Psychological Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

First is the psychological suffering that goes with the disease itself and the loss of life involved. The psychological stress of the health care workers treating it also can be enormous. In addition is the suffering of the relatives whose loved ones are taken away by the disease. Yet there are psychological ramifications extending to the entire society as each person has many associations and connections in life.

Second is the widespread fear, sometimes panic, among people that they or someone close to them may come down with or succumb to the virus, which is highly contagious, making physical human contact into a danger to be avoided.

Yet in addition to these health considerations there are many other problems caused by the pandemic. The economic fallout from the lockdown pushing the world to the brink of a financial depression is a matter of great concern for everyone. It is threatening the jobs, savings and investments of entire populations, which have taken many years for people to accumulate.

Economic uncertainty hangs like a cloud over the world along with the disease, even for those who may not any symptoms from the disease. This results in fear, anxiety, worry, agitation and unrest in the psyche itself. Along with unrest the social disturbances from the pandemic are bringing up deep-seated political, religious, cultural and national divides, not unifying humanity as a whole. We see more polarization socially and politically in a number of countries, with people getting emotionally disturbed accordingly. Yet these cannot be resolved without removing the fear behind them, which inhibits right judgment.

Yoga and Ayurveda

How then are we to deal with the psychological ramifications of this massive pandemic? Here Yoga and Ayurveda provide many tools to bring peace and clarity to our psyche.

Fear is the root of all mental disturbances in Vedantic thought. It is the first emotion that arises from ignorance of our true nature that gets us caught in duality, conflict, uncertainty and suspicion. We must also go beyond the fear of death or even the fear of suffering in life. To remove fear we must remove our attachment to the separate self and look to our higher Self that is one with all and beyond all death and sorrow.

According to Ayurveda, fear is the main emotion that imbalances the primary biological air humor, Vata Dosha that holds our Prana. By increasing Vata dosha in the mind and nervous system, fear upsets our entire equilibrium for body, prana and mind, down to instinctual and subconscious levels. It can literally paralyze us.

Fear promotes Apana Vayu, the downward movement of Prana, disrupting digestion, disturbing sleep and reducing acuity of mind and senses. It causes inertia, negative thinking and negative attitudes, leading to anxiety and depression.

From a yogic perspective, Pranayama, Mantra and Meditation work to counter fear by opening up the prana and mind. Fear blocks the prana and reduces its flow, creating a pranic paralysis. Pranayama restores the power and the flow of prana dispersing fear, particularly if we practice slow and deep inhalation. Fear causes superficial or rapid breathing or even forgetting to breath, which inhibit the positive prana in the lungs and heart. To counter fear we must breath from the navel and let of any emotional stress held there. Above all we should learn to witness our fear from the standpoint of the Seer within us, our true consciousness. Whatever we deeply see and witness in our thoughts will naturally get transformed.

There are many Ayurvedic herbs for the mind (Medhya Rasayanas) that help counter fear like Brahmi, Manduka Parni, Jatamamsi, Shankha Pushpi, Amla, Ashwagandha and Calamus for increasing circulation in the nervous system, opening the channels, calming the mind and countering the Vata dosha behind fear. A regular nutritive Vata-reducing diet is also helpful to support these herbs. An Ayurvedic practitioner can help you with these.

Action and Inaction

Sometimes fear requires that we act. If you are confronted with fear from direct causes, like finding a snake in your room, you act quickly to counter the danger. This is the case with the pandemic. We must act to deal with its dangers for both ourselves and humanity as a whole. It may require changing our how we live and think, particularly working to increase our immunity at both physical and psychological levels, living more in harmony with nature, following yogic and Ayurvedic lifestyles.

Yet sometimes to overcome difficulties, inaction may be required, as in the case of lockdowns, much like Ayurvedic practices of rest and relaxation for deep healing, and how yoga practices of retreat and solitude can be very transformative. But these should not go too far, as our capacity for movement may become permanently impaired if suppressed too long.

Overall we must learn to keep our minds free from outside disturbances, which the media constantly throws at us, provoking fear and panic, or just distracting us with fantasy and entertainment. We must beware of taking in too many negative sensory impressions through the media. We must learn to draw our mind and prana within through meditation..

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s statement in World War II comes to mind here that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Fear paralyzes us, makes us doubt anything we can do to improve our situation, or worry about anything negative that may possibly happen. First we must challenge our fears and move beyond them with a respect for the cosmic dharma, using difficulties for inner growth. What takes us forward in life is not that we never fall down, but that we always get up and keep going, even if we fall for a while.

After all, we are immortal souls with the consciousness of the entire universe dwelling deep within us. There is no challenge we cannot overcome with a higher awareness, but fear can prevent us from doing so if we linger in its shadows. Lord Shiva grants freedom from fear, as does Ma Durga and Ma Kali. In fact the Divine grace and presence, however we best relate to it, will neutralize all fear. But we must be open to it.

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