They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That’s certainly true of some of the images of the world’s most famous tourist sites during the coronavirus pandemic. Times Square in New York. Westminster Bridge in London. The Grand Canal of Venice. Or even the Gateway of India closer home.
The once-bustling places are now quiet and deserted. There’s a haunting emptiness to them as people around the world adopt social distancing and India goes through a lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
What emotions do these pictures stir in you? Fear? Surprise? Melancholy? Or all of the above?
Sure, these dramatic images can be disconcerting and trigger fears of an unknown future. But our reactions can also be an important coping mechanism, research has shown us fear and loneliness are parts of a survival mechanism ingrained in our brains.
While this visual landscape of social distancing is new to us, emotional responses like fear, loneliness, and melancholy are not. We have experienced complex emotions similar to these since the dawn of mankind.
According to evolutionary psychologists Paul Rozin and Edward B. Royzman, these very emotions have helped us survive by promoting an attentional bias towards danger. Fear helps us detect danger and makes us protect ourselves. For instance, our ancestors who saw a lion and failed to feel fear got eaten.
In this age of COVID-19, these emotions are prompting us to take necessary precautions to survive. Those who are practicing social distancing and hand hygiene are more likely to stay safe from the virus.
But an overdose of these emotions can be overwhelming. So how do you cope? By channeling your emotions into productive action. Here are some tried and tested strategies recommended by experts:
Take out your favorite journal and write down your experiences. Write as a third-party observer (e.g. “Aman is…”) rather than in first-person (“I am…”). According to American social psychologist James Pennebaker, this tactic creates distance between you and your emotion and allows you to process it more objectively.
Close your eyes and meditate. According to German psychiatrist B.K. Holzel, this is a great practice to build emotional regulation. Do it by yourself or use an app that offers guided meditation for beginners and advanced meditators. We like Headspace and Calm.
Call friends and loved ones and talk about your emotions with them. Remember, you are not alone. Even before the lockdown, a National Mental Health Survey had revealed our propensity for loneliness. Prolonged isolation can exacerbate the issue. Now, more than ever, be there for each other.
Take up new projects. If you have work-related or personal projects on the back burner, use this hiatus to catch up. Doing something productive will increase your feeling of personal power and restore a sense of control.
Learn, and not just for productivity. Use the extra solo time on your hands to learn a second language, try a new hobby, take an online course, watch TED Talks, or play brain games. New learning wakes up the mind, helping us engage with the present moment, rather than worrying about what’s coming next.
Which one will you try first? Our upcoming blogs will share more strategies and guide you through a journey of self-care and growth. Stay tuned. And keep calm and carry on.
Aditi Sabnis is a Learner Engagement specialist & Priyamvada Dalmia is a Positive Psychology expert and Behavior Analytics specialist at Harappa Education.
Rozin, P., & Royzman, E. B. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5(4), 296-320.
Pennebaker, J. W., & Evans, J. F. (2014). Expressive writing: Words that heal. Enumclaw, WA: Idyll Arbor Inc.
Hölzel, B. K., Lazar, S. W., Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago, D. R. & Ott, U. (2011). How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(6), 537 –559.
de Figueiredo JM. Depression and demoralization: phenomenological differences and research perspectives. Compr Psychiatry. 1993;34:308-311.
Worsley A. A history of loneliness. The Conversation. March 19, 2018.
Izenberg G. Identity: The Necessity of a Modern Idea. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press; 2016.
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