The pandemic is fearocious


It’s not just the infection or positivity rates; covid-19 is playing games with people’s heads too


Do you read about black fungus infections and start to feel a twinge in your eyes? Does a passing feeling of fatigue make you start tracing your contacts in the last week? Does a headache make you search the Internet to differentiate between a covid headache from a random headache? You’re not alone. Many people in the City, wake up, nearly every day, imagining that they may be experiencing one or more symptoms of covid. With an excess of covid news all around us and conversations mainly revolving around covid, it’s no surprise that we’re feeling this way.

While the threat of covid is real and can’t be dismissed lightly, many counsellors and therapists are reporting that their clients are coming to them with severe anxiety caused by ‘imaginary symptoms’ of covid. A City-based psychiatrist said, “A lot of people come to me and say that they’re feeling anxious because they have a sore throat or other symptoms associated with covid. In most cases, these are temporary conditions that clear up after a few hours.”

Vaishnavi R Kanzal (Clinical Psychologist, Aster CMI Hospital) said, “A 35-year-old woman had high levels of anxiety and distress.



Despite the reassurances from doctors, she continued to have heightened anxiety and was very vigilant about any change in her body. She had also consulted several doctors about her fears and was convinced that she had some serious illness. This is a typical case of pandemic distress and is accompanied by heightened levels of panic. In another instance, a 40-year old patient who was treated under home isolation and had visited us with heightened sensitivity to minor symptoms was very worried that the family members might contract covid too. This had left her and the family in distress, despite repeated reassurances. It was also observed that both the patients were very active on social media consuming a lot of information on covid.”

Less than two per cent of the population has been infected by the virus (over the last 16 months since the pandemic started in India) but over 50 per cent of the population is affected by fear of covid-19. This is a response to a real threat or danger to one’s health and safety

— Dr Roshan Jain, Senior Psychiatrist, Apollo Hospitals

Psychiatrists say that a negative outlook often increases restlessness, worry, disturbed sleep and panic. It could also lead to hopelessness and helplessness among people and if left unrecognised, this might lead to depression, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other issues among people. It can also lead to physical issues such as aches and pains, gastritis etc among people. In the future, it could lead to hypochondriasis, post-traumatic stress disorder as well.

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Dr Roshan Jain, Senior Psychiatrist, Apollo Hospitals said, “Less than two per cent of the population has been infected by the virus (over the last 16 months since the pandemic started in India) but over 50 per cent of the population is affected by fear of covid-19. This is a response to a real threat or danger to one’s health and safety. Covid-19 has affected our lives, livelihood and way of life. It has bought uncertainty and pessimism for many but also forced us to think beyond crisis and life after this pandemic. We know that like all crises, this will also end but our tendency to worry makes us think otherwise.”

Recently, Saurashtra University had conducted a survey where a section of respondents had claimed to have developed a negative mindset and imaginary fear due to Covid.

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Dr Jain said that a 65-year old man who kept himself safe for over a year and took all precautions tested positive for covid two months ago. He recovered at home but worried endlessly, suffered anxiety and became negative about life and an imminent end in sight. He would scream and shout at family members for stepping out of their home, fearing that they would bring the infection home. He was noticed screaming at people on the street for not wearing a mask. At home, he was restless, agitated in the day and sleepless at night. He was counselled to help rationalise between real and imagined fear and get the right perspective. He required anti-anxiety medication to reduce his anxiety and sleep disturbances. He now talks calmly, encouraging family to maintain precautions and feels very much at ease, said Dr Jain.

“Excessive fear can disturb our waking moments, prevent us from functioning, affect our work and relationships and impact our sleep, which is our greatest in-built rejuvenator and restorer. It also makes us pessimistic and negative, which can be more infectious than the virus itself! Current social media posts and activity is a standing example of how negative news and information and pessimism spreads and affects our mindset,” said Dr Jain. He added that fear was a response to real threat and danger, whereas anxiety is a response to unknown imagined danger in the future. And panic is nothing but a severe form of anxiety characterized by marked bodily features like sweating, flushing, fast heartbeat and shortness of breath, alongside apprehension, fear of something bad happening.

(Caution: However, psychiatrists say that despite imaginary fears, some cases might be real. Don’t dismiss symptoms lightly. Consult a doctor.)



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Sagar Biswas

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