Our ancestors, perhaps as recently as during the lives of our grandparents, typically had a more fatalistic attitude towards epidemics and pandemics.
Of course, that’s not to say that disease has ever been anything other than a cause of fear and dread. However, for people before around the mid-20th century, the world was a place where waves of illnesses like measles, German measles, scarlet fever, flu, poliomyelitis, tuberculosis, mumps and so on, were relatively commonplace events.
Yet in western society, from say the 1960-70s onwards, mass outbreaks of potentially lethal diseases were rare if not virtually unknown. So, we lost our familiarity with disease and the necessity to take precautions.
All that changed with COVID.
What COVID may have done to our psychology
For the first time in perhaps 3 generations or longer, suddenly we had to re-learn old infectious disease survival precautions.
No longer was this just the stuff of horror movies, we really did have to start thinking about whether places or the people around us could be sources of infection that might make us seriously ill or even put our lives at risk. This was also a 24×7 risk that could only be entirely avoided if one just sat at home and didn’t see other people.
The behavioural changes this forced upon us were tough. Not only that but night after night, we sat and watched the harrowing news of case counts, serious illnesses and fatalities. Many people also have friends or family who went through serious illness or tragically even died.
This was a source of stress for our sense of our own invulnerability and mental well-being. It affected virtually everyone to one extent or another.
What were the effects of Covid?
Human beings aren’t machines. They don’t react in predictable ways.
For some, the stresses during those years had seemingly only minor effects. For others, the effects were much more severe and it’s now generally accepted that anxiety levels soared during the pandemic and they continue to be a challenge for some, even if we are now entering the post-COVID world – or hope we are.
What is anxiety?
Technically, it is the body’s reaction to fear.
It’s important to note that this, at its most basic, is perfectly normal. If you’re frightened or stressed, your body produces anxiety hormones – notably cortisol and adrenaline.
Those hormones in many stress/fear situations are beneficial. They help you to concentrate, react and deploy your body’s skills faster and more effectively. This probably has its origins in our distant animal past as a survival aid, passed onto us by evolution.
However, in some cases, these hormones can be produced simply because we’re psychologically stressed and for no obvious threat-related reason.
When that happens, the syndrome is sometimes called an “anxiety attack” – i.e., a sense of panic, danger or threat for no clearly discernible reasons. It can happen, for example, if you’re thinking about going out to a social event. Perhaps in the past, that would have been routine and a pleasurable prospect but during the COVID pandemic your mind may have ruled out such for reasons of risk (or the law). Now, the prospect of going out, even in relative safety, fills you with a sense of panic, fear and dread.
These are wide-ranging and might include the physical:
- accelerated heartbeat when you’re not doing anything physical;
- sweaty palms;
- heart palpitations (irregular beating)
- unable to rest or sit still;
- hyperventilation (too rapid breathing causing giddiness or blackouts).
You might also experience certain psychological effects too:
- a regular feeling of “something bad is going to happen” and for no obvious reason;
- finding that you’re ‘jumpy’, again for no reason;
- struggling to concentrate on passive tasks – like reading;
- impatience and random aggression to others;
- losing interest in socialising and increasingly isolating yourself.
What can be done?
The first thing is – don’t panic! Anxiety is fairly common and particularly after traumatic events like the pandemic and no, it’s not just you.
The next tip is – don’t just hope it’ll go away. True, it may do and some anxiety does clear itself up without external help. You can try the usuals like taking a holiday or getting a new hobby.
However, when anxiety attacks are commonplace and serious, you should ask for help. As a start point, describe your symptoms to your doctor and they’ll take it from there.
You could also visit https://www.dbest.com.au/mind-health/ and take the quiz to know more about your mind health.