“But what does it mean, the plague?
It’s not above life, that’s all!”
Albert Camus, The Plague, 1947, p. 102
The world has witnessed several ‘plagues’ throughout history, and each time the effects have been global and devastating. From the infamous Bubonic Plague to the Spanish Flu, Asiatic Cholera to the more recent Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), pandemics are not just biological phenomena. They affect society at large, with widespread psycho-socio-economic impact (Davis et al., 2016). Today, we face yet another such global public health threat: the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, it is highly contagious with a fast human-human transmission. Originating as unidentified pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China towards the end of 2019, it emerged into a public health emergency of international concern within a month, which then developed into a pandemic in less than two months (World Health Organization, 2020). As international borders have shut down, economies slashed, travel restricted, and billions quarantined in their homes in an effort to contain the virus, the daily living structure has collapsed for humankind with unprecedented consequences. In just three months, the world came down to its knees, courtesy of a microscopic virus.
Countries have taken different measures to fight the infection. Nationwide lockdown is the most common among them. Such historical lockdowns have restricted any gatherings, group rituals, and travel based on the principle of social distancing as recommended by the World Health Organization (Piguillem & Shi, 2020). This has been the prime strategy against the pandemic in the absence of a ‘medical cure’ so far. The virus, however, has affected much beyond just public health. In today’s digitalized world, COVID-19 is literally an infodemic as every conversation, debate, or media-feed is bombarded with data and statistics related to it. Ironically, the virus has hijacked our daily life-threads much more than the respiratory system. This further tends to become a problem during the prolonged quarantine, where families spend more digital screen time, which further adds to the emotional isolation and loneliness (Cinelli et al., 2020). Adults find working from home a new challenge, children are deprived of friends and outdoor play, and the elderly are segregated and vulnerable. As the most important aspect of human life, a daily structure has been fundamentally disrupted.
Here are six strategies to glide through this crisis time, making the most out of the quarantine.
- Discipline and communication—These are the key elements to cope with social isolation. Though sounding old-school, having an indoor structure during the day provides adequate balance to the activities of daily living and work, as well as recreational activities. Children need to be integrated into this routine. Working hours from home need to be regulated and consistent. Too much freedom in this regard has a risk to disrupt the work-life balance. The second aspect is communication. Sharing distress and having direct channels of interpersonal discussion between the family members helps dealing with the stress together. Those staying alone can virtually connect regularly with their loved ones. This helps to fight loneliness, boredom, and frustration.
- Working from home and working for home—These two activities need a crucial balance for some. Prioritizing work and personal needs, having a separate and organized workplace, and preventing extension of work into odd hours of the night help create a ‘work-friendly mentality’, which can be difficult in the comfort of home. Though apparently lucrative, working from home can be a real challenge, especially for those doing it for the first time.
- Staying away from the media—To quote Taleb (2012), “The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free.” The continual and relentless use of technology, especially social media, can snowball panic and have detrimental effects during this crisis. With the plethora of information going viral about COVID-19 each day, misinformation creeps in too. This contributes to mass hysteria, fear, and apprehension adding to the already prevalent public chaos (Cinelli et al., 2020). Unnecessary arguments about the disease can harm mental peace. Many have been browsing the internet late at night for COVID-19 news, hampering their sleep and rest. While it is important to have relevant updates about the pandemic situation, it’s better to keep this news gathering brief and time limited. The sheer bulk of numbers makes no sense to most people, so it makes sense to avoid barrage of data rather than adding to anxiety!
- Social integration and connectedness—The quarantine was necessary, albeit unprepared for, though it has given a chance for certain things. What about using this time to have more personalized touch with our families, having fruitful ‘me’ time and engaging in family rituals such as games and prayers. Haven’t all these been long overdue? The ‘locked-down’ time can be used to revive lost hobbies, nurture forgotten skills, and mend strained relationships. Integrating the people associated with our lives such as security personnel, vendors, domestic helpers, and workers, and catering to their well-being, can help us feel that we are not alone in this. Social distancing is essentially a misnomer, which actually means physical Appreciating that we’re not alone in the pandemic generates hope, a powerful weapon during such times.
- Boosting your immunity—This is vital especially against an infectious outbreak. Daily indoor exercises, such as Yoga or a brisk walk in the immediate proximity (definitely with adequate precautions), healthy diet, and sound sleep all contribute to the generic boosting of immunity. Chronic stress during such times can have harmful effects on our immune system, leading to fatigue, insomnia, mood changes, irritability, and depression (Dantzer & Kelly, 1989). Taking care of physical and mental well-being are essential to counter it. Simple techniques such as deep breathing, and Pranayama and relaxation exercises help to relax both the body and mind.
- Taking care of the vulnerable—Children need age-appropriate understanding of the new restrictions, and it’s quite usual for them to get restless. This energy can be channelized into something productive academically or through board games. Incorporating children into family activities and structuring their day prevents too much indulgence in online games, which can be a potentially harmful addiction even beyond the pandemic. On the other end of the age spectrum, the elderly are often stigmatized and isolated (Banerjee, 2020). While taking care of their physical health, it is also necessary that we respect their autonomy and dignity, involving them in decision making. Daily physical activity is all the more important for them. Many seniors might not be well-versed in using technology and hence might remain unaware of the necessary precautions, which need to be carefully supervised.
Most importantly, we need to spend some COVID-free time during the day. The pandemic will hopefully eventually resolve, but certain positive habits we inculcate will persist beyond, and for the better. Helping others goes a long way and ‘holding hands in humanity’ can make us live better during this pandemic, stronger and more resilient than ever before. True, it is an un-apprehended threat, but, as mentioned in the opening quote by Camus, it is “life” that ultimately triumphs, and life reaches far beyond just COVID-19!
Dr. Debanjan Banjeree works in the Department of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, India.
Banerjee, D. (2020). How COVID-19 is overwhelming our mental health. Nature India.
Camus, A. (1947). La Peste (The Plague). New York: Vintage.
Cinelli, M., Quattrociocchi, W., Galeazzi, A., Valensise, C. M., Brugnoli, E., Schmidt, A. L., … & Scala, A. (2020). The covid-19 social media infodemic. arXiv preprint arXiv:2003.05004.
Dantzer, R., & Kelley, K. W. (1989). Stress and immunity: An integrated view of relationships between the brain and the immune system. Life sciences, 44(26), 1995–2008.
Davis, M., Flowers, P., Lohm, D., Waller, E., & Stephenson, N. (2016). Immunity, biopolitics and pandemics: Public and individual responses to the threat to life. Body & Society, 22(4), 130–154.
Piguillem, F., & Shi, L. (2020). The optimal covid-19 quarantine and testing policies (No. 2004). Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF).
Taleb, N. N. (2012). Antifragile: how to live in a world we don’t understand (Vol. 3). London: Allen Lane.
World Health Organization. (2020). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Situation report, 72. [as accessed on 20 April 2020]