These are unprecedented times and all of us have found ourselves in a situation that invokes fear- fear of personal health, fear of job loss, pay cuts, fear of long term career growth and so on. We hear about spread of COVID-19 from all over the world every day, through television, social media, newspapers, family, friends and other sources.

Covid-19 pandemic has not had just a physical impact, but a larger socio-economic impact,and  it exacts a psychological toll as well; one that requires tending to. The most common emotion faced by everyone today is “Fear”. As we approach our 73rd independence day, we at Marching Sheep are talking about “Freedom from fear”. Feeling fearful is normal, but living with fear is not.

The scale of the issue

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 7.5 percent of Indians suffers from some form of mental health problem. However, the prevalence rate is said to be much more since many cases do not surface due to fear of social shame.

Further, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) — an autonomous institution under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare — has indicated in its report that nearly 150 million individuals need active psychological intervention.

As per the National Crime Records Bureau of 2015, India’s suicide rate is as high as 10.6 per 100,000 people. While issues like dowry harassment, abuse, broken marriages, and poverty were a few reasons for such deaths, it also pointed out that a large share (one-sixth) of it was attributed to mental health ailments.

Fear and anxiety are some of common root problems behind current emotional and mental turmoil. If not attended to, the negative emotional impact is going to be far greater than the physical impact of the pandemic.

Understanding the fears

The current COVID-19 pandemic has heightened uncertainty over the economy, employment, finances, relationships, and of course, physical and mental health.

There are certain triggers to stress in this crisis like Job uncertainty, Disruption in daily routine, Salary cuts, Lack of control over the situation, Family members stranded at different location, Conflicts in family due to finances and routines.

1. Fear of getting the infection – This fear is on top of everybody’s mind nowadays. Even if you and your family are safe and home, nobody is stepping outside still this fear of getting infected with the virus is there. Many of us fear becoming ill with the virus or passing infection on to loved ones, as the risk increases when people interact. Also the fear of social distancing is leading to anxiety related to separation from loved ones.

2. Fear of Uncertainty and the unknown– There is uncertainty all around us. Nobody knows when all of this is going to end which has created an uncertain environment which is draining everybody emotionally and trapping in a downward spiral of endless “what-ifs” and worst-case scenarios about what tomorrow may bring.

3. Fear of the Job loss/Employment: We all are well aware of the statistics of the employees who have been laid off or lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Worries about job losses are the highest in the country as 86 per cent being worried about losing their jobs and livelihood post-COVID-19 lockdowns. This in turn has led fear related to survival and sustenance for many.

4. Financial Fears / Financial Anxiety: With the people losing jobs and facing severe salary cuts has led to change in their way of spending money. A nationwide survey by IndiaLends, a digital lending platform threw up no surprises: 94 per cent said they would have to be extra careful about how they spend their money in the next few months; 84 per cent said they were cutting back on spending; and 90 per cent expressed concern about their savings and financial future.

Overcoming the fears

For many people, the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus is the hardest thing to handle. But there are many things one can do even in the face of this unique crisis to manage our fears.

As individuals-

1. Stay informed but don’t get overwhelmed– It’s vital to stay informed, particularly about what’s happening in your community, to follow advised safety precautions and do our part to slow the spread of coronavirus. But there’s a lot of misinformation going around, as well as sensational coverage that only feeds into fear. It’s important to be discerning about what you read and watch. If it gets too much, switch off or do digital detox for a few days.

2. Control what can be controlled: There are a lot of things we can’t control and that causes fear and anxiety, but there are some things that can be managed or planed for. Having an action plan for managing things you might find difficult can help. Don’t miss on the safety precautions like washing hands regularly, staying home as much as possible, avoid gatherings and most importantly having a healthy balance between personal and professional priorities etc. Making prudent financial investments, saving the money one would have otherwise spent on holidays, commuting, weekend at the malls or movies, eating out.

3. Stay connected even when physically isolated: Humans are social animals. We’re hardwired for connection and need human connection. Isolation and loneliness can exacerbate anxiety and depression, and even impact our physical health. Make it a priority to stay in touch with friends and family. It’s important to take breaks from stressful thoughts about the pandemic to simply enjoy each other’s company to laugh, share stories, and focus on other things going on in our lives. Call up old friends from school and college, reconnect with ex-colleagues, reach out to all cousins, have online games and parties.

4. Occupy your mind with relaxing hobbies: Whether you play the piano, read a book, garden, paint, play a board game or meditate, all of these activities can help calm your mind and prevent you from reaching for your phone or computer and falling into a downward spiral of despair. Adopt a pet, feed a stray or whatever gives you happiness.

5. Lastly- Speak up– face your fears and articulate them. Share them with people you trust. Sharing makes the fears seem less threatening, and collective wisdom can help you overcome them remember- none of us are alone in this situation, we are together in this situation.

As an organization

1. Employee’s mental health should be your first priority in current times. Building Psychological safety in teams and emotional resilience would be instrumental in healing as a society and as an economy.

2. Foster a company culture that acknowledges employees need breaks, rest and healthy relationships to succeed in the workplace. It is ok if an employee signs off in the evening on time. It is ok if some one wants leave. Work from home is no longer a perk or a cake walk, or relaxed working from home.

3. Acknowledge WFH burnout- It’s real, It’s here. Provide a support system for employees where they can anonymously reach out and seek counselling.

4. Foster a work environment that provides all employees with support from co-workers and supervisors. Build empathetic managerial capability and communication platforms that foster trust, openness and supportive environment. All conversations cannot and should not be work related and transactional. Get to know your team members better.

5. Recognize that every employee is different and make an effort to understand employees’ preference relating to their work and work environments, way of working, way of communicating, way of maintaining personal and professional boundaries and respect choices.

6. Corporate leaders can also create clear and confidential guidelines for reporting and responding to Covid-19 cases among employees, so that employees feel safe reporting if they become sick and secure that they will have a job when they have recovered.

As a society

1. Try to help others; it will make you feel better: As a quote says “We’re standing far apart now so we can embrace each other later.”Those who focus on others in need and support their communities, especially during times of crises, tend to be happier and healthier than those who don’t. Helping others not only makes a difference to your community and even to the wider world at this time, it can also support your own mental health and well-being. There are various ways in which you can help and give back like:

a)     Reach out to others in need: If you know people in your community who are isolated—particularly the elderly or disabled—you can still offer support. Perhaps an older neighbor needs help with groceries or fulfilling a prescription? You can always leave packages on their doorstep to avoid direct contact.

b)     Donate: Donate to food banks, donate to an organization that’s making a difference during the pandemic. Some possibilities include hospitals and health centers or national and local charities that provide housing, financial assistance, or food. You can help older adults, low-income families, and others in need by donating food or cash.

c)     Be a support for someone: If friends or loved ones are panicking, try to help them gain some perspective on the situation. Instead of scaremongering or giving credence to false rumors, refer them to reputable news sources. Being a positive, uplifting influence in these anxious times can help you feel better about your own situation too.

Just remember that we all are in this together. The uncertainty and the fears are not permanent. There will be good days and bad days, so stay optimistic. Try to look at the bright side of this situation.

No matter how serious and sad all of this is, there are upsides as well. Look at the opportunities you have, you can have more time if planned well; you can reflect on your strengths and areas where you need to develop further, opportunity to reconnect with near and dear ones be it virtually, and yes not to forget the cleaner environment. And like every phase in life, this too shall pass.