Isolation anxiety and why is it a much bigger problem than we think

Posted by Pragya Sood on Sat, May 16, 2020  
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Paint, cook, plant, origami- There have been too many solutions to counter this quarantine-induced anxiety. News mediums and online portals are loaded with ways to become productive while working from home. But amidst the isolation and the need to learn a new hobby or get in touch with a lost one, there are feelings that we as humans have rejected. These feelings of anxiety, panic, fear and gloom that keeps hitting us every now and then. 

Anxiety can be defined as your body’s defense mechanism to stress and fear. According to NHS Lanarkshire, “They are natural responses to any challenging situation, often confused with uncertainty and danger.” 

A March report ‘That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief’ in the Harvard Business Review named this uncertain period collective sorrow or grief. It says, “The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving.” 

And it’s not you who is feeling it, it’s everywhere. But when the word collective attaches to this strong emotion of anxiety, panic or fear, it feels manageable. Because all of us are in the same boat. Though, acceptance plays a huge part in this deal. Staying in isolation with your family, partner, friends or even flatmates, has made way to forcefully face your relationships. 

“Things that we have been running away from, like yourself, your relationships or your family, we no longer can. A cup of coffee is no longer our escape,” says Annie Baxi, Assistant Professor, department of Psychology, Jesus and Mary college, Delhi. 

Annie further talks about how this generation (i.e those who are in their 20s, 30s, 40s) has never seen a situation of complete lockdown like this before. “It’s social, political, psychological chaos. Therefore, there is fear of the unknown that is paralysing. Because we don’t know what will happen next,” she says. 

But it’s not COVID-19 to solely blame for these strong emotions you are feeling. Annie explains how this recently trending mental health issue was always existing in society. “You can no longer distance yourself from it.” 

How is anxiety hitting adults and children

Classic signs of anxiety include restlessness, irritation, agitation, intrusive thoughts, lack of concentration, insomnia or even fatigue. 

Amongst adults, isolation anxiety has received reactions in two ways: Either dependence on online portals to keep oneself engaged or fierce responses. 

“With so much death around us, we cannot expect people to not panic. This is why people are responding the way they are. This is not a war-like situation, and hence there are resistant reactions to this- people are turning violent or they just won’t adhere to the lockdown,” says Ayushi Madan, an MPhil Research Scholar, who is currently writing a paper on psychoanalytic and psychotherapy.

Children, on the other hand, have been easier to handle. They typically respond to anxiety with wetting their bed or not eating food or being angry with their parents constantly. Though, according to Annie this period has been a breather for kids who have working parents. 

But, does watching Netflix with family qualify as bonding? Maybe not. “If you’re watching movies together, are you really spending time as a family? It hinders conversation. So, you can’t keep consuming content all day long with your kids and expect that it is family time,” says Ayushi. 

Why the internet may have more negatives during this anxious period 

Bloggers, influencers, celebrities, experts, everyone is offering free online services today. Fitness, cooking, stitching, make-up, memes or funny videos, there is enough data online to spend all your day engaged in content and thinking you made it through. However, in doing so you are sometimes hiding from the reality. 

“Participating in these online challenges makes you feel like you’re part of something big in the world. If an influencer posts content that I connect with, I will feel like so many people are going through the same thing. But that isn’t true. It’s a superficial connection. And this pressurises you to do motivational stuff that comes in the way of you realising what is really wrong,” says Ayushi. 

In addition, there are videos and articles offering ways to deal with mental health during COVID-19. And sometimes, the message passed is wrong. 

“There is an issue with conceptualisation of COVID-19 as a trauma. This can be taken as a positive opportunity to do things that can help, because now we don’t have the excuse of no time,” says Annie. 

She also talks about how defining this quarantine period in a negative manner has made it unrelatable for people. Because of this, there are strong defiances to this lockdown at home. “You then end up thinking that you have nothing to do with this situation and that this thing (COVID-19, quarantine, lockdown) is out there to get you.” 

Notice what is wrong 

Both Ayushi and Annie agree that acknowledging and acceptancing anxiety are the way forward. 

“There was this entire phase where everyone was all about ‘don’t panic’. But nobody knows where this panic is coming from, nobody is explaining to us why we shouldn’t panic and nobody is telling us to acknowledge our anxiety,” says Ayushi. 

If you don’t identify the root cause of this anxiousness, fear or panic, it will remain and grow further. It won’t end with COVID-19. 

“This is a time when ‘Me & Myself’ ends. This is an opportunity for expansion. Alot outside the human sensibilities is unfolding, which is beautiful. To notice this, we need to get out of human centracism and respond. You are not trapped or your life is not being ruined because of the lockdown,” says Annie. 

Introspection is perhaps the first step forward to dealing with anxiety. Once you admit and allow your mental health to be, only then will you be able to seek help. 

“We need to confess that we are scared. Nobody is talking about how scared they are right now. The situation is such, they are bound to be. This sadness, fear, panic, uncertainty or even distress needs to be recognised on an individual level first,” says Ayushi. 

When should you seek help

  • When you just cannot concentrate on anything anymore. It can be work, your family, doing an activity etc. 

  • You feel isolated within. This is not connected to isolation during COVID-19, but feeling uncomfortable even while living with others. 

  • You start having panic attacks. Increased palpitations, heavy breathing or fearing what you’re doing are some signs. 

  • You keep overthinking to the point of a burnout. This can be about extremely small irrelevant details. For example, why wasn’t the light switched off or why a particular dish is cooked for dinner etc. 

  • You have invasive, intrusive thoughts. These restrict you to complete the job at hand. 

  • Your unknown fears stop you from completing your duties. 

  • All the above mentioned factors have lasted for a week or more. And nothing seems to help. 

The first step is to find someone you can talk to about this. It doesn’t have to be a professional, but a person you trust. 

Why naming this situation will help 

Anxiety, fear, stress, grief, as long as you put a name to it, the situation seems a little more feasible. Just like the COVID-19 period where we are stuck at home and with no idea about resuming our normal life, not defining your situation brings uncertainty. 

Though, this does not mean that once you have identified your underlying mental health issues, you leave it there. You need to get help and let it out. Or else overthinking will not let life proceed. 

Those with existing anxiety disorders need to pay extra attention. Because this will only pile up to their list of worries. 

There are different types of anxiety disorders that are characterised according to situations. They are: 

  1. Panic disorder: A person with a panic disorder will always be fearful of their next panic attack, which can include non-stop sweating and increased heart rate. 

  2. PTSD: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is often diagnosed after a traumatic incident. Many people are expected to have post the COVID-19 phase. 

  3. OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder leads you to repeated behaviours. Any change from the usual can cause stress. 

  4. Separation anxiety disorder: This can be common in those living far away from their loved ones, especially at a time like right now. 

  5. Illness anxiety disorder: Constant worry about your health. 

  6. Phobia: Extreme fear or terror of a person, situation, landscapes, places, objects or activity. 

Following are the symptoms of an anxiety attack: 

  1. Breathlessness 

  2. Dizziness 

  3. Excess sweating 

  4. Hot flashes 

  5. Unexplainable fear 

  6. Too much worry 

Psychotherapy and medication can help anxiety disorders. Consult an expert for this and do not self-medicate. 

Where does this leave us, psychologically? 

This is a period of extreme emotional vulnerability. “This is a time to pause and reflect. We need to get over our absolute resistance to introspection. Panic holds us and predictability regulates us. And we need to get out of it,” says Annie. 

It is completely ok to opt for a dance class, cooking sessions or do gardening every morning. As long as you’re not concealing reality.


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