and the inevitability of this situation being a new reality.
However, the factors that have led to these psychological effects in people have stayed the same across both waves.
What Are The Factors That Lead to The Psychological Effects?
The factors that lead to the decline in the psychological well-being of people include:
1. Isolation and social distancing. Most people have spent the last year and this year, cooped up inside their houses during periods of lockdown. The sense of touch, which humans use to give and draw comfort from each other, is now missing.
Such extended periods of isolation and lack of social interaction go against the natural instinct and behavior in humans. This has affected people psychologically to a great extent.
2. Fear of death and of losing your loved ones. This feeling of living in constant fear of contracting the virus and eventual death, or worse, of losing your loved ones to the virus, was hitherto unknown.
Many people have lost close ones to the virus and are unable to process the grief due to the constant ongoing chaos denying them closure. All of these factors are expected to have a long-term psychological effect on the human population.
3. Constant cycle of worrying news and statistics. There is no dearth of tragic news and numbers during a pandemic, and following all of it can raise your anxiety levels.
4. Job loss, temporary unemployment, and financial struggles. The pandemic and the necessitated strict measures such as shutting down of businesses and shops have brought huge economic hardships and thus, temporary or permanent loss of income for many people.
The financial crisis and uncertainty that people faced added to their psychological woes.
5. Working from home: the blurring of professional and personal spaces. There is a lack of a healthy divide between the professional and personal lives of people working from home for extended periods of time.
It is harder to unplug and relax in the same space that you work in all day. People also miss the social interaction that resulted from meeting others at the workplace.
Plus, working from home has resulted in a sedentary lifestyle due to the absence of a daily routine for a lot of people. All of these factors have the ability to affect your mental peace adversely.
6. Changing family dynamics. A lot of households have seen a change in dynamics during the pandemic as a result of all family members staying home, working from home, and home-schooling children.
Some members of the family may feel that they have to bear an unfair amount of household responsibilities as compared to others.
It has also proven to be difficult for parents to manage their professional and household obligations along with online schooling for children and keeping them engaged. With everyone occupying the same space all day and no breather available to dissipate tensions, there is an increase in psychological stress for people.
These are unprecedented times that may leave indelible marks on everyone’s minds, as expected. However, there are a few things you can do to improve your mental health during this time.
Follow a nutritious diet and get adequate sleep. A well-nourished body and a well-rested mind are better equipped to face psychological challenges.
Physical exercise. This releases endorphins which will enhance your mood and help to ward off stress. Take up a form of exercise possible under the present situation.
Activities like reading and listening to music serve as healthy distractions and provide peace of mind and joy.
Build a flexible routine and try to stick to it. During such uncertain times, a routine provides feelings of certainty and control.
Pursue hobbies of your choice, such as singing, painting, or knitting for a creative outlet for your energy.
Stay connected with friends and family over the phone and through video calls to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Seek help from a therapist if you need someone to talk to during these difficult times.
Practice gratitude for what you have. It may help you feel more positive about the future.
Lastly, remind yourself that you are living through a pandemic. It is natural to feel upset and scared. Seek help from others and help others to get through these times.
1. NewsGP. 2021. Mental health issues the ‘second wave’ of pandemic. [online] Available at: <https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/mental-health-issues-the-second-wave-of-pandemic> [Accessed 26 April 2021].
2. Mdpi.com. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/7/3423/pdf> [Accessed 26 April 2021].
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