In light of the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), social distancing has become a norm across the globe. Cancer survivors like me, who underwent extensive chemotherapy, are pros at social distancing. I was homebound for almost six months during treatment and screened everyone who visited me for the mildest symptoms of the flu. However, just because I have done it in the past, doesn’t mean that social distancing will come easy this time around.
On the contrary, it may be far more difficult as I have been battling anxiety over the past year.
Ever since I heard of the first COVID-19 case in India, my anxiety, slowly but steadily, started to spiral. News articles and social media posts horrified me. Was I at a higher risk of COVID-19? Is my immunity strong enough to fight the virus, in case I get it?
I spent an entire weekend feeling like I had hit rock bottom all over again and did not know what to do. When my firm told us that we could work from home, I was so grateful as that would reduce my risk. At the same time, a part of me was worried about whether I had the mental strength to handle this.
Being stuck at home has triggered flashbacks of chemotherapy and how. It has brought back my fear of the unknown and my inability to control what unfolds.
I am writing this to help any cancer survivors who may be undergoing the same ordeal. If all the news around COVID-19 is affecting you more than others in your circle, know that you are not alone. We, cancer survivors, have been through hell and the fear that COVID-19 may wreak havoc in our lives all over again, is not unwarranted. It is OKAY to feel what you are feeling and acknowledge that feeling.
Here are a few tips that may help you deal with this unexpected trigger.
1. Open up to your loved ones about how and why you are feeling a certain way. Tell them what your biggest worry is in these stressful times. Seek the help of a counselor, if need be, to help you navigate through this.
2. Speak to your oncologist. Ask them about the precautions you need to take and enquire about the impact of the deferral of your routine check-ups, tests, and port flushes.
3. If you feel up to it, find something to do. Read that book, listen to that podcast, take up that hobby, clean that drawer, empty that hard-drive, call that long lost friend, try that new recipe, or do anything that you have been putting off due to lack of time.
However, do not feel pressured to do something productive during this downtime. If you don’t feel like doing anything but Netflix and Chill, do just that (provided, of course, that you are doing so in your non-working hours).
For the ones working from home, have a designated work-space and schedule. Try to stick to it. Work hard to keep the mind away from all the COVID-19 stress but don’t drown yourself in work either. Make some time for self-care.
Keeping yourself busy with work may seem like an excellent distraction from the despairing news, but it may be counterproductive. Work may help divert your mind, but once you are done with your work day, you are sure to catch up on all the news. This will add to your stress and leave you struggling to sleep at night.
5. Offer gratitude (not just now but for the rest of your life). Even in these times, I am grateful for all that I am blessed with. I am thankful for those staying home, healthcare professionals, grocery store owners, and workers, delivery personnel, and government officials implementing necessary precautions for the rest of us. Many people are not as privileged.
6. If you are able to, reach out and help someone in need. This pandemic is challenging for different people in different ways. Those at high risk might find it impossible to queue up for groceries; daily wage earners and small businesses may struggle to make ends meet; and people with anxiety may have a tough time practicing social distancing. Help people in whatever little way you can.
7. Spend as much time with your loved ones as you can.
I am not in the same city as my immediate family and would do anything to change that right now; but if you are, make the most of this blessing. For the ones who are far away from their loved ones, check in on them, and speak/video chat frequently.
I would have delved into the importance of eating healthy, ensuring movement, and practicing mindfulness, but, for cancer survivors trying their best to stay in remission, these practices would be ingrained.
Here’s hoping that our beautiful world heals from this crisis. Until then, stay home, stay safe, and do whatever it takes to feel alright.
(Written by Megha Agarwal and Edited by Shruti Singhal)
This article was originally published on Elephants and Tea.