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April 1, 2020

Managing mental stress as we stay put over coronavirus fears


April 1, 2020

Mehreen Fatima’s mother-in-law, Shamim Ahmed, ends up turning to television not for solace during days of social distancing, but to check for coronavirus updates every hour. Corona-phobia has affected her as hard as everybody else.

Fatima, 29, is a teacher at a private school in the vicinity of her house and knows the art of keeping her students occupied, but keeping her two kids, husband and mother-in-law away from being overly distrustful of the surroundings due to coronavirus fears is becoming a challenge to her. “Being cooped up together in an small apartment with nowhere to go is suffocating, substantially for kids.”

“I understand the importance of raising awareness about the issue [coronavirus], but the intense fear is because of the headlines blaring about the rising numbers of coronavirus cases and news channels jostling to be the first to break news,” Fatima says apprehensively.

She is not working from home because of the nature of her job, but her husband is one of the many Karachiites working from home through the pandemic. Her mammoth task is to stave off the boredom of her five-year-old and seven-year-old children who seem to have gone quiet due to no regular activities and no playdates on the weekends.

“The kids have a lot of questions as things are not the same anymore around them. When I keep cleaning doorknobs, TV remote, light switches with disinfectant wipes for maintaining good hygiene at home, they ask a lot of questions,” says Fatima. “Convincing them to wash their hands more often even if they don’t have anything on their hands is onerous.”

“My elder son got a fever three days ago. He didn’t sleep and cried for an hour straight saying that people who are sick have coronavirus. I have coronavirus and I’m going to die is what he kept muttering through the night,” shares Fatima.

“He is just seven-year-old and kids in this age group don’t even understand death. He has this fear in his head because we keep talking about the symptoms and effects of the coronavirus all day.”

She is now trying to combat constant checking of the news in her house and is practising anxiety and fear reduction techniques available on the internet.


Taimoor Nadeem works as a senior production manager at a media production house. He has always been considered the ultimate social lad who is gregarious and has a wide circle of friends. He is a massive extrovert.

“I get my energy from being around other people. Social distancing is an extrovert’s worst nightmare; it goes without saying. Whenever I’m alone I feel deflated or isolated, but I know it’s necessary and, hopefully, temporary.”

He lives for moments of chaos and noise. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted his life to an unprecedented extent as everything has been shut down in the name of social distancing. He fears that the period of social isolation is going to hit him pretty hard.

“I have always been hygiene-conscious, but the kind of hygiene habits we are practising to keep the coronavirus at bay is excessive, and too much of anything is bad,” he says. Dining out with friends and family is what he loves the most. Being a foodie and a person who can survive on coffee alone, the closure of his favourite restaurant and coffee shop is one of the most discomforting effects of the coronavirus. “We are experimenting with new recipes at home to keep ourselves sane.”

He thinks these lifestyle changes would have a negative impact on our lives. It is heart-rending for him how his life and everything in the world has changed in the blink of an eye. “It seems like I have forgotten how my life was like before the virus, but I’m hopeful that we will crowd again,” says Nadeem with an optimistic smile.


It might seem that 2020 is the year of introverts because society-approved social distancing is what introverts have always dreamt of, even before it was imposed governmentally on us due to COVID-19.

Ayesha Usman, 25, is a librarian – one of the ideal professions for a person who prefers solitude -- at a private university and labels herself as introvert. She yearns to stay at home after her work hours, reading books curled up on the couch, spending time with Bubbles – her pet – and erratically going to the beach by herself.

“I haven't stepped out of my house since the coronavirus lockdown began in the city, not even to stock up on items of food. I ran out of groceries two days ago, and going out to the grocery store was no less than going on a field mission with protective gear.”

“Shelves were not empty, as long as you weren’t looking for household cleaners, face mask or hand sanitiser,” Usman shares. “Even if I don’t like to be social, I need to be.” She thinks introverts in social isolation are less likely to feel off the beaten track than extroverts, but being quarantined is traumatic and harrowing for everybody, and not liberating even for introverts.

She lives in a small house with her brother’s three kids and four other family members, and everyone has been restricted to staying at home due to the lockdown. “There is less distance for me than ever before.”

Expert advice

Coronavirus fears and being quarantined for an unknown period of time are exacerbating anxiety and depression, says psychiatrist Karim Khawaja who is serving as the chairman of the Sindh Mental Health Authority. “The psychological impacts of a quarantine can have long-term damaging effects.”

“We are depriving ourselves of social connections abruptly; it doesn't feel good. Anxiety may escalate for many, especially those people who are already prone to anxiety or have mental health issues,” he elucidates.

“This pandemic is also an escape from our everyday life. Make the best of it. It’s good to keep yourself updated, but watching news or mindlessly scrolling on your phones all day could be damaging. Try to shift narratives, find shows that make you laugh. Update yourself with how the situation is developing only once a day, restrict your news intake.”

"We all are confined to our homes because of the pandemic that requires you to eliminate your face-to-face contact. The effects of not physically moving could muddle your mind that may manifest as exasperation, anger, sadness and other torturous feelings," says the psychiatrist.

“Exercise has a unique capacity to counter depression and reduce stress hormones. There are thousands of videos available on the internet to teach you how to exercise at home without any equipment. Consider doing as little as 30 minutes of fun-based exercise alongside family members or walk up and down the stairs.”

There are many online brain-training games available that could help you increase your mental flexibility. If you want to distract your mind from the chaos, just close your eyes and let your mind go blank, blocking out thoughts and worries, Khawaja recommends.

“If the virus continues to spread, we might see a spike in cases of hypochondria [abnormal chronic anxiety about one's health], depression, anxiety and sleep disorders,” Khawaja fears. “Wash your hands, take all precautionary measures, keep yourself and your surroundings clean, but don’t overdo anything.”

“Alleviate cabin fever by staying virtually connected with your family and friend is a good way out to keep yourself connected in not so normal situation,” he says. In the age of the internet, we could do anything and everything while sitting a couch or being tucked in our bed. We can fight back with creativity. “Try to learn a new language, acquire knowledge of meditation, search out the blue sky for your own mental wellbeing.”

“It is hard to imagine our lives reverting to old life without coronavirus. Life post-corona may permanently change, if not completely, but many changes would be permanent,” the psychiatrist remarks. “The pandemic will change the world forever.”