Home ‘alone’, many fight panic and paranoia, experts say follow routine

New Delhi, Mar 26 (PTI) Awaiting her first baby any day, Ritika Singh is excited but also so anxious that she can’t sleep with fears she might transmit the coronavirus to her unborn child clouding her mind and filling the long night hours with dread.

As millions of Indians live the next three weeks under an unprecedented lockdown, trapped in their homes and isolated from the world, 26-year-old Ritika is just one of those battling their thoughts about what the future holds for them.

The way out of the maze of the mind could be as simple as following a routine, not obsessing about the number of cases and fatalities, and doing relaxation exercises, said experts.

The days pass mostly in boredom but it’s the nights that are really difficult with panic, paranoia and helplessness setting in, said Ritika, a government employee who has taken maternity leave from her job in Jhansi and is with her parents in Varanasi.

'The long months of pregnancy are anyway full of varying emotions… When I go to bed at night, I can't sleep. I keep thinking, ‘What if I catch the virus and transmit it to the baby’. I hope it doesn't come to that and it all comes to an end peacefully,' Ritika told PTI over the phone about what should have been the most special time of her life.

According to mental health experts, people may experience anxiety, stress, hypochondriasis, panic attacks, and uncertainty about the future as social distancing becomes not just a buzzword but the unhappy reality of everyday lives.

“Hypochondriasis is an obsession with the idea of having a serious but undiagnosed medical condition. I am getting cases in my clinic where people are even insisting on getting tested for coronavirus without any symptoms,” Rajiv Mehta, consultant psychiatrist at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital (SGRH), told PTI.

Vihang N Vahia, consultant psychiatrist at Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital added that people don’t really understand what social distancing means. “People who cannot bear loneliness and don’t have anyone to share their problems with are the most affected because they cannot meet anyone in such a situation... when you watch the news, you see the number of affected people is increasing and this triggers panic among people who start thinking they will also fall ill,” Vahia told PTI.

He added that many people start taking everything circulating on WhatsApp/Internet seriously, leading to tension and anxiety, and they should not believe blindly.

“One should look at life as a glass half full and not half empty,” Vahia said.

It’s all about routine, said Arvinder Singh, consulting psychiatrist and founding director of the Ashoka Centre for Well-Being in Ashoka University. “Carry on with as much of a normal routine as you can. People tend to not bathe at their regular time… they take baths in the evening or at night. I strongly suggest it’s the small things, the basics that matter the most,” Singh told PTI.

So, for the next 21 days, it is imperative to wake up at the same time, bathe regularly, not stay in pajamas all day, and dress up in work clothes.

“These basic things give you a sense of a routine, a purpose,” she added.

Dipti Gada Shah, a consultant psychiatrist in Mumbai, said social distancing is leading to problems not just for those suffering depression but also healthy people.

“Exercising and listening to music helps a great deal. Following a routine is good.

Staying connected with friends and family members through social media and phone is necessary. Talk to friends, but don't talk only about coronavirus and the lockdown,” Shah said.

“Don't keeping checking the number of affected people and deaths due to the virus every 10-15 minutes... take all precautions but don't go so deep into it,” she told PTI.

“We are teaching behaviour techniques, like converting negative thoughts into positive thoughts, and relaxation techniques such as ‘shavasana’,” she said.

Nikitha Phyllis, a media professional, is trying to adhere to the advice and has kept to a routine for working from home, mixing it with walks on the terrace, reading and gardening.  However, she suffers from multiple sclerosis and not being able to see the doctor for treatment makes her worried for her immunocompromised condition.

“I have been feeling some anxiety that I'll also get it. It's okay now because I've been at home. But I have been worried about everyone else I know and hoping they don't get it. My MS is in limbo, for the time being. But I can't even go to AIIMS for a blood test,” she said.  According to Arvinder Singh, people who are already immunocompromised are a “more vulnerable' and are experiencing higher levels of anxiety.

“Carry on with things you can do, if you are feeling anxious there are so many videos on YouTube on Yoga Nidra, on basic yoga and breathing. Listen to podcasts you may like,” the psychiatrist said.

Astha Srivastava, a Delhi-based pharma employee, is not a medical professional but has some suggestions too.

“It has been challenging, a bit frustrating to manage everything… The solution might be silly but it is important to just break into a smile from time to time.

“Even if you are stressed or anxious, once you smile the neural connections in your brain will change. When you are anxious you sometimes enter a spiral, to break the spiral the simple act of smiling is enough,” she added. PTI MAH/KND/GVS MIN MIN MIN