By Dr Payal Sharma Kamath
The coronavirus pandemic and the pandemic-induced lockdowns world-over have forced people to stay indoors – prompting a global socio-economic imbalance. This has led to adverse implications including unprecedented exodus, massive loss of lives and jobs, among others things.
The implications act as fodder for negative thoughts to keep clouding the mind. Feelings of guilt, self-blame, labelling oneself with negative tags, feelings of remorse and plummeting interest in recreational activities or involvement with peers and family members, etc., are some of the behavioural changes that many are going through amid this pandemic.
You might feel guilty because there are many people out there who are unemployed or struggling for daily meals, yet you still have a job to take care of yourself. This guilt can be because someone dear to you has been ill with Covid-19 whereas you are healthy. People also feel guilty if they cannot comfort their loved ones who have died battling the virus or any other ailment. The feeling of remorse can pop up at any time of the day and even amplify feelings of shamefulness about our basic actions.
These emotions might come all of a sudden while you are watching TV or scrolling through social media in the comfort of your home or lounging on your cosy sofa.
The drawback with guilt is that it can make you feel overwhelmed but unable to act on it at that very moment. While undergoing this state, we find it difficult to help ourselves, let alone others. We feel we are not able to provide others help to cope with their suffering. We ourselves to suffer from an emotion and take its toll on us.
What does it mean to have the feeling of remorse?
Given that everybody is facing the brunt of the pandemic and its effects like job losses, financial distress, more and more people are exhibiting mixed emotions driven by frustration, sadness, anxiety and stress to name a few. For some, fear of remorse may also be experienced.
Although the world is slowly trying to adapt to the current challenges with various countries unlocking from the stringent lockdowns in a bid to restore economic activities in a phased manner, the notion of fear and feeling of remorse persists among scores of people globally given the traumatic events that they have faced in the recent months.
What are the different kinds of remorse that may be overlapping?
Guilt is an emotion that can be felt from a lot of things that we do normally daily. It is a very powerful and a normal human response. We feel guilty about something when we don’t do something right, sometimes when our actions are out of moral and ethical values. Sometimes we feel guilty about current situations wherein we feel we are being unproductive.
There are different kinds of guilt:
Rational Guilt: sometimes if we behaved inappropriately or said an inappropriate thing we undergo Rational Guilt. We feel and in this case there is a need for change of behaviour.
Irrational Guilt: here the situation is out of our hands, as a human we cannot control the situation – so we have guilty feelings about it and it saddens us.
Survival Guilt: which is evident in the current situation. It is basically, an emotional response exhibited by people who have survived during the times of traumatic events whereas others have suffered or died. This was the type of guilt seen in people during a war and Holocaust where there was a traumatic event and others have died.
Also, in the current situation of Covid-19, we have seen a lot of survival guilt, feeling bad about having their jobs and working comfortably from home, whereas many are poor and jobless; out of 10 only 3 are working. There are a few mothers and parents feel guilt for working from home and working round the clock and hence have not been able to take care of their kids.
Another form of guilt can be seen in healthcare professionals who have to go to work during this pandemic; thereby putting the lives of their loved ones at risk. There is a guilt in healthcare workers that they are not able to save their patients.
Caregivers too are experiencing guilt wherein their parents, or dear ones have been suffering from Covid-19 and they are not able to take care of them due to isolation. There are also cases where the patients have died of Covid-19 and the last rites and rituals could not be attended by their loved ones and family members, and the procedures are done by the hospitals. The guilt of not being available for the family when it is required; not being able to perform the duties is evidently seen during the times of this pandemic.
Symptoms to track pandemic remorse?
There are different emotions that this pandemic has made very clear. There are few symptoms which can be seen in cases of survival guilt. There has been an increase in negative feelings among people and patients seen on a regular and daily basis. To address, survival guilt one can track these symptoms:
Difficulty to sleep
Changes in appetite wherein it has increased or decreased tremendously
The interest in recreational activities has gone down
Difficulty in focus and lack of energy
Feeling of being disconnected from people
Negativity all around
9 ways to overcome a feeling of remorse during Unlock 3.0?
As countries undergo unlocking procedures, one needs to be physically and mentally prepared to put the traumatic and psychological effects of the pandemic behind them by addressing their survival guilt with due diligence.
First, be very conscious about the fact that what we are experiencing is extremely different and the current generations of the human race have never dealt with such a situation. We need to be aware of our feelings and guilt feelings which are natural and normal to have.
Secondly, one must accept the feeling. They need to know that they have a guilt feeling and need to acknowledge that feeling.
We need to change this guilt into a positive feeling like gratitude. We need to be more thankful for the things that we have. We must be thankful that as a professional, I can work, be productive; be able to provide to my kids as a good parent even if I am working 24/7; as a child, one must think that they are taking safety precautions by keeping at bay from meeting their parents who otherwise might be highly prone to being exposed to the virus if they go to meet them constantly. One should be thankful that they have all the facilities and they should look into the ways they can help others and not putting themselves into the risk, but to be able to financially or emotionally help others while taking all the precautions.
We need to stop criticising and need to address that we are being critical about ourselves and hence must stop labelling ourselves as a bad family member, or a bad employee, but must rather give ourselves more positive regards and tell ourselves that no matter what, I have tried my level best and that it is a new experience for every one and that it is not something we had planned to do, but it is something which has come up unfortunately to everyone.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, whether it is eating healthy food or exercising daily, or it is doing some meditation, is very important to overcome survival guilt. Keeping a journal, documenting our feelings is much needed. We also need to talk to ourselves as a friend rather than being a critical evaluator of our behaviour. Be a more understanding friend to yourself. Be more positive.
Turning to our family will help for it is these people who understand and care for us the most. This can kickstart the healing process. It is crucial to share our current state of mind and guilt feelings with our loved ones and family members because they are instrumental in guiding us to reaffirm our potential to live a happy and pleasant life.
Investing time in learning new skills, and pre-occupying our mind by engaging in activities triggers cognitive development.
To overcome feelings of remorse, we must accept the fact that certain people, times, events and places trigger negative emotions and hence maintaining a safe distance from them will help.
Lastly, we need to speak about our feelings with others so that we vent out our emotions; in some cases you may need the professional intervention by a mental health expert
(Dr Payal Sharma Kamath, Eminent Psychiatrist from Mumbai)
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