It’s hard to find people willing to bend on the COVID-19 debate about whether masks or vaccines should be mandated.
On one side, there’s the belief we must do what’s best for society. For these folks, that means wearing masks, social distancing and vaccinating anyone who is medically eligible as the only way to slow the spread of this deadly virus.
On the other side, there are people who argue for their autonomy and sense of individualism. Their right to self-determination includes deciding for themselves if they should get vaccinated or wear a mask.
The people who live in these diametrically opposed worlds do have some things in common: fear, anxiety and stress. Understandably, these factors have been at play since the beginning of the pandemic.
The pandemic is a major disaster. It’s changed our lives and lifestyles – in some ways, forever. At some point, we may be defining time as, simply, before and after COVID.
People became ill, were hospitalized and died. Families and friends saw loved ones struggle to breathe, and in many cases, couldn’t see loved ones admitted to emergency departments.
Some people feared visiting supermarkets and schools.
Many people were traumatized by the pandemic and experienced a sense of losing control over many aspects of their lives. In addition, some people did not feel safe doing the things they used to take for granted, such as going to restaurants, or even felt uncomfortable leaving their homes at all. This all contributed to pre-existing stress and, in many cases, resulted in feelings of anxiety, depression, hopelessness and anger.
As mental health professionals, we know that when people don’t manage and take care of their stress, it builds up and results in damage to both one’s physical and emotional health.
No matter where people stand regarding issues about the COVID pandemic, there has been a lot of anger expressed on the internet, public forums, and on TV. It is indeed challenging to find common ground when anger is the predominant emotion.
Anger is a reaction to a stressful situation, and it can result in irrational thinking, blocking our ability to hear opposing opinions.
When we find ourselves in that situation, we need to be able to return to our comfort zones and restore a sense of calm.
We can do it by following a few steps:
– Find a sense of security for yourself and loved ones: develop what you feel are safe guidelines for managing the COVID pandemic, whether it is getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, avoiding large crowds, washing your hands often or all of the above.
– Try to establish calmness in your life by using such techniques as deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness. For others, activities such as exercise, rest, or listening to music are helpful ways of coping.
– Connect with people in whatever way makes you comfortable, whether on the phone, online, or in person.
– All of these steps will bring a sense of belonging, lead to better coping, foster more confidence, and allow us to play a more active role during these trying times.
While the two sides won’t find much to agree on when it comes to vaccines or mask mandates, there are realistic ways we can bridge the divide if we find ways to reduce stress, cope with fear, and manage anger.
More information about mental health and COVID can be found on following links:
Dr. Adnan Sarcevic is the chairman of the department of psychiatry at Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital.