While adding a bit of dark humor to the pandemic, Mumtaz, a painter by profession said “The virus won’t do anything but the name seems scary”. I replied with a quote of Shakespeare “What’s in a name?” It is beyond doubt that the threat is real and has led to world lockdown, ruination of world markets and disruption of normal routine etc. However apart from physical/biological impact on infected persons, it has created fear psychosis among masses too. Extraordinary situations like pandemic, wars, natural disasters etc tend to have psychological impact on us and can lead to anxiety, panic, worry, depression or even suicidal thoughts and ideations. Many times the psychological impact tends to be far more than physical/ biological or social impact. We have already seen that a man suspected of Coronavirus killed self by jumping off Safdarjung Hospital building.
My nephew came running towards me and said “you know what another virus has surfaced in china, my friends just told me about it” he was referring to “Hantavirus”. In the age of internet and social media, it takes no times for any news to get viral. Anyway, I was able to sense fear and panic in him. Similarly my sister called me with tears in her eyes saying that “May be this is the end of the world”. A neighbor of mine told me that the virus was just around. He said “A person living just 15 kilometers away has reportedly tested postive for Covid-19”. “Yesterday it was in China, today it is just 15 kilometers away” he added. To a reasonable extent their fears are justified and rational. However we must also know that what virus may not do, phobia and panic can. Thankfully I was able to find some hope and solace in the news report in Greater Kashmir daily about a Nobel Laureate Michael Levitt predicting Covid-19 may soon go away. In no way I mean to undermine the problem and the treat it imposes.
Fear as an emotion is adaptive and normal and can aide in survival. If people didn’t feel fear, they wouldn’t be able to protect themselves from legitimate threats. However beyond a certain limit it can disrupt normal functioning and turn to be maladaptive. For example although public speaking, elevators, and spiders generally don’t present immediately dire consequences, some individuals still develop extreme fight-flight-or-freeze responses to specific objects or scenarios. That means a person at home, with no travel history to Covid-19 affected countries, not being in physical contact with infected person, taking all necessary precautions and following governmental orders on it, should not fear Coronavirus at all. While being flooded with information on the number of people getting infected with this virus and the number of death because of it, we should also be very cautious that this virus may lead to phobia (maladaptive and irrational fear) among people. On the other hand again I should not be misunderstood as normalizing the pandemic.
I heard people saying that non-local Kashmiries should be banned from entering Kashmir or even should be thrown out of Kashmir. I am naive in microbiology but seems like this virus is carrying the genetic makeup for prejudice and discrimination as well. We already know that U.S president Donald Trump called it as a “Chinese virus”. Yes people with travel history to foreign countries and outsiders coming to Kashmir should be properly screened and quarantined but the same should not be seen as a crime. Though we may get affected physically by this virus but let’s not allow this virus to cloud our humanity and lead us to prejudice, bias, discrimination and stigma. What is being called as social distancing should only be understood as physical distancing. It in no way means voiding of all social relations. Again I don’t mean normal mingling or partying. Further let’s not see those infected with this virus as aliens or offenders etc or make them feel ashamed of it. We have seen people hiding travel history and running from quarantine. May be our reaction to covid-19 and the infected, be the reason. Yes we need to be careful, take all the necessary precautions, follow all the governmental orders but overreaction won’t help. As Michael Levitt has rightly said overreaction to it can trigger another crisis. Again I don’t mean the otherwise.
World has seen deadly viruses in the past and may continue to see more in future as well. We will fight them all, we have fought them in past. Hope, patience, precautions, authentic information, preparedness, calmness and the like, is what keeps one going in crisis. Remember panicking and worrying may be viruses too threatening our wellbeing like that of Coronavirus. It has the potential to influence us mentally before it may impact physically. Don’t worry, don’t panic either and let’s live the only time we can possible live: from now until bed time, while taking all the necessary precautions. Once again I don’t mean…………
Khan Imran: M.Phil Psychology from University of Kashmir