The surge of the Delta variant of COVID-19 across the world has caused a lot of anxiousness and mental fatigue among people. The vaccination drives from late last year had given us some hope that by the middle of 2021 we will all be in a better position. There was a belief that maybe by now we will start getting back to our normal lives. Unfortunately, news about the emergence of the Delta and Lambda variants and rising coronavirus cases in different parts of the world has led to anger, hopelessness, distress, and despair among many. And those feelings are perfectly valid and normal.
At the start of this year, we had all felt that we will put the nightmare of coronavirus behind us and would begin 2021 as a fresh chapter. And for a while, it appeared we were doing exactly that. But the endless news of the emerging variants in recent weeks has put us back into a negative cycle of pessimism and constant worry. In addition, public health officials have now urged even those who are fully vaccinated to exercise caution while going out. The ones who are partly vaccinated or still waiting for their first shot, meanwhile, are getting concerned. Masking norms, too, aren’t going away anywhere. It almost seems like we haven’t had the time to catch a breath in the last year and a half. And this continuous back-and-forth can bring even the most optimistic person down.
Now, however, is not the time to panic. Take a deep breath and relax for a minute. Let’s look at the positives. Firstly, while it’s true that the cases are on the rise because of the Delta variant, it’s also a fact that hospitalizations have dropped significantly in regions where the vaccination rates are high. Various studies from all over the world have also shown that the current vaccines do work against the Delta variant, although their effectiveness varies.
Now, the more pressing question is how do we manage our anxieties over the new COVID-19 variants and the rising cases. For starters, things like exercising, maintaining a healthy diet, talking about your worries with family and friends, and getting proper sleep will certainly help. But what else can we do to cope? Here are some tips that you might find helpful.
1. Direct your attention to things that are in your control
One of the things that the pandemic has forced us to do is to think too much about the future. When will the cases drop? Will more new variants emerge? Will I ever get my normal life back? These are some of the questions that have been plaguing our mind for long and the emergence of the new strains have made things worse. However, it’s important to not be too fearful of what might happen and direct your attention to things that are in your control.
Things like taking care of ourselves, working hard on our jobs every day, practicing gratitude are in your control. The future of the coronavirus is not. Therefore, it’s better to focus on things we do have power over vs. those we don't.
2. Look for some good news stories at least once a day
It can be easy to get bogged down when we are surrounded by a relentless assault of negative news. However, many positive stories are happening around you every day that you might even be aware of. Many newspapers these days have sections dedicated to good news stories of the day. Look out for those. There are several websites too that are focused on bringing out positive news from around the world. Pay attention to those and make sure you read such happy news at least once a day. The stories may be something as simple as how Earth’s ozone layer is healing or how Paris is making its city greener, but they will certainly help keep you in a better state of mind during the day.
3. Let yourself laugh
There’s a reason why laughter is said to be the best medicine. Laughter, in fact, is also a great form of stress relief, say experts. When you start to laugh, it actually induces physical changes in your body and lightens your stress. Mayo Clinic says that a good dose of laughter can cool down your stress response and increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. This can result in a good, relaxed feeling. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and promote muscle relaxation, which can eventually help reduce some of your stress.
Thus, it is more important than ever at present to allow yourself to laugh daily. Put on some comedy shows or movies. Read a comic book. Talk to that friend who is always cracking jokes. Play with your pets. These will all help in making you laugh and make you forget about the constant news of COVID-19.
4. Find things to look forward to
Make sure that you have at least something to look forward to every day. It can be taking a walk in the evening with a friend. Or reading a book or watching your favorite show before bed. It can even be cooking something nice for yourself. Looking forward to even the smallest of things can be fun and have a positive impact on your mind in times of uncertainty. Even if you don't have something already planned, make some new goals to look forward to - register for a new activity, order something in parts, start a collection - anything that makes you look towards future pleasure.
5. Schedule a “worry time”
Mental health therapists are suggesting scheduling a “worry time” these days to relieve the anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sleep therapist and psychologist Nick Wignall says that having a scheduled time to worry on purpose can be helpful as it allows you to train your brain to spill put all your worries, anxieties, and concerns at a particular time every day and then feel relaxed later. According to Wignall, “Deliberate Worry is the practice of consistently making time each day to acknowledge your worries externally, and if necessary, make specific plans for addressing genuine problems.”
So, for example, 6.30-7 PM is the time where you sit every day with a cup of tea. This is the time you can set aside to address whatever you have been feeling about the COVID-19 situation. As a result, instead of worrying about the rising cases and the emerging variants throughout the day, you can make a note of those thoughts briefly, park them for later on, and just get on with your day, reminding yourself that you’ll get to them during your scheduled worry time. Most importantly, doing this will signal your brain to not worry when you’re trying to go to bed or in the middle of the night - there’s a dedicated time and space for that in the evening or the afternoon.
Of course, it’s hard to stop worrying altogether. But practicing this technique might just come in handy to you during these stressful times.
6. Reapply coping skills that you found helpful during difficult situations in the past
In the current scenario, it might be helpful to apply previously learned coping strategies that benefited you during difficult situations. Think back. Maybe it was meditation that helped you out of a stressful situation in the past. Or maybe it was reading a book or taking up a new hobby like painting or playing music. Going back to doing those things again can trigger the memories of how they made things easier for you when times were tough and will bring you towards a more positive frame of mind.
Share these useful tips with your loved ones...