A year after the Coronavirus pandemic wrecked our collective lives, our society has been grappling with fear and insecurity. As a result, we have seen misinformation spread like wildfire, and many resorting to bizarre and incorrect methods of dealing with the virus. With this column, which will be published every Sunday, we aim to address any health or vaccine-related question our readers might have about the coronavirus pandemic.

In this week’s column, Dr Dinakaran, D MBBS, MD Assistant professor of Psychiatry at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), has replied to the queries. He has answered questions about coping with anxiety and mental health issues in this column.

What Can a person do if he/she finds self-isolation claustrophobic and anxiety-inducing?

Everyone needs support during such tough times. It is unfortunate but mandatory that during this infectious pandemic we need to follow specific measures like isolation and physical distancing. Feeling claustrophobic inside the same room and four walls is quite common during such isolation. During such times, it is important to connect with your loved ones regularly, even if the connection is only virtual. Proper diet, drinking 2-3 liters of water, and getting adequate sleep also help. Monitoring fever and oxygen levels are crucial, and of course, rest is your priority. However, if health permits, try to follow at least a proportion of your previous daily routine because a semblance of normalcy is good for mental health during such difficult times. Try in-door activities or hobbies that may give you relaxation. Think of it this way: by isolating yourself and thereby reducing further spread, you are in fact contributing to society and protecting your family. You are not just doing it for yourself, it is an active act of love.

What should a person do if COVID-19 induces insomnia, or the fear of losing our loved ones takes away our sleep?

Feeling stressed, anxious, and having poor sleep is understandable when you have such distressing worries. Poor sleep is also commonly seen in people who are recovering from COVID. You may be thinking about your loved ones who are down with COVID, worrying about their oxygen status, and how he/she is managing things alone at the hospital, without anyone by their side.

Following tips may help you get to sleep. Try writing down or recording your fears and worries which you may later hand over to your loved one when he/she returns home post-recovery. Try to avoid social media and news at least one hour before going to sleep. Drink a glass of warm milk. Please avoid eating and watching TV from your bed and use it only for sleeping. If you don’t fall asleep after 45-60 minutes of lying down, leave the bed. Listen to music or read a book and go back to bed when you feel drowsy. You will be able to get back your sleep routine soon with practice.

Many have stopped communicating with their loved ones after surviving COVID-19, they do not speak much and are not their usual self. How to care for them? Do they need psychological help?

Feeling sad is one of the common mental health reactions when someone is recovering from a severe viral illness. However, whether it requires specialist care needs to be assessed on an individual basis. Talk to your loved ones and ask them whether they are willing to share their feelings with a professional. Monitor their food intake, daily routine and sleep pattern. Please don’t force such individuals to seek help. Support them during this tough phase. Your support may enable them to manage their mental health issues in a slightly better way. If you are in doubt, and the signs your loved ones are showing are persistent and concerns you, then reach out to a nearby professional with further information.

The fear of contracting COVID-19 is making many nervous, worried and irritable. How can they manage their mental health better during these uncertain times?

Worries about catching this viral illness and spreading it to loved ones are common during this second wave. Uncertainty about when will this pandemic end? when will we go back to our normal life? are the questions in everyone’s mind. Such unpredictable events usually lead to frustration and mental exhaustion. A few people try to vent their emotions by shouting at their loved ones. Try to restrict the time spent listening to pandemic-related news. Share with your loved ones the concerns and issues that are bothering you. Keep a particular time slot in a day for yourself. Spend that time on activities that actually give happiness or pleasure. Reach out to a nearby professional for further help.

Children are seeing their friends lose their parents, and it is impacting their mental health severely. How can they cope with the fear of losing their parents?

Indeed, the fear of losing a loved one can impact a child’s mental health gravely. Therefore, parents should try to spend more time with the children which isn’t happening much these days, even though we are all working from home because we are not blocking out family time. It is also important to communicate with them regularly and listen to their concerns. Let the child know that you have understood his concerns and those concerns are very real.

Ask the child to talk about how his/she feels about his/her friend’s loss and teach the child to be there for his/her bereaved friend. It is crucial to cultivate compassion in young ones, teach them the necessity to grieve. Based on the child’s age and development, you may also want to discuss with them the COVID-appropriate behaviors that you all are following, which might help in dissuading his fears. Clarify the doubts and myths he/she may have about getting infected. If his/her fear is making him/her act out or behave aggressively, gently let the child know that behaving aggressively is not allowed even when their concerns are real and understandable. Involve them in your decision-making about vaccines and other precautions that would keep you safe, and thereby allay their fears.

What is the protocol post-COVID recovery? Should a patient change his/her personal items like a shaving razor, toothbrush, etc?

Research evidence suggests persistent cough, tiredness, body aches, anxiety, depression, sleep problems, poor focus at work, and minor forgetfulness are common during the early phase of recovery from COVID. These symptoms may be monitored and appropriately treated to improve a person’s well-being. However, this is only rapidly evolving now and needs to be updated further. There is no “one size fits all” universal Post-COVID protocol.

World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that the risk of virus transmission through fomites or surfaces is very low. There is no absolute necessity to remove or replace one’s personal belongings after recovering from COVID.

How can people protect themselves from overcrowded vaccination centers? Can vaccination centres figure out ways to control crowding now that the vaccine is available to all above 18, in several states?

Most vaccination centers across the nation already follow the pre-registration system. Only those registered individuals need to visit the vaccination center during their allotted slots to avoid overcrowding. Wearing masks, frequent sanitizations, and appropriate social distancing norms are to be followed both during and after vaccination. Vaccinated youth may volunteer at such vaccination sites and collaborate with healthcare workers and the community in organizing the program better.

Do you have questions about Coronavirus? Or the vaccines? Send us your questions: Tweet with #AskADoctor. Every week, we will have a public health expert address your concerns through this column.

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