Are we Emotionally Ready to Experience another Wave?


Priyanka Malhotra, Psychologist, life coach

With the Covid-19 scare engulfing the world again with its new variant - Omicron XBB.1.5, which is being considered a more contagious and immune evasive than other variants, the imminent danger of once again being caught up in the fury of this virus looms large upon the society. With every news of the virus, flashbacks of what one had to go through in the past 2-3 years infiltrate one’s mind and it adds on to the already pervasive fear. The wrath of the virus since its outbreak is not unknown to any one of us. The disruption it caused was not just seen in the toll it took on human life, but also the havoc it caused on the human mind! Therefore, with the spread of the new variant, and after a series of lockdowns that not only India, but the whole world faced, the innumerable deaths, economical downfall, financial crises faced by many, widespread community outbreak leading to a lot of post-Covid complications, and the inexplicable mental and emotional trauma owing to all of this worldwide, there’s a constant need to check and recheck our emotional and mental stability to ascertain our mental balance.

Initially, when Covid-19 had started to strike the Human Race, many were threatened and preferred to keep indoors. This is during the time of the first lockdown when people followed the rules and kept themselves safe by shutting themselves from the outside world physically. This helped save the lives of many and people also enjoy the company of each other by spending quality time with each other. People also indulged in many activities and hobbies that they were devoid of while they were at work and when they were busy with their lifestyle pre-Covid. However, what had brought a wonderful change for all the people, giving them a break from their lifestyle, staying indoors started to become a headache eventually for most of them.

When the lockdown was finally over, people were so frustrated with being indoors all the time that they got out of their houses like herds of cattle. And when that started to happen, with the increasing physical interaction among people, the virus also started to spread and it marked the need for a second lockdown. When the news of a second lockdown spread, that is when the people, fearing that they might have to be caged again, wanted to take that opportunity to be out as much as possible. Even those who would have otherwise been at home took the time out to rush outside in the markets, in crowded places to be able to meet others or get something from outside physically. The number of Covid-19 cases just multiplied. People had already started to suffer a financial crunch. The economy had plummeted down long ago with the scare of Covid-19 being an epidemic and then later declared a pandemic! Savings were shrinking. The news kept flashing the number of cases rising in different countries. The death toll seemed to be on a roll! People were yet to see the worst of it!

All this while people never realized how it was also taking a toll on their mental health. With the death rates increasing, all people could hear was their relatives, family members, and friends being attacked by this virus. There was the scare of catching the grim virus themselves. One day they would hear a piece of sad news and the other day it just got worse. It seemed like a trap that nobody knew how to get out of. All prayed for it to get over but nothing seemed to help them. Even a telephone ring at a slightly odd hour would cause heartbeats to increase. There was a constant contradictory emotion seen in people- one that wanted to deny what was happening, and the other that was pushing them towards accepting and moving on to be available and accept the next sad news. There was a constant struggle to survive and to be there for those family members, friends, and relatives who were in need.

In normal events, when a person experiences grief, s/he goes through some stages- called the grief cycle. Every individual goes through these stages, more or less in some way, and takes somewhere between three months to 1 year to come out of it. These stages are- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Individual differences occur in the way people experience these stages, not everyone experiences them in same order, and one may even fall back to a particular stage time and again. However, during Covid-19, what everyone experienced was not normal. One had to go through not just one depressing moment but many at the same time. So, one was pushed into a series of grief cycles one after the other, not caring whether the first one had been completed or not. There was simply no time for mourning over the loss(es) as the need to survive was even more impending. One had to accept, at least on the superficial level, the mishappenings of the disaster, and move ahead to safeguard oneself. There was too much grief to handle, too much anxiety to deal with, too much helplessness, too much depression. What wasn’t there was the time to deal with it separately or at ease. It all had to be done asap!

Amidst this chaos that had engulfed the whole world, isolation had started to cause more harm than good. The isolated individual felt even more susceptible to catastrophizing and negative thinking than the people who had a supportive environment.

Uncertainty had increased so much that mere existence too seemed fleeting. Doubt had increased to the point that one had started to question God. People had seen vast population of many countries sweeping away in a matter of days due to the disaster! Hope seemed bleak. The torture that each news brought with it was nerve-wrecking. People seemed to rely on prayers, but it seemed god had simply turned away, ignoring many. Yet, some prayers were answered, some lives saved, some recovered and sustained. Slowly and eventually, the tide began to ebb. People saw some ray of hope into the situation.

At this point, the society was divided into two categories of people. One category of people, which was the larger chunk, was too fearful and skeptical about everything now. They’d become super anxious of even the small ups and downs of their lives. Even minor fluctuations threatened them and they found difficult to deal with the transitions. Then, there existed another category of people, which was all set to enjoy life. It mostly contained either of people who were amongst the lucky lot- who had hardly seen the wrath of the disaster, or even if they did, they didn’t personalize it as they experienced it from a distance, and it didn’t affect them much, or it contained those who had been through hell and were grown tired of being scared of it anymore- maybe because they’d lost too much and nothing else could have been that worse- and them realizing that the worst is already gone. Either category of people needed some form of support. The former in dire need of it, though.

Even though some of the elite and the more aware lot did seek intervention from the experts, a larger lot didn’t, and continued to get back into the “post-Covid normal” routine struggling through the challenges by themselves. Some managed to sail through well, some are still struggling, sadly. Even though with the covid-19 gone, is it gone completely? Does the news of a new variant every few months give you a cold sweat on your forehead? So, here’s a question that I want to ask you all, “Are we emotionally ready to experience another wave?” And even a more significant question, “What are we doing about it if we are not!?!”