Coping with anxiety in new lockdown

An increase in depression, anxiety and low moods could lead to another mental health pandemic

2020 was a blur and I was hoping 2021 would bring an end to the pandemic, so we could start moving on with our lives. But the surge in Covid-19 cases in India is causing a second wave in Nepal, too.

With millions losing their jobs and struggling to make ends meet in a country where many survive on daily wages, the concept of lockdown may seem helpful. However, the fear of death from hunger seems to pose a bigger threat than Covid.

I talk to my parents every day, and get updates on family members to see how everyone is doing and making it through the day. My father tells me daily how many people tested positive and how Nepal continues to struggle with finding enough hospital beds for those whose oxygen levels dropped suddenly.

One of his friends who had to be suddenly hospitalised, was discharged. “You never know, who will catch it next,” he told me.

As I make a list of pros and cons of which vaccine I should get, I continue to hear about how my mother and aunt in Nepal have been trying to get vaccinated. Vaccines should be available for those who are above 60, but they cannot locate where to get it. Now, vaccinations have stopped because vaccine lines themselves became spreaders.

It is hard for me to be far away and try to offer support when we are physically apart. It is usually the same conversation with my parents every day, and while we try to stay hopeful that the vaccine will help, we wonder when things will get better.

My friends here constantly ask me how my parents are doing as they read about the emergency in India and Nepal, and all I can say is: “Yes, they are okay, but the country is not.” I try to stay strong, while feeling completely helpless from halfway around the world.

Nepal banned all domestic and international flights this week, after going into mandated quarantine from 29 April. Nearly half the districts in Nepal are in lockdown for two weeks, and Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur are the most affected by the pandemic with half the 7,448 new cases nationwide on Monday.

I had no doubt that by the time of my planned visit to Nepal in September, Covid would have been a distant memory. But with the way things are progressing, that glimmer of hope feels fainter and fainter.

When even rich countries continue to struggle with the pandemic despite all their resources, I worry how a developing country like Nepal will overcome this. What is the government of Nepal doing about vaccines? Will the second lockdown really help? What plans are in place to help people bearing the economic impact of the lockdown?

My father and mother say they try to stay positive and stay strong during this difficult time because there is nothing else they can do. We have grown so used to the lack of social interactions that the only way to stay connected has been limited to talking on the phone, or video chatting.

Last week, I had my first anxiety attack of the year after many people here in the United States asked me how my family was doing in Nepal. I felt helpless and overwhelmed with the concern and in telling others “everything is okay (for now)”, when I knew clearly that I was not okay.

We are all exhausted from the never-ending stress. As I sat up in bed, holding myself, rocking back and forth telling myself to focus on my breathing and repeating, “I am okay, I am okay” I was not sure if I believed myself. I felt consumed by the overwhelming feeling of helplessness, guilt and regret.

We have seen many lose their lives, and it is the fear of how many more people we will lose again. What are we going to do when we do not know how to control the spread?

The only thing that I know that is under our control is our own emotions, and it is hard when lives of so many loved ones are at stake. Living in fear and anxiety of the worst that might happen makes it extremely hard for many to go on with their day-to-day lives.

There is social stigma attached to mental health, plus the lack of resources in Nepal has made this time more difficult for Nepalis. It is recommended you speak to a therapist, but many do not know about this and face difficulty finding one.

A daily habit of meditation is one technique we can use at home to practice mindfulness and strengthen our mental state. It is challenging to attempt meditation when the world around you is in chaos, but it seems to be the only thing that can help many right now when we need it the most.

Speaking to your loved ones and checking in on them regularly has proven to be extremely helpful, so I would recommend we continue staying connected with family members and friends whether we live in the same city or different continents.

Also, try keeping your minds busy by reading or watching television to reduce some stress. Adopting new hobbies or taking this time to learn something new will also keep your mind preoccupied because overthinking about the situation without a helpful solution will only bring you down more.

It is not easy to focus on our overall health when the country is in shambles, but taking care of our physical health is also very important during this time. Making sure to eat well and incorporating physical activity may seem minor, but will improve our sense of overall wellbeing. Some have found that getting a pet or raising plants in the garden can help with the low mood.

As I try to stay strong for myself and my family from across the world, I hope we take the time to stay connected with loved ones and prioritise our physical health. I hope the daily meditation, healthy diet and physical exercise can ease the stress of the second lockdown. This is a time for us to stay strong for ourselves and others, while we hope the dark clouds pass over us quickly.

Anjana Rajbhandary lives and works in Chicago. She writes this fortnightly Nepali Times column Life Time about mental health, physical health and socio-cultural issues.

Anjana Rajbhandary