In the movies, when there is a disaster, natural or otherwise, if you look closely, there are always a few people standing and staring. They are not running away like everyone around them, they just stand, paralyzed by fear until someone or something snaps them out of it. I was that person. I had been vigilant, keeping updated on the news about the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic since December 2019. It was something I thought was far away until it started looming closer and closer. Then boom- it was with us in Nigeria. The only difference with my experience is that it took me almost three weeks to finally snap out of that paralyzing fear.
Essentially, I must say that I was able to do that mostly by focusing on building my connection with God and realizing that He alone has control over everything. However, I had a few coping mechanisms that helped me through the fear. While I was stuck in fear, I was also overwhelmed with helplessness, which quickly progressed to panic, paranoia and anxiety. My mental health suffered. I went shopping with the intention that I’ll never step out of the house in the next 4 to 6 months. A considerable chunk of money went towards shopping for supplies all at once. I gave up on my fitness routine and started regularly binging on the food that was meant to last a few months. So, if I must answer what was hit the most by the COVID-19 pandemic,
I’ll have to say that for me, it was a peculiar cocktail of all three – my mind, body and pockets. In this three-part series, I will be talking about how they were affected and my coping mechanisms. First up, I will start with my mind.
To be able to understand the effect a pandemic has on you, you need to be quite self-aware. You need to understand yourself and how you process your emotions and experiences in life. If you are anything like me, you will hate uncertainty as that leads to anxiety. You will love planning and having things organized. You will also have an empathetic heart and will want to save the world. Unfortunately, the Coronavirus has no regard for all that. This means that the uncertainty, the death, the overwhelming news and the spread of the virus worldwide makes it difficult to maintain a healthy mental balance.
I went from being numb to being super paranoid and yelling at my boomer parents to stay at home. Why was it so hard to get boomers to stay at home?! My numb phase consisted of giving in to the overwhelming despair that we are all done for, that the virus is going to get everyone of us, so it was just a waiting game. The paranoid part of me decided to go on a cleaning and hand washing rampage. I was perpetually reeking of the bleach solution I always kept handy. I called my loved ones and forbade them from leaving the house. I winced every time a visitor came to the house. I was high-strung and of course soon enough, I burnt out. Those two states were clearly not sustainable. Something had to give. I then sat with myself to trace and deactivate triggers and other stressors.
At this point, it is important to highlight the gendered nuances as a fall out of the COVID-19 pandemic. In most parts of the world, women are perceived as primary care givers for children as well as being custodians of the home. However, these are times when home-schooling has been added to the already heavy plates and cooking is more regular than ever. Creativity in running a home is stretched from making balanced meals to usefully engaging the children. At this time, men too may have realized rationale behind the constant clamoring from women around the world for partnerships and that a significant about of work goes into running a home. The men do not have work to escape to. They are faced with the full brunt of excited children 24/7. The pandemic has also given rise to job insecurity. The stereotypical male “breadwinner” will struggle with this new reality which could put a strain on his mental health. These are times when everyone needs to pay attention to the various ways a pandemic can interfere with or wellbeing.
COPING MECHANISMS FOR THE MIND
Set Boundaries: I became mindful of the COVID-19 related content I was consuming. The news, social media and even conversations with friends and family were all feeding into my anxiety. I went off social media and stayed away from news that was upsetting. For some strange reason, people tend to sensationalize bad news and seem to rush to be the first to deliver it. Most times, I had to cut conversations short when it seemed like the message heightened my anxiety instead of relieving it. I stated clearly but firmly that I will rather not dwell on the bad news by talking about it repeated. This doesn’t mean you are in denial. It just means you are ensuring that your anxiety does not get triggered. If you have children, establish a routine where you can carve out time to spend away and alone on a walk, in your room or garden.
Focus on What You Can Control: By now it should be clear that the world is collectively helpless against this pandemic. Most tips on how to handle the pandemic focus on what YOU can control. Instead of stressing about transmission, focus on doing what is necessary to break or limit transmission. Social distancing, wash your hands, use masks and gloves. Practice safe hygiene measures. Particularly helpful for me was working toward providing relief packages for low-income families struggling with the effects of a lockdown. Being part of the solution was a great way to be grateful for my privileges as well as easing the suffering of several families across Nigeria.
Change of Perspective: This was one thing I struggled with. I was all doom and gloom, cursing the government for not closing our borders on time or trying to imagine how to act if I or a loved one caught the virus. Like a ping pong ball, I was darting between the past and the future. I was oblivious to the fact that I could simply focus on being present. This meant that I could choose gratitude for my current good health, for shelter and provision. Even though I am generally a homebody, it was still useful to view staying at home as a time to bond with those you live with and have some downtime.
Do Not Put Pressure on Yourself: I found that a lot of people felt unnecessarily obliged to use the time in isolation/lockdown to do something productive. An online course. Learn a new language. Create. Write. Such unnecessary pressure. Living through a pandemic is a unique type of grief. There is a loss of normalcy, a general sense of helplessness and a threat to basic survival through a stint of resources. It is understandable if you are not as productive. Be gentle with yourself. That you are working from home does not automatically mean that you are on a break. Take days off work if you need them to center yourself into your new routine. Go back to enjoyable habits so that you can be more productive at work.
With these coping mechanisms, I was able to ease myself into a healthy mental state because I realized that what you achieve inwardly will change my outer reality. In the second part of these series, I will be talking about how my body was affected. Till then, stay safe.
Written by Mudrakat Alabi-Macfoy
Mudrakat is an ardent believer in the value and agency of human beings. She is deeply affected by the necessity of a satisfactory quality of life for each and every one. She is a lawyer who works in the non-profit sector designing programs for positive social and economic impact. She channels her beliefs through actively advocating for mental health, gender equality, environmental susatinability and compassion in our collective humanity. She enjoyes writing , interacting with nature and cooking. Catch up with more of her amazingness on Instagram @mudraaah and @poshnmongsng