Staying Sane in Insane Times

man sitting on a concrete bench


Raj has been staying indoors at his rented place for the past three months, venturing out only to buy essentials and hoping not to fall ill.  The first few weeks went by fine as there was anticipation of things returning to normalcy soon.  However, it was not to be as getting back to normal seemed to be taking its own sweet time and now with each passing day, he was becoming even more apprehensive of the situation.

Most of his friends as well as family were at his hometown and he had a very limited circle of friends in the city he had been working in for the last 8 years. He tried hard to keep himself busy with his work but was one day astonished to discover 50% of his salary was gone as the organization he was working for decided to optimize costs due to covid 19 related business loss and everyone was forced to take a salary cut.

Some of the employees were also asked to leave.  However, 25% of his salary was going towards rent and with a 50% salary cut, there was very little left to pay for his own expenses not to include the money he needed to keep paying his EMI’s.

He spoke with his boss and HR, but they also expressed their helplessness in providing any assistance.  Aware of the fact that finding a job is very tough in the current scenario, the only viable option left for him was to continue with the current job while remaining optimistic to land a new one soon.  Non-payment of EMI though was his major concern and so was the inability to send some money home.

Raj who used to smile often and spoke with his family at least once in a day, suddenly stopped calling home.  He would also not return calls and found it difficult to keep his focus on the work at hand.  Although, he was working from home, his boss had to call him multiple times to discuss and at times reprimand for the delays and missed deadlines.

His interest in work suddenly vanished and the excitement of the daily work routine was replaced with rumination about the darkness ahead.  He was not sure what future has in store for him as he sat in one corner of the room and occasionally cry alone.  He wanted to call and speak to someone but had no idea who to talk to.

Raj started hating himself and for the failure that he has become.  His shoddy work was of no use and he heard rumors of his name being put in the new list of employees who will be laid off soon.  This time, he didn’t even call up his boss or the HR.  He knew no one will help and that his life is a burden that requires easing off soon.

When the time had finally come to begin staying in his own house, he would be faltering on his payments.  The house would be gone soon and so will the respect he earned from 8 years of his hard work.  Future is dark and the only option left is to unburden the mind by silencing his own voice he contemplated.

Although, its Raj’s story here, but it can be anyone in such a situation.  The changed circumstances arising out of this pandemic which no one could have predicted has resulted in people losing their identities.  When an event affects our mind at such a deep level, its important to understand how it responds.

grayscale photo of laughing old man


When we are sad or depressed, our brain releases a hormone called cortisol also called stress hormone.  Continued state of sadness stimulates our brain to keep releasing this hormone which creates an imbalance leading to biological changes in the brain which affects us in multiple ways.

The size of amygdala especially the one present on the right which is more responsive to negative emotions increases while the size of hippocampus where the memories are stored, and pre-frontal cortex shrinks.  This leads to memory loss as well as lesser control on emotional upheavals.

What also makes depression difficult to manage is the inflated expectation of negative outcomes due to expectancy bias.  When one feels sad, the overwhelming belief is of something bad happening while continuing to remain helpless in acting against or on it.

One solution is to balance cortisol using hormonal therapy which can reverse damage to hippocampus and frontal cortex; however, this should be done under the supervision of experts.

Other things that we can do is to identify things we can control and manage.  A state of helplessness leads to a false belief that we can’t do anything about the situation.  Thinking of or taking control of things could be the first baby steps in the right direction.

Speaking to therapist or loved ones can be of great help in such a situation.  If they can help regain belief that you have total control over your own life, things will begin to go back to normal.

Preparing a plan and following it, doing something you haven’t done for a while, watching your favorite movies (avoid the ones with too much negativity or violence) or indulging in a hobby can help divert mind to more productive pursuits which can break the strong neural connections built around sadness.

Writing down something you are thankful for is also a great way to move towards a positive frame of mind.  You can write something as small as a ‘child smiled at me when I looked at her at the supermarket’, or ‘three people thanked me when I opened the door for them’.  Just think about it and you can come up with at least 2-3 things every day.

Physical activity even if done for a few minutes can be a great way to destress.  Exercise produces dopamine and serotonin which creates good feelings and help us overcome stress and sorrow.

Last but not the least is sleeping for 8 hours and sleeping well while staying away from drugs and alcohol.

assorted sliced fruits in white ceramic bowl

Also, eating right kind of food, something which is healthy and nutritious helps in getting back to our normal self faster.  Eating sensibly, while avoiding oily, greasy and too much of processed food helps both our mind as well as our body.

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