Just when we thought that we were done with the delta variant and that life would finally return to normalcy, we had to reluctantly acknowledge the new elephant in the room; The Omicron Variant. The worst part of this never-ending pandemic is not the masks or the social distancing, but rather the mind-boggling uncertainty. What will future policy be like? Will there be a general quarantine again? Will we have to work from home again? Will we see a widespread closure of cinemas and bars? These are just some of the many questions that have started popping up again.
According to various research studies, all of this concomitant ambiguity is undeniably stressful. In the presence of a possible threat, the human mind does not deal well with uncertainty and resorts to worry. We seek routines and a sense of control. It’s hardly surprising that a pandemic that has obliterated all notion of regularity and personal control has had a devastating effect on mental health. The American Psychological Association conducted a research study in August 2021 which concluded that 63 percent of respondents stated that uncertainty about what the coming months may bring is a cause of stress, and half said the epidemic has made preparing for the future hard. If, like the 63 percent of these fellows, you feel that the omicron variant will end up stripping you of your sanity, you would like to stay here for some valuable tips to cope with the upcoming months.
- Discover your ‘zone’
Understand that your brain naturally does not deal well with uncertainty, and instead of trying to force it to change years of evolutionary conditioning, it is far more effective to give it a much-needed time-out. You can do this by indulging in ‘flow activities’. The concept of ‘flow’ was coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970s, and it refers to the state of mind in which you are so focused on something, that time passes by without you even noticing. The activities which induce such a mental state are those which combine relaxation with concentration, such as gardening or journaling. But it could also be skiing or playing an instrument. Dust off an old hobby that puts you in this state. This way, the mind has little time to dwell on the uncertainties, and this makes the process of waiting a little bit easier.
- Focus on what you CAN control
If your brain is spiraling at the idea of losing control, then make a literal list of everything that currently IS in your control. For example, you can’t control the fact your university has shut down AGAIN, leaving you stuck in the confines of your home, but you CAN control how you can make that time useful and productive. Furthermore, indulging in activities where the outcome is in your control (such as baking) can trick your brain into believing that you do retain some semblance of control in your life.
- Do not ‘over-read’ on the pandemic
Ignorance is bliss, especially in a pandemic. I remember when the pandemic started, I had an unhealthy obsession with looking up the daily Covid stats every day – the number of cases, the number of deaths, etc. Whilst this knowledge didn’t help any aspect of my life, it did drastically increase my anxiety levels. So turn off the TV, and turn off your news notifications. Filter out everything Covid-related for a while, and take a break from the constant inflow of unwanted and anxiety-inducing information.
- Make sure that your plans stay flexible
Whilst it is important to make plans for the future, take care not to become rigid and expect everything to work out exactly as you wanted it. Given the ever-evolving nature of the post-pandemic world, it is impractical to expect anything to go exactly according to plan. So make plans, but make sure you have a backup plan to jump over possible obstacles (such as a lockdown, or covid restrictions). This backup plan may not be what you had in mind, but it’s better than not having one altogether.
- Make sure you have a solid support system
In the battle against uncertainty, the consistency of relationships is an important weapon. Even if events are spiraling out of control, stable relationships with loved ones are a grounding force. Sure, you can’t prevent a lockdown, but you CAN drive over to a friend’s place and enjoy their company like the world isn’t currently on fire around you. Deep connections go a long way in alleviating feelings of depression, hopelessness and negativity. It may be a rough patch, but you sure don’t have to go through it alone!
Armed with these aphorisms, you will be much better equipped to take this new wave head-on and make it out mentally unscathed. Keep these pointers in your mind and hopefully, the omicron variant, even with all its wrath, will seem a lot less daunting!