Indulge 14th Anniversary Special: Actor Arjun Somayajula, actress Sakshi Agarwal, mental health experts talk about the impact the lockdown had on people
Post pandemic, we explore the impact of the lockdown and isolation on the mental health of those who found themselves separated from their loved ones and community support
Some were stuck within four walls of a hotel room, under quarantine, possibly. Others were stuck in countries unable to travel and see their loved ones for more than a year. In some countries, the elderly couldn’t even visit the marketplace to buy essentials. Physical interaction of any kind was not available for solace. As the world shrank into a screen-sized reality, there were some who coped brilliantly and produced creative works during this period in solitude, and then there were others who struggled.
Here, we are exploring the latter. We have mental health professionals weighing in, offering tips and testimonials from those especially in the public eye, for whom solitude was a challenge.
Even as businesses get back to normal, the remnants of the mental health impact of the pandemic are not visibly obvious. Does merely lifting the lockdown solve all problems? No. In the words of Dr Saras Bhaskar, a counselling psychologist based out of Chennai, a majority of the population has been through trauma that will not heal overnight, particularly with regard to the isolation we were forced to be in. “People did not easily adapt to or choose the pandemic-induced isolation. It was a trauma; it was a shock because human beings are social animals, and we need to be in connection with the social environment to have a sense of belonging,” she says.
What’s more, human emotions can get intense — especially uncertainty, anxiety, depression, and even grief. The pandemic gave us ample doses of those. Some of us became resilient, some became fighters and some needed help. Without social intimacy and interaction, surviving the lockdown was a struggle for all.
Adapt to survive
Of course, adapting wasn’t easy at first, nor did the emotional grit develop over night. Dr N Rangarajan, a consultant psychiatrist in Chennai, explains how people were initially in denial over the entire pandemic scenario. “People could not easily adapt to the sudden isolation because we don’t like restrictions. When we suddenly had an enormous restriction and a simple mobility issue, the effects of it made a huge difference. After a lot of initial reluctance, resistance, anger and denial, people began to accept reality,” he adds.
Once the early stages of shock over the pandemic faded away, people got their creative juices flowing to keep themselves distracted from the bleak reality. This is where whipping up a cup of Dalgona coffee, playing Ludo, baking delectable, soft banana bread, binging on series after series, and picking up new skills at home came into the picture.
What else helped us cope with being alone? “The media, both print and visual, was fostering solitude where they spoke about air pollution going down, the sky being clearer and other examples to create a sense of comfort among people. People who were feeling positive were now looking at a brighter side of the outcome of this isolation,” Dr Bhaskar says.
Some also used this isolation as an opportunity to “self-introspect and understand themselves better,” in the words of Dr N Rangarajan. Actress Sakshi Agarwal, who was recently seen in Aranmanai 3, shares how she developed her own coping mechanism. She says, “It’s like we were completely cut off from the rest of the world, so I used workouts and maintaining fitness as an avenue, because it was like my way of meditation. A lot of people disconnected from social media and did a lot of social media detoxing. But I didn’t do that. I was very active on social media connecting with my Insta family and Twitter family.”
Meanwhile, Dear Megha actor Arjun Somayajula dove into work, binge-watching movies and spending time with his family during the lockdown. “Three things helped. Being at home, my start-up and my interest in films. An additional division of my startup kept me busy,” he says.
“However, I should admit that at the end of it, it was plain clear that little else in life can replace free movement and friends,” Arjun added, driving home Dr Bhaskar’s point that we now value this sense of bonding a lot more.
While people have gotten used to the idea of isolation and have come out stronger from this pandemic, the question of what to look forward to and what happens next remains unanswered. Arjun explains why he feels uncertain about the future. “I read somewhere that ‘the three grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to.’ The pandemic made the third one pretty challenging. The dance of death across the world is not the best platform from which we can forward to bright things.”
However, Dr Saras Bhaskar gave a brief but effective tip on how to deal with whatever comes next, regardless of what it is. “Selfpreservation. A well-balanced body and mind is the key to surviving whatever comes next,” she concludes.