Tips to cope with the psychological effects of the lockdown

Schedule your screen time and avoid binge-watching, says Purni Krishnakumar, psychologist and special educator

Schedule your screen time and avoid binge-watching, says Purni Krishnakumar, psychologist and special educator   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Coimbatore-based mental health professional Purni Krishnakumar says laying down a few ground rules at home can go a long way in maintaining peace and harmony

“You will die alone on a gurney, with none of your near and dear ones around,” goes one message, with an accompanying photograph of the said gurney with a corpse on it. This is just one of the doomsday forwards choking WhatsApp groups with members seemingly in a race to see who has the more morbid news to offer. What is worse, the same horrible piece of information repeats itself. God help you, if you are in several groups.

“The power of the word is surprising,” says psychologist and special educator Purni Krishnakumar from Coimbatore. Random posts, unsubstantiated information, and sensationalised news that take things out of context have been proven to be harmful. “The psychological effect of a message is that it can cause anger, resentment, viciousness and even a sense of self righteousness,” she warns. And the consequences of this barrage of bad news can be particularly debilitating to those who are already grappling with mental health issues, she worries. “They are more vulnerable to stress and often their ability to cope is not adequate. Even in normal times, if something happens out of the ordinary, it throws them off kilter. Fear aggravates matters. Creating a panic-stricken environment is not good for any one,” she says.

Purni Krishnakumar, psychologist and special educator

Purni Krishnakumar, psychologist and special educator   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

What you can do
  • Have a family meeting with the spouse, school-going children and the elderly at home and set boundaries and timetables
  • Be specific about the designated work area and time each one needs for his or her job (if working from home)
  • Before you settle down to work, ensure that there is something planned for the other dependent members in the family to do while you work
  • Make a roster of duties for each family member. It could be making the beds, laying the table, putting the kolam at the door, lighting lamps, cooking, dusting...
  • Allow yourself TV time. Watch the news once a day. Treat yourself to a movie a day. But do not binge-watch. It will make you feel drained and miserable
  • Stay connected with your near and dear ones who need reassurance that all is well with you and them. Avoid being parts of groups that leave you feeling low, depressed and helpless. Such virtual friendships are self-defeating and counter-productive
  • Reconnect with old friends that you have lost touch with

While it may seem a difficult thing to do, Purni says it is best to avoid news that causes anxiety. “This is not to say we pretend nothing is wrong. But we also do not know what is fake and all this feeds into our fears. The fact that we cannot do anything about it makes us feel more helpless,” she says.

We have no precedent to a lockdown of this kind for us to draw upon; nothing to tell us how to cope, what to expect, what to do. But there are a few ground rules that may help. Purni says that there will be hiccups. Now ‘home’, as we know it, will become common space for more people for extended lengths of time. “It is tough for homemakers. They will now have to share what was ‘their’ space for quite a long part of the day. They will have to put up with demands for attention, food, TV time, not to mention mansplaining,” she laughs. So it makes sense to put it all on the table and get ready for compromise, adjustments and structure.

“Rituals centre you,” says Purni. “A timetable, repetitive actions and a sense of predictability create a sense of ‘purpose’ and ‘normal’ when things outside the home are topsy turvy,” she says. Also, it is a time to ‘relearn’ living as a family amicably. Purni warns that the stress of this lockdown can manifest itself physically like angry outbursts, irritability, tears, butterflies in the stomach and even exhaustion.

At the same time she strikes a note of optimism. “We can choose not to be anxious. If we work on our emotional discipline, we can respond to matters, not react to them,” she says. She urges all those on social media not to feel obliged to respond to every message. “Let it go, ignore it, or simply delete,” she counsels. “Don’t stop yourself from doing what you can because of the the things you can’t.”

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 3:21:31 AM |

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