Effects of the Covid Pandemic on Our Mental Health

What if the Corona Virus stays around for another 6 months? What about one year… or more? What thoughts cross your mind regarding this? What emotions do you experience? For most, if not all of us, this would be Stressful! What is STRESS? And how do we manage it so that we are able to calmly face the challenges posed by this pandemic?

We all have some understanding of Stress. If you were asked what Stress is, most of us might define stress by giving examples of situations that cause stress. Would you be right? You would be partially correct.

Let me provide you with a scenario that may be very familiar to you: Let us say you are flying in a plane, on your way to your favorite vacation destination. Then, from the flight deck, you hear an announcement, “This is your captain speaking. I am sorry to inform you that we will soon be passing through turbulent weather. Please take your seats, fasten your seat-belts and stay fastened until the all clear announcement is given!” Soon after, your plane starts to visibly vibrate. Then you hit an air pocket and your plane drops by a few hundred feet… and it knocks the breath out of you. Your heart is pounding from fear. You ask yourself, “Is this it?” In this scenario,
what is Stress?

Hans Selye, the person who coined the word “Stress” defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” This definition is quite technical. Let’s attempt to simplify this. In any Stressful situation, you have 3 key elements:

  • You have the STRESSOR – This is the stress producing factor. Inour example of being a passenger in a plane, the stressors arepossibly (a) the captain’s announcement of coming turbulentweather, (b) the plane vibrating, and (c) the air pocket causing theplane to drop by a few hundred feet. These stressors are what Selye refers to as the “demand for change”, that is, the situation that takes you out of your comfort zone.
  • You have the STRESS – which has to do with one’s perception and assessment of the situation. Back to our airplane example: (1) Pilot makes an announcement of impending turbulence. Stress is your perception and assessment of, “Oh no! I wonder how bad it will be? Will this plane be able to take it?” (2) Plane starts to vibrate. Stress is your perception of, “OMG! This is getting worse. This plane might not be able to take this!” (3) Finally, the plane hits an air pocket and drops hundreds of feet. Stress is your perception of, “Oh no! We are going to crash!!!” These various perceptions bring about the 3rd element: Strain.
  • STRAIN – is the consequence of your perception and assessment on your mental or emotional or physical states. Let’s take the 3 perceptions in our airplane example, First, “Oh no! I wonder how bad it will be? Will this plane be able to take it?” The consequence of such a perception will most likely produce Anxiety. The second perception of, “OMG! This is getting worse…” will most likely lead you to feel Very Scared. And, the third perception of, “Oh no! We are going to crash!!!” will most likely trigger off Panic! Hans Selye refers to these strain responses as the “non-specific response of the body”.

In the context of the corona virus pandemic we are now faced with, examples of Stressors could be: receiving packages delivered to you, or someone sneezing in front of you, or receiving the news of your next door neighbor who died of the Corona Virus. In each of the aforementioned examples, Stress is: your perception and assessment of the package that you are receiving – might this delivery man be a carrier of the virus? The consequence of this perception (Strain) might be Anxiety. When someone sneezes in front of you and you make the assessment “I might contract the virus!”, this might produce the strain response of Apprehension. And finally, if your neighbor’s passing away from the virus leads you to make the assessment that “it’s only a matter of time before this airborne virus gets into our home!”, you might experience the strain response of Fear.

Most of the Stressors in our lives are not within our control – they just happen. At the start of this year, who would have thought that the corona virus would erupt? No one! It just did. We absolutely had no control over the occurrence of this. But, what we can control is our perception and assessment of the numerous stressors that we encounter on a daily basis. We have a choice as to how to interpret the plane’s vibrating as it enters turbulent weather. You can choose to continue thinking that the plane might not be able to “take it” and get really scared. Or, you can choose to re-frame the situation and tell yourself that this plane and this crew (who, by the way, are all looking calm) have been through this situation numerous times and they’re all alive and well. If a new thought pops up saying, this turbulence might be the “last straw” that breaks this plane apart, you have the choice NOT to go down that line of thinking.

Therefore, the key to managing Stressful Situations lies in managing your perceptions and assessments (Stress) of the unavoidable Stressors that come into our lives. Whenever you experience any negative emotion (Strain), know that it is caused by your perception and interpretation of the Stressor that confronts you. Make it a habit to ask yourself, “Is this the only
way of interpreting the situation?” More often than not, there are other facts of the situation that will realistically support a different (and better way) of interpreting that situation. Back to the passenger in an airplane going through turbulence example: yes, it’s very possible that the turbulence you are presently undergoing could be the last straw that breaks the plane apart.
But, it is also factually true that the plane is structurally sound enough to survive this latest bout of turbulence.

So, it is your CHOICE to focus your perceptions on the worst case scenarios that a prolonged Covid Pandemic can bring or you can focus your thinking on the things that you CAN DO to ensure that you and your loved ones will be able to survive the threats posed by a prolonged Covid invasion. And, for the threats you cannot do anything about… there is always Prayer and Surrender to God or Allah or Yahweh or Krishna!