Living On the Psycho-social Edge: COVID-19 pandemic effects

Well, I don’t know about you, but I have daily flashes of “Hey, this is coming to an end so relax”, to, “Holy crap! Am I catching it? I’m feeling something…”

Each morning when I awake, for example, especially if I’ve had little sleep, I check myself for symptoms, sometimes without thinking about it. Such dedicated vigilance! Regardless, as now a knee-jerk reaction, due in part to daily exposure to thousands of media warnings and those of inquisitive but caring relatives, I have conceded to the messaging.

On the online CTV News site this morning, the statistics shown in The COVID-19 Brief, indicated that as of today:

  1. Globally, there were 2,990,559 cases worldwide, 875, 497 recovered, and 207,446 deceased;
  2. In Canada, there were 46,895 cases, 17,321 recovered, and 2,560 deceased;
  3. In Ontario, there were 14,432 cases, 8,000 recovered, and 835 deceased.

“Doctors worry of  potential backlog and further delays for patients once the coronavirus pandemic subsides. Some doctors privately speculate wait times for procedures could run a year or longer.”

On CBC Radio this morning, there was more discussion from experts about the widening stress effects on people who are self-isolating or ‘social distancing’, and who also repeatedly see or hear the Covid message. Some of these effects included domestic violence, verbal abuse, and even suicides. Most however, reflected resulting feelings of constant apprehension, helplessness, and resigned fatalism. Where hope had been compromised, high anxiety ensued. It was seen as a slow ‘turning out of the lights’ coupled with the fear of what’s coming next, and what can be done about it, for myself or my family.

When a neighbourhood, extended family, town, city and country share these legitimate feelings, it can have more widespread net effects, to wit:

  • the temporary (or in some cases) permanent closing of “non-essential” businesses;
  • greatly reduced employment levels, including the numbers of full-time and part-time staff;
  • remedial and enforceable government policies around social distancing in public, loss/recuperation of wages, re-deployment of hospital staff, access to healthcare, and distribution of PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment);
  • a redefining of Long Term Care guidelines;
  •  restrictions on the size of public gatherings (maximum of 5 in Ontario);
  • the closing of schools, colleges and universities, and other public institutions such as libraries and community centres

The human body as an organism is prepared to adapt to its environment in response to weather, microorganisms, chemical irritants and pollutants, and the psychological pressures of daily life. This constant condition of homeostasis becomes upset or out of balance when it is confronted especially with a new unidentifiable threat such as Covid-19. “Whether this [new] stressful situation actually induces physiological change depends upon an individual’s perception of the stress stimulus and the personal meaning that the stimulus holds. A person’s reaction, for instance, may not correspond to the actual dangers that the stimulus represents; that is, a person may overreact or underreact. Thus, there is considerable agreement that an individual’s subjective interpretation of a social situation is the trigger that produces physiological responses…A number of studies have shown that the human organism’s inability to manage the social, psychological, and emotional aspects of life – to respond suitably to a social situation – can lead to the development of cardiovascular complications and hypertension, peptic ulcers, muscular pain, compulsive vomiting, asthma, migraine headaches, and other health problems.” (pp. 75, 77, in MEDICAL SOCIOLOGY, 8th edn., by William C. Cockerham, 2001. Prentice Hall)

Covid-19 in other words, can make you sick over time, by just worrying about it. It is a crisis through time, and its magnitude is made clear by 1. “the intensity of the threat or actual loss; 2. its extent through important dimensions of the person’s or group’s life space; 3. the speed with which it occurs; 4. the degree to which the person is prepared to cope with the crisis or be overwhelmed by it; and 5. its duration or recurrent nature” (pp. 223-232, MEDICAL SOCIOLOGY, 2nd edn., David Mechanic, 1978. Free Press).

The psycho-social ‘edge’ of the pandemic affects everyone worldwide, as we are all living on the edge of an unfamiliar enemy for which there is no known cure – yet. As an optimist who has faith in science to get humans out of this mess one way or the other, I go to that hope AFTER I get up in the morning…if I had a restless night. Millions of us would not be here had it not been for relentless researchers discovering a vaccine for mumps and measles/rubella (MMR).

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