Coronavirus: Coping with Stress and Fear

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Emran Khan

While adding a bit of dark humour to the pandemic, Mumtaz, a painter by profession said “The virus won’t do anything but the name seems scary”. I replied with a quote from Shakespeare “What is in a name?” It is beyond doubt that the threat is real and has led to world lockdown, the ruination of world markets and disruption of a normal routine, etc. However, apart from the physical/biological impact on infected persons, it has created fear psychosis among masses too. Extraordinary situations like a pandemic, wars, natural disasters, etc tend to have a psychological impact on us and can lead to anxiety, panic, worry, depression or even suicidal thoughts and ideations. Many times the psychological impact tends to be far more than physical/ biological or social impact.

We have already seen that a man suspected of Coronavirus killed himself by jumping off the Safdar Jung Hospital building.

My nephew came running towards me and said: “You know what, another virus has surfaced in China, my friends just told me about it.” He was referring to “Hantavirus”. In the internet age, it takes no time for any news to get viral. Anyway, I was able to sense fear and panic in him. Similarly, my sister called me with tears in her eyes saying that “Maybe this is the end of the world”. A neighbour of mine told me that the virus was just around. He said, “A person living just 15 kilometres away has reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.” “Yesterday it was in China, today it is only 15 kilometres away,” he added.

To a reasonable extent, their fears are justified and rational. However, we must also know what virus may not do, phobia and panic can. Thankfully I was able to find some hope and solace in the news report in newspapers about a Nobel Laureate Michael Levitt predicting COVID-19 may go away soon. In no way, I mean to undermine the problem and the threat it poses.

Fear as an emotion, is adaptive and normal and can aid in survival. If people do not feel fear, they wouldn’t be able to protect themselves from legitimate threats. However, beyond a certain limits, it can disrupt normal functioning and turn to be maladaptive. For example, although public speaking, elevators, and spiders generally don’t present immediate dire consequences, some individuals still develop extreme fight-flight-or-freeze responses to specific objects or scenarios. That means a person at home, with no travel history to COVID-19 affected countries, not being in physical contact with an infected person, taking all necessary precautions and following governmental orders on it, should not fear Coronavirus at all.

While being flooded with information on the number of people getting infected with this virus and the number of deaths because of it, we should also be very cautious that this virus may lead to phobia (maladaptive and irrational fear) among people. On the other hand, again I should not be misunderstood as normalising the pandemic.

I heard people saying that non-local Kashmiris should be banned from entering Kashmir or even should be thrown out of Kashmir. I am naive in microbiology but seems like this virus is carrying the genetic makeup for prejudice and discrimination as well. We already know that the U.S President Donald Trump called it a “Chinese virus”.

Yes, people with travel history to foreign countries and outsiders coming to Kashmir should be properly screened and quarantined but the same should not be seen as a crime. Though we may get affected physically by this virus let’s not allow this virus to cloud our humanity and lead us to prejudice, bias, discrimination, and stigma. What is being called as social distancing should only be understood as physical distancing. It in no way means voiding of all social relations. Again I don’t mean normal mingling or partying. Further, let’s not see those infected with this virus as aliens or offenders or make them feel ashamed of it.

We have seen people hiding travel history and running from quarantine. Maybe our reaction to COVID-19 and the infected is the reason for it. Yes, we need to be careful, take all the necessary precautions, follow all the health advisories but overreaction won’t help. As Michael Levitt has rightly said overreaction to it can trigger another crisis. Again I don’t mean otherwise.

The world has seen deadly viruses in the past and may continue to see more in the future as well. We will fight them all; we have fought them in the past. Hope, patience, precautions, authentic information, preparedness, calmness and the like, is what keeps one going in crisis. Remember panicking and worrying may be threatening our wellbeing like that of Coronavirus. It has the potential to influence us mentally before it may impact us physically. Don’t worry, don’t panic either and let’s live the only time we can live: from now until bedtime while taking all the necessary precautions.

Author is M.Phil Psychology from University of Kashmir. He can be reached at: immi85.khan@gmail.com

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