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How to stay resilient through the third wave

Yes, we are all slipping once again into a sense of ennui and numbness as we grapple with the third wave of the pandemic. This too shall pass, however, say our experts.

We are all dealing with the implications of the third wave in our own way
We are all dealing with the implications of the third wave in our own way (Pexels)

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Feeling trapped. Check

Can't concentrate on work anymore. Pandemic brain fog. Check

Going back to living under a rock in pyjamas. Check

Miss going out without feeling scared. Again. Check

Wondering how long you will remain a "Covirgin". Check

Oh no! One more school year lost. Check

How much longer can I escape this?. Check

This list of thoughts that may be running through your head and mine and everyone else's seems to be getting longer and longer. "Happy New Year" messages this 2022 were soon replaced by "I tested positive" ones. Then came the 3rd wave of memes and jokes, followed by a whole cycle of emotions, thoughts, actions, and reactions; basically, we are back to square one.

Of course, we all have our own approaches, and thought processes as the third wave of Covid19 and its implications sink in rather rapidly.

Ask New Delhi-based Nischala Murthy Kaushik, the Chief Marketing Officer at a global firm and mother of two young kids. She talks of how different 2022 is turning out to be, a far cry from what she imagined. She hoped for regular school to start, workplaces to be operational, travel to open up, have some "normalcy" in life, pretty much like all of us. But now, reprioritising is a key factor, she believes. "As of now, top on the list is my family's health," she says, pointing out that is it is more important to be safe than sorry. "So, we are almost going into a self-imposed home isolation," she says.

Also read: Why slow eating promotes better digestion, satisfaction and weight maintenance

So what are people doing to get through this third wave? Here is what they are saying.

Where are we now?

Madhumitha Venkataraman, a certified counsellor and the founder of Diversity Dialogues, who has worked on grief-related support with multiple organisations during the second wave, reiterates that it's too early in the day to know how things will be in 2022. "Right now, as the third wave has started, there are two things that I'm sensing -- one is a certain level of fatigue and numbness because now people are just tired with the pandemic. And then there is also this ambivalence to the whole thing – the 'If I get it, I get it. I'm vaccinated; what more can I do?' sort of feeling."

People are also able to rationalise better this time around. The feeling of initial panic and not knowing how things would pan out, which marked the first wave, has given way to people making peace with the scheme of things. Abhishek Dey, a professor at the School of Chemistry, Indian Association of Cultivation of Science, Kolkata, often ends up talking to his students who are at a crucial place of their career—in a time-bound fellowship or trying to complete their PhDs. Students worldwide are in a similar situation and are mentally prepared to rebuild. "Whatever the loss, it's going to be normalised across the spectrum," he concedes. However, he adds that he's genuinely surprised that we have not had as many cases of mental health issues as one may have expected at the beginning of the pandemic. "We are a society that denies mental health like we deny the fact that people have sex despite being a population of 1.4 billion," he observes.

Indeed, we can't ignore the fact that there could be long-term implications on our physical and mental health. Anna Chandy, a therapist and the founder of Anna Chandy & Associates, says that living in uncertainty for almost two years is traumatic for everyone. She foresees long-term impacts. "As humans, our need for predictability and control is nowhere in sight in the current environment, leading to continuous anxiety, sadness, fear of the unknown, anger etc. This continuous upheaval will cause dysregulation of our nervous system, leading to a large number of individuals suffering from diverse illnesses." Along with this, we will be passing on to the next generation our unresolved experiences of these times if we do not process and make meaning of these times, she further explains. "This means a generation of collective trauma is being passed on."

What people are saying about the third wave

Hyderabad-based Minal Thacker, a 30-year-old researcher in a speciality hospital lab, welcomed the New Year along with her husband with the unfortunate diagnosis of mild Covid on January 4, 2022. They had just returned with a group of five friends from their New Year celebrations in Goa." The initial two days were really bad. But there was no regret. I'm recovering," she says. They knew Covid was lurking around but decided that it was just something they had to do. While in Goa, though, Covid was just off their radar, she admits. "It's been two years, and we cannot escape it anymore."

Clearly, people's reactions to the third wave vary considerably. As Venkataraman points out, the pandemic has been far more difficult for certain groups over the others - it has led to a loss of income for many, changing relationships at home, and domestic violence has also increased exponentially. According to the National Commission of Women, India recorded a2.5 times increase in domestic violence between February and May 2020. It has also led to greater burnout amongst women who need to juggle multiple hats and loneliness amongst single people.

Also read: Why Atrangi Re's portrayal of mental health is deeply problematic

On the other hand, some communities have proved to be incredibly resilient and have managed to pivot and thrive in their new circumstances. For instance, Professor Dey believes the scientific community has succeeded in looking at the pandemic through an analytical eye. "So, we are in a better mindset than other people. You have to deal with the reality of the situation essentially. Understand that it's impossible to control nature," he says. Students too have coped well, he says.


Students are coping well with online classes
Students are coping well with online classes (Unsplash)

Hrishikesh Rao, a first-year law student at Christ University, must agree. He says life and academics online is the new normal, and he's made his peace with it; he's hardly attended offline classes for about two months in the last two years. It's what he's now used to. "After dinner, we sometimes get online at 10.30 p.m. and talk up to 6 a.m on days when we feel like it. We tend to be online together as we chat, as well as get our assignment work done too…that way, you have someone to talk to," says Rao. He spends around 3 hours online with friends, playing online games and on occasion, celebrating birthdays, and watching movies with screen sharing. "It's better than watching a movie alone!"

If there is any community that's been hit straight on the frontline all through the waves, it's doctors. Dr Susheela Suresh, a senior consultant in internal medicine and critical care at Apollo Hospital, Bengaluru, agrees it's been tough for all doctors in the first two waves of this pandemic. Many doctors are very frustrated and fear professional burnout. With the third wave has come some amount of complacency and confidence, though, she says. "All of us doctors have received our booster shots. So there is that confidence. We have survived two waves - the first one with extreme caution, anxiousness, fear, and sleepless nights as we thought every patient was a threat to our lives. In the second wave, we physicians had to pitch in to care for around 30 Covid patients every day; we lost too many lives in our circles. Now, we are all reassuring patients and ourselves in this third wave because Omicron is milder." But there is an underlying anxiety that one more Covid mutant may come next; it usually takes three years for a pandemic to go, as has been seen in the Spanish Flu (1919 to 1922), she adds.

Learning to cope

People seem to have gone back to meeting friends on video calls online, cooking up new dishes. Some have maintained a rigorous exercise regime. Binge-watching on OTT platforms or baking, online shopping, gardening or art – the kind of avenues that have provided coping mechanisms to deal with the stress of yet another wave, are many (don't judge anyone)!

Baking has proved to be a great coping mechanism
Baking has proved to be a great coping mechanism (Unsplash)

It also helps that employers recognised--during the second wave itself-- the increased need to support their employees and talk about mental health, organising sessions for them around grief, burnout, and how everyone can take care of themselves. Godrej properties limited, for instance, extended a long weekend for three days to let their employees heal; Accenture deployed an employee assistance programme that focuses on offering mental health support for employees and their families and upgraded their insurance policy to include mental health reimbursements; Thoughtworks began offering focused sessions on wellness.

Ideally, this should continue during the third wave as well. Nischala reiterates that it is critical for leaders to listen to the voice of their teams, colleagues, customers to get a sense of the ground situation and outlook for the future. "The need of the hour is to provide flexibility at work and look at crafting realistic plans and short-term goals."

Overall, however, the mood continues to be carefully optimistic. Most people seem to be cautiously approaching this third wave, assuming it's a transient phase that's constantly morphing. "As we've gone through the other two waves, people have stayed resilient and have come out of it," says Venkataraman, adding that this too shall pass. "We will be able to thrive through it. 

Bhumika K is a Bengaluru-based journalist and the author of Kuku's Summer at Home

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