Let’s face it, we human beings are basically social creatures. The reason we’ve survived several world-changing crises is our ability to form and maintain social connections. 

So, it is hardly surprising that as millions of people around the world face indefinite isolation and financial uncertainty because of the coronavirus, people are anxious. We’re fighting a pandemic of almost unprecedented scale and there’s no telling how long this crisis will last.

How does one deal with difficult feelings and emotions that come with this uncertainty and ambiguity? Quite simply, by talking about them and grounding ourselves in the present. 

While governments across the world are advocating social distancing, several mental health experts say it doesn’t mean we stop interacting with people completely. 

Cutting off social connections can lead to loneliness which research suggests is as deadly as living with obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It can severely affect a person’s physical and mental health and lead to a significant reduction in a person’s lifespan. 

Therefore, it’s critical to stay in touch with people, even if it’s just virtually. Make it a habit to stay in touch with people.

In our course on Embracing Change, we talk about first responders or the people you first reach out to during a crisis. They might be your partners, parents, siblings or friends. Or people you are living with right now such as roommates and flatmates. And for those who have formed strong relationships at work, it may be peers and mentors. 

Now is the time to reach out to your first responders, your personal support system. Call them up. Video chat with them over FaceTime, Skype or Zoom. Text or WhatsApp them if there are bandwidth issues. No matter what, just reach out. 

In fact, now is the time to speak to everyone you have been meaning to for a while. Talk to them, share your concerns and anxieties with them. You might be tempted to not burden them with your worries. But they are probably as worried as you are. Sharing your concerns might help you both realize that you aren’t in this alone.

While you reach out to people, remember to ground yourself in the present moment. The amygdala, a part of our brain that controls emotions such as fear, may go into overdrive. Hence, you may be tempted to follow the news 24/7 to feel like you are in control. However, this does more harm than good. Limit your news intake to once or twice a day. 

Also, remember to take extra care of your physical and mental health. Exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, even if it’s just climbing stairs, doing some yoga or a simple dance workout. Try to find some time to meditate and engage in some creative pursuits. Have clearly defined routines and rituals that give you a semblance of normalcy. 

No one knows what the future holds. While scientists across the world are racing to develop a vaccine, remember to stay in touch with your first responders and build some good habits to keep you sane in these uncertain times. They will give you the strength to cope.

Sanjay Deshpande is Senior Specialist, Curriculum at Harappa Education.

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