As a part of a Psycho-Social support program- “Alambana” to help students and staff members of University of Hyderabad (UoH) during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Counselling Unit of the Office of Dean of Students’ Welfare, organized a panel discussion on “Handling the New Normal” on October 14, 2020.

Talking about the issues and challenges of handling the new normal after the pandemic took over our lives, Dr Purnima Nagararja, consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist since 27 years said, “Normal itself is a very arbitrary word and we cannot really describe a single meaning of this word. We are now house bound, we cannot go out for shopping, meeting people etc. Earlier mental health and terms like: stress, anxiety, depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post Traumtic Stress Disorder(PTSD) were shunned, but now it has become household terms.”

She added, “Pandemic boredom has hit everyone really hard. We have plenty of time on our hand that the days seem longer. Another thing is compassion fatigue. We have seen migrant workers travelling thousands of kilometres to reach their native places, facing extreme hardships. People from different walks of life came forward and helped the ones who were suffering on roads. But there came a point where people got tired of helping others, because this problem didn’t seem to end. This is known as compassion fatigue which can lead to anxiety and depression and to physical fatigue. We have less verbal communication and more hours online leading to its own host of issues. Work from home is no longer a blessing, its too much headache. New boundaries in relationship, less physical contact since all of it has shifted online.”

Dr Nagararja said that children and adolescents are the most affected group of people. “For a while it felt like an extended vacation. But then gradually issues like losing an academic year, lack of interaction with peers, lack of classroom atmosphere, unable to focus during online classes, excessive parental supervision, etc. started to bother both parents and children.”

Focusing on the other issues, she also highlighted that there has been an increase in the number of domestic violence and divorce cases. “The rural patients are at a higher risk of death, not because of the ignorance but because they do not have other option, they have to go outside and work. They do not have the facility of home quarantining them or working from home. On the other hand, urban normal overestimate the threats leading to Covid neurosis, where we feel every little thing can be dangerous for us,” she added.

Every experience teaches us something and this pandemic has surely taught us lessons for life, said Dr. Purnima adding, “It has taught us resilience. All our defence mechanism has been activated: we are trying to deal with financial losses, we are trying to deal with death of our loved ones, we are trying to deal with relationship issues, we are trying to deal with domestic violence, we are trying to deal with the boredom and fatigue. It is teaching us psychological flexibility, tolerance, patience, we are learning to appreciate what we have, we are trying to be frugal, we have become more kind, and we even have started realizing the value of self-care.”

In the second half part of the discussion, Dr Kalyan Chakravarthy, adult psychiatrist and relationship counsellor talked about the remedial measures. “The very first thing is to not let go of the belief that this situation, this pandemic will end soon and one day things will get back to normal. Think of this pandemic as a period that is making us stronger and more resilient.”

He added, “Earlier it was easy to go to someone and sit and talk to them if you were feeling low or depressed. According to psychological findings, when you speak to a person, around 45-50 percent of your psychological burden is lifted and you feel calm. But pandemic brought a different issue, whom should we talk to because we are travelling in the same boat, we are all struggling through these tough times. It is a state of mass psychological depression, though it also generates a need of reassurance that I am not the only person but there are other people as well who are facing these problems.”

“The question then is how should we recognize symptoms?” said Dr. Chakravarthy and added, “Recognize patterns like: sleeplessness, low mood, loss of appetite, loss of concentration, unnecessary anxiety, palpitations, sweating, tremors, inability to do the normal tasks that you used to do otherwise, loss of interest, and feeling suicidal. Are these symptoms rare or should we say that as soon as we encounter these symptoms we should run for treatment? NO. You have to see how consistent are these symptoms in an individual.”

Mentioning about the symptoms and treatments for handling psychological stress, Dr Kalyan said, “Once you identify these symptoms, the first thing is that you need to speak up. Do not keep it to yourself. Have faith in someone with whom you can share your problems, they may not provide you an immediate solution but they would understand and they can end up sharing their experiences. Next is when you have these symptoms understand that this is common, its not abnormal or madness. Have confidence, self consciousness and removing the stigma out of this issue. Understand yourself and keep your willpower high. In the initial stage you can do a variety of things such as: talking about positive things, doing yoga, practicing meditation, cutting down on your screen time, investing more in reading books, playing games with your family members or doing things of your interests etc. Once you have entered moderate to severe category, please understand that you need a professional’s help. These lifestyle modifications can help just to a certain extent. Overcome the paranoia related to medical help and take help for resettling the disturbance.”

Soumya Sharma, Department of Communication. 

See the Video of the panel discussion below: