COVID-19 – Coping with Stress

COVID-19 has stressed everyone around. Besides the fear of contracting the infection, it’s the contracting economy that remains a major concern. There are implications for those who have lost their jobs as also for those who are waiting to enter the aviation workforce, either to return back after compulsory grounding due to lockdowns and border closures or awaiting their chance with their newly acquired commercial licences in hand with literally nowhere to go. These bad weather days have not left anyone untouched in the aviation industry across the globe. The question is how does one cope with the uncertainties and the stress during these trying times.

‘Coping’ is to deal with an adverse situation – harmful or threatening – to remove the threat or at least lessen its impact on our being. Ain’t pilots trained to handle aircraft emergencies, cabin crew to ensure the safety of the passengers, and air traffic controllers to respond to any aircraft emergency in air or on ground? But this is not coping. This is a classical learned management of emergencies to ensure safety during all phases of flight. This is invariably accomplished by the team work among the aircrew and other safety personnel. Remember the landing on the Hudson’s waters by Captain ‘Sully’ Sullenberger and safe evacuation of all the passengers on board US Airways Flight 1549.

COVID-19 has wrought havoc with jobs and lives. Unlike the practiced emergencies in aviation, how does one tackle an unseen enemy which has brought the aviation sector to a standstill? How do we cope with the financial strain and the worries about taking care of ourselves and those dependent on us? How long do we have to wait for this pandemic to come under control, in turn opening of the skies with a hope of recovery in the aviation sector? There are many lingering and unanswered questions without us knowing how long do we have to continue to cope with this sort of state of suspended animation!

It is important that we remain pragmatic and cautiously optimistic. This is easily said than done with fast dwindling cash in the pockets and the piling unpaid bills along with other financial commitments, including mortgages. Yet, this is time when our mettle is being tested. There are no ideal solutions and there are no magic remedies in these bleak times. What is available is one’s resilience and a grit to survive against all odds by reminding ourselves that the darkest hour is just before the dawn. 

While we all wait for the new dawn, we need to approach it by balancing both the magnitude of the problem faced and our emotional response to it. When the problem seems unsurmountable, we could react with dejection, disappointment or a sheer sense of frustration at our inability or perceived sense of failure. But would such a negative emotional response to a grave situation help us tide over it. Remember conservation of our resources is also coping with a problem where our personal (emotional, mental and physical) and financial reserves, despite running on ‘bingo fuel’, need to see us through a crisis with no immediate end in sight. Solutions need to be found, irrespective of where the help comes from – personal savings, government support, bank loans or if need be, support from other family members. Understandably, not everyone may be in a comfortable situation to seek or obtain such financial support, yet it is important to find means of surviving through the crisis. Only when we all come out on the other side of this pandemic with our mind and body intact, can we make good for the lost time and the opportunities. Until the tides turn, we need to keep our heads low and continue to live within our limited means and thinly stretched financial resources.

Testing times like these may take a toll on our mental health as well. We may lose sleep worrying about our commitments and loss of income or financial strain. This may have a direct impact on our sense of well-being and may affect our moods. Frayed nerves and short fuses may affect our relationships both within our families and with our friends and colleagues. Worse still is feeling low, without being able to share our inner turmoils with anyone around us. This way, we may be setting ourselves in a downward spiral towards a dark hole. This may happen either when we have no strategy to face the unfolding situation or we feel that our strategy is insufficient or failing. But before we allow ourselves to be engulfed by gloom, we must ask ourselves whether we can face up to the challenge looking squarely into its eyes, despite our scarce resources and probably a pervading sense of gloom or hopelessness. If the answer is no, then this is a wake-up call. We need to pull ourselves together and prepare ourselves psychologically to reassess the situation. It is the positive outlook that will help cope with the odds rather than sagging shoulders and sunken morale. It’s all in the mind – if we are positive, the dawn is nigh, which could otherwise seem like an endless night when feeling low. 

It’s the choices that we make – standing up to the challenges with a positive state of mind or sinking down on our knees without giving a fight. This is not a bout in the ring where once the bell rings, the show is over. This is life – to be lived each day, by finding our own purpose and to strive for a better tomorrow – even when it’s all dark and gloomy when we woke up this morning. Indeed, some days the sense of gloom may make us feel awful about us, about the situation, about everything around – but have we ever been given a problem without a solution? However, we need to work towards solving each problem that we face with a steady resolve to stay purposeful in life. 

COVID-19 is a problem, and each of us are coping with it – bravely and stoically, except that many of us may be finding the going tough. If you are doubting your ability to cope with the prevailing conditions and your emotional/mental reserves are low or you are feeling abandoned, do not give up – seek help. You need to open up about your situation to another – anyone you trust – you must talk and share your thoughts, worries and concerns. Seeking help is important but unless those whom you trust, love and care for, know the problem, they won’t be able to offer a helping hand. This could be the time for us to call our buddies – both to share your concerns and to listen to theirs.

This blog is based on the chapter “Stress, Coping, and Health” in The Oxford Handbook of Health Psychology.

Carver CS, Vargas S. Stress, Coping, and Health. In The Oxford Handbook of Health Psychology. Howard S. Friedman, editor. Oxford University Press 2011; 162-188
DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195342819.001.0001