Where have we come from? Where are we going? What’s next? The world over, COVID19 is considered as the catastrophe that put things into perspective. It got people appreciating what they had, valuing loved ones and even mended broken bridges. But with this, it highlighted an area that we’d like to put off for another day - death. Mental health seemed to suffer this year, as people couldn’t grasp the concept of death. How do we live now that death is a part of daily life? We asked a psychologist to give us a solution.
Why is the brain constantly trying to solve the puzzle of life and death?
Delcy Dedhiya, a psychologist who studied at ARU Cambridge and now runs her private consultation practice in Mumbai, says that the human brain is hardwired to try to solve problems that it perceives are unsolvable.
When the pandemic started to kill and destroy lives by the minute, many of us found ourselves asking the question ‘Why?’
What is the psychology or the logic behind this pursuit of answers by the brain?
“Often it is difficult if not impossible to divert our minds from tragedy and pursuing unsolvable issues. This is due to environmental circumstances and stress. We are born to think, to want to find the answer or some clue or rationale that will help explain the problem. Constant thinking is what propelled us from being a favourite food on the savanna—and a species that nearly went extinct—to becoming the most accomplished life-form on this planet,” says Delcy.
Why does death frighten us into living life?
With the thought of death looming right on the horizon and waking up to stories of it every second day, is it scaring us and keeping us from actually living? Delcy compares the mind to a search engine server that is constantly on the lookout for hazards and opportunities in the environment. “Our brain goes one step further,” she says “by also thinking proactively. For these reasons, we benefit from having a brain that works around the clock, even if it means dealing with intrusive thoughts from time to time.”
There are times when we fear death. We know it is inevitable, but the fear is usually due to the uncertainty of it. “When one is scared and tries looking for solutions to it, what they are doing is simply looking for ways to delay the process. Not wanting to lose people or part ways from loved ones is a natural human instinct. What one should rather do is be grateful for the life and value it now and show that by actions towards the people they care about.”
Should we stay away from any triggers such as news?
“That isn’t a solution,” says Delcy. “Man being a social animal can not completely stay away from the news! Especially in these times of digital, social media. However, you can choose to filter and consume positive content.”
She recommends doing the following to keep a check on what you are consuming.
Follow a media diet
Avoid following news that does not matter or affect you directly. Awareness about current affairs is okay but not getting too involved or taking it too personally is the best approach. “No news in the bedroom or at the dining table should be followed. This ensures peaceful sleep and meals.”
Focus on the positive
There is a lot of good around you. Turn your attention to that! “Invest time in self-development and personal growth. Invest time in developing hobbies.”
If a negative event is beyond your control, then discussing and getting affected is pointless. Instead, Delcy says make changes starting with yourself. “Crying over the fact that over 1 lakh people are dying of COVID daily helps no one. On the other hand, understanding the reasons for COVID spread and taking precautions like washing hands regularly, maintaining social distance are the things to be focussed upon.”
“Being realistic about how you can make a change, or how any news story really impacts you, is an important step in overcoming feelings of anxiety. When it comes to tragic news or negative acts, try practising the APPLE technique,” suggests Delcy.
The APPLE technique
“This technique helps in responding mindfully and more effectively to unhelpful thoughts and feelings.”
The APPLE technique is the acronym for ‘Acknowledge’, ‘Pause’, ‘Pull back’, ‘Let go’ and finally, ‘Explore’.
Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty of death or episodes of tragic events as it comes to mind. Do not be in denial, or try to dilute those emotions.
Let go of the thought or feeling. Cast it into the Universe.
Explore the present moment, because right now at this moment, all is well. Shift your attention to something else. This may be the things that you have on your plate, or get back to what you were doing before you noticed the worry, or do something else mindfully, but with your full attention.
Once you start to follow this technique whenever you are hit with a moment of incessant worry, you will find yourself developing a pattern of trying to be positive and taking things as they come.
Focus on happiness
Death will continue to be a part of life, even after COVID-19 is eradicated. Thus it is time to take matters into your hands and focus on the living and life itself. Often consuming content throughout the day can be a trigger. “No phones before going to bed or immediately after waking up is something I believe in and follow,” reiterates this psychologist. “Working on fitness and eating right can also be a good way to filter the negative. While it is difficult, meditation and exercise help.”
“I strongly believe that your mind can be either your prison or your palace. What you make of it is yours to decide.”
You can reach out to Delcy for a consultation on topics of mental health, or contact her for her expert advice at firstname.lastname@example.org