The COVID-19 virus has now claimed the lives of more than two million people worldwide with deaths in the USA alone passing 500,000. Alongside this tragedy we also know that most of those infected do recover after hospitalization.
But the statistics mask another devastating effect of the pandemic, one not so easily measured, namely the impact it can have on our basic well-being as people try to manage health concerns with the stresses of isolation and quarantine which, according to experts at Psychiatric Advisor, can lead to depression, anxiety and even anger.
To understand how COVID has changed habits and behavior in our community, I interviewed three community leaders who have recently recovered from the infection. All were asked about their mental health before catching the virus, their feelings while they were ill, and since their recovery. I also wanted to know what helped them build their confidence throughout this difficult time.
Budha Muni Gurung
Mr Gurung never thought about the toll COVID would have on his mental health and how it would challenge his well-being post-recovery. People talking to him during his isolation certainly helped. Trying to maintain a positive approach to stress helped him to cope and to be mentally prepared to fight the disease. He discovered that the best way to cope is not to lose hope, which can be maintained by praying, talking with friends, families and relatives and being fully aware of the situation.
Mr. Gurung had worried about getting the virus because of his pre-existing conditions including diabetes, increased cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. He became anxious about possibly leaving his family in a vulnerable position as his children are still too young to bear the responsibility of running the family. He thought long and hard about whether to continue working or quitting in the hope that he wouldn’t catch the virus. He decided to leave work and stay home.
But, even though he tried not to get infected by following the guidelines, sadly, his family became infected, which took the stress to another level. He worried about how he could isolate in the same house and started feeling depressed and hopeless, thinking that his family wouldn’t be able to recover from the infection. Eventually he became severely ill and went to hospital where the doctor told him to stay home, take Tylenol for fever and pain, and remain isolated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) one of the affects of COVID is the impact on mental health. The fear of being stressed about the infection, thinking about what might happen, and worrying about how to protect the family has affected many.
Mr Gurung tried to be mentally prepared to fight the infection and started practicing more positive ways of reducing stress and building confidence by praying, talking to others, friends, family and relatives as well as those who had recently recovered from the virus.
Ganga Ram Lamitarey
Mr. Lamitarey successfully fought the virus recently but also never once thought about the toll it would take on his mental well-being.
He had been worried, stressed and terrified thinking he wouldn’t be able to protect himself and his family from COVID, but he never shared his feeling of hopelessness. Despite following the CDC guidelines his family got infected. This made him worried because at that point almost 500k lives had been lost to COVID and he was concerned about his parents who are frail and elderly.
Believing he would cope with the situation better if he learned how to be positive he took up yoga and breathing exercises. These helped him avoid negative thoughts, bad feelings, and gave him confidence to fight the virus. He encouraged his family and relatives, including those infected, to do the same. Mr Lamitarey now believes being mentally healthy is as important as being physically healthy
Mr. Khanal had certain levels of fear and anxiety before catching the virus. When he became a victim, his stress level increased before reducing as he started to prepare mentally to fight the illness. He was worried that he might spread the virus to others in the community but then he was given the first dose of the vaccine which increased his confidence that he wouldn’t catch the COVID again. However he still fears that those refusing to get the vaccine means that such a threat remains.
It took Mr. Khanal six weeks to fully recover from the virus. It was a stressful and painful time, preventing him from going to work and meeting people while being confined at home during isolation.
He and his family focused on finding ways to deal with this stress and, they too, emphasize the significance of doing yoga at home to cope with stress. Making a family plan on how to follow the guidelines properly and take them seriously also helped. Stress can be reduced by feeling more relaxed, developing positive thinking towards life.
Mr. Khanal also turned to daily guided meditation to reduce negative thoughts and develop a positive attitude to life.
According to Harvard Medical School, yoga is helpful to reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and might also help deal with anxiety and depression. In this respect, yoga functions like other self-soothing techniques, such as meditation, relaxation, exercise, and socializing with friends.
In difficult times such as these it is no surprise that people have mental health issues but the good news is they can be managed. But these can be managed with the techniques mentioned.
We must learn to deal with mental health by discussing the issue, evaluation and treatment. Most of the mental health disorders are manageable as long as they are treated early. Mental health should be treated like physical health and ways need to be found to treat them.
The author holds a Masters degree in clinical social work from Westfield State University, Westfield, MA and is currently residing in Harrisburg, PA. He is currently a social worker in Harrisburg. He has done research in Autism Spectrum Disorder and PTSD.