A lot has already been written about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on physical and mental health, psycho-social factors, global economy, agriculture, politics and the likes. Another pertinent thought that arises during such a crisis is the threat it poses to the existential security we all live with. Coping with a pandemic can make you question security in a completely different context. Everyday news is full of facts and figures that push you to acknowledge, however hard it might be, how quickly life can change for humankind. It leaves you staring at the fragility of the transactional universe we have created for ourselves.
The actual mortal nature of human life is, perhaps, low on the list of our worries. What makes this threat large and difficult to digest are the minute day-to-day things building up to it — from the loss of routines to the very basic loss of freedom; the daily inconveniences that we may find exasperating to get used to; being cooped up at home; wearing a mask whenever stepping outside; frantic use of hand sanitisers; practicing social distancing and, god forbid, if someone sneezes or coughs in your vicinity. Many of us are struggling through the despair and futility of our current living conditions as they may seem to reek of redundancy.
What’s stranger is that these day-to-day inconveniences sound like an ‘inconvenience’ as long as they are happening to other people. But they suddenly feel a lot more real and threatening when they start happening to oneself. The lack of necessary space, protection, and support is the primary threat to the fabric of security that we have built for ourselves. Perhaps that’s the reason behind panic buying — a small way to ensure an immediate sense of safety that comes from having enough resources to survive when the world around us seems to be tumbling into an apocalypse.
Life may seem meaningless when we begin to question our contribution to a larger society in this entire situation. How am I making myself useful? Am I doing enough? Couple this with the lack of avenues to experience affection and fulfilment, and the recipe for existential crisis is ready. It is ironic how some of us are struggling with loneliness at an individualistic level while, as mankind, we are experiencing ‘collective’ vulnerability. These shifts in experiences as an individual and as a species can be overwhelming to process.
Since no one is ever mentally prepared for a crisis like this pandemic, the question arises: How do we cope with this threat to our existential security? Sure, there is no one way to process such an event. Especially, when it is not over yet. However, some small measures at an individual level might just help us cope a little better. For instance, we can reinstall a safety net by learning to navigate through our emotional states at this time, negative and positive; acknowledge that a few things are beyond our control but keep a firm focus on what lies within our focus of control; ensure emotional availability for our loved ones and use our own support system as and when needed to help bridge the disconnection we are experiencing. These small interventions can help make some sense of what is happening around us without losing our own sense of self and security.
The author is a counselling psychologist