How to protect yourself from catastrophising
The panic and fear we are experiencing is palpable. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings without falling into despair and hopelessness
A year into the pandemic and it feels like we are stuck in 2020. Most clients over the past month have described April 2021 with a feeling of “déjà vu”. A 36-year-old male client tells me, “I have never felt this degree of fear ever in my life. I have been saving every possible verified number for plasma donors, places where oxygen is available and even tracking the hospital availability. I live with my parents and while they are healthy, I can’t seem to rest. Reading heartbreaking stories about the lives lost to the virus has left me unsettled and hyper-vigilant, I can’t sleep and when I do, I wake up with a feeling of panic and in sweat. I feel like I am falling apart and it’s exhausting.”
The panic and fear we are experiencing is palpable. Most people are experiencing far more disillusionment, anxiety and despair than last year. This is understandable—we entered 2021 feeling exhausted, experiencing burnout, only to see the healthcare and infrastructural facilities falling short. This feels shocking. As a result, a lot of people are feeling purposeless, even numb. If you are experiencing some of these emotions too, it may be good to acknowledge and name the feelings you are experiencing. Sometimes, becoming aware of our feelings allows us to process and work through them.
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While it looks like a long battle ahead, when it comes to dealing with covid-19, we as human beings are still capable of holding on to hope and watching out for behaviours that exaggerate our hypervigilance and fear. As all of us consume news and social media, we are at a risk of falling for “catastrophising”. Our catastrophising takes the form of imagining worst-case scenarios and this, in turn, often leaves us feeling panicky and exhausted. Catch yourself when you are falling for this thought trap and remind yourself that you are taking precautions, wearing a mask, and what you are imagining may not happen at all. Even if you do contract the virus, it may not lead to an emergency situation right away. Between the worst-case scenario and best-case scenario, there are many options. Learn to self-soothe and be compassionate to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up just because you ended up catastrophising. We all have done so, at some stage during the pandemic.
Doom-scrolling or doom-surfing has become another trigger for most people at this point. This refers to a tendency whereby we continue to consume news and information that may be threatening, overwhelming our body and mind. Make a conscious choice not to doom-scroll. It can leave us in a space where we constantly feel dejected and helpless. It immediately puts our brain and body on high alert and this, in turn, triggers a heightened state whereby we end up falling into a “fight, flight and freeze” mode. Doom-scrolling can very easily lead us towards catastrophising, and we are the only ones who can stop ourselves from falling down that rabbit hole again.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and anxious, it’s okay to not be online. If sharing or reading tweets about other people’s physical health is exhausting you, make a choice to mindfully consume and even take a break from social media.
As I write this, I am aware that there are no simple or easy answers. The process of gradually restoring resilience at an individual and structural level will require a collective effort and significant policy changes so that we are not faced with a similar situation again. We need to be mindful that as we navigate this, we don’t fall into the trap of despair and hopelessness. Sometimes we are faced with situations in life that require us to believe in light and hope, even though we may not see it right away. Maybe, ask yourself how you can create a little window for hope. Remember that we are all capable of being mindful, taking precautions and yet holding space for hope.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.
FIRST PUBLISHED01.05.2021 | 10:30 AM IST