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Home ‘alone’, many fight panic and paranoia, experts say follow routine

New Delhi: Awaiting her first baby any day, Ritika Singh is excited but also so anxious that she can’t sleep with fears she might transmit the coronavirus to her unborn child clouding her mind and filling the long night hours with dread.

As millions of Indians live the next three weeks under an unprecedented lockdown, trapped in their homes and isolated from the world, 26-year-old Ritika is just one of those battling their thoughts about what the future holds for them.

The way out of the maze of the mind could be as simple as following a routine, not obsessing about the number of cases and fatalities, and doing relaxation exercises, said experts.

The days pass mostly in boredom but it’s the nights that are really difficult with panic, paranoia and helplessness setting in, said Ritika, a government employee who has taken maternity leave from her job in Jhansi and is with her parents in Varanasi.

“The long months of pregnancy are anyway full of varying emotions… When I go to bed at night, I can’t sleep. I keep thinking, ‘What if I catch the virus and transmit it to the baby’. I hope it doesn’t come to that and it all comes to an end peacefully,” Ritika told PTI over the phone about what should have been the most special time of her life.

According to mental health experts, people may experience anxiety, stress, hypochondriasis, panic attacks, and uncertainty about the future as social distancing becomes not just a buzzword but the unhappy reality of everyday lives. 

 “Hypochondriasis is an obsession with the idea of having a serious but undiagnosed medical condition. I am getting cases in my clinic where people are even insisting on getting tested for coronavirus without any symptoms,” Rajiv Mehta, consultant psychiatrist at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital (SGRH), told PTI.

Vihang N Vahia, consultant psychiatrist at Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital added that people don’t really understand what social distancing means.                            “People who cannot bear loneliness and don’t have anyone to share their problems with are the most affected because they cannot meet anyone in such a situation… When you watch the news, you see the number of affected people is increasing and this triggers panic among people who start thinking they will also fall ill,” Vahia told PTI.

He added that many people start taking everything circulating on WhatsApp/Internet seriously, leading to tension and anxiety, and they should not believe blindly.

 “One should look at life as a glass half full and not half empty,” Vahia said. It’s all about routine, said Arvinder Singh, consulting psychiatrist and founding director of the Ashoka Centre for Well-Being in Ashoka University.                 “Carry on with as much of a normal routine as you can. People tend to not bathe at their regular time…  they take baths in the evening or at night. I strongly suggest it’s the small things, the basics that matter the most,” Singh told PTI.

So, for the next 21 days, it is imperative to wake up at the same time, bathe regularly, not stay in pajamas all day, and dress up in work clothes.

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