It is entirely normal to feel guilty, but it is not okay to let it consume oneself
The world that we welcomed in 2020 is obviously not the same anymore. This year has been witnessing all sorts of natural or man-made disasters, one after another. The pandemic has managed to change all of our lives, affecting some more gravely than the others. Mental Health Awareness month has shed light on certain alarming issues for all of us. Apart from the physical threat, the nationwide holiday since March has affected the mental health of those who have never experienced symptoms before. Other than being overwhelmed by anxiety, stress and paranoia, the most common emotion reported by people is guilt.
During these challenging times, the guilty feeling a person experiences is when they understand the advantages their privilege has given them. A vast chunk of the society is sheltered from the novel virus, but at the same time many are accumulating irrecoverable business losses, dismissed employment or household unrest. The news of death is reaching closer and closer from incidents of acquaintances to friends and family. Despite all of this, at least we should not be complaining because we have a roof over our head, food on our table and most of our loved ones safe, right? There are many people suffering throughout the world, especially the ones living in poverty. Some of us also have the ability to donate or arrange charity drives. Why should any of us feel stressed when we are blessed? Well, that perspective is quite not right.
Guilt often stems from secondary trauma stress (STS). Secondary trauma can be sustained when an individual is exposed to people who have been traumatized by a catastrophic event. Sometimes people hear troubling explanations of traumatic events by a survivor and feel guilty for having survived it. Symptoms of secondary traumatic stress include flashback, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, agitation and anxiety. According to Harvard Gazette, the stress of the pandemic and the disruption in daily routine which causes sleepless nights can aggravate both physical and mental health problems.
The daily newspaper, constant TV news, upsetting social media posts and staggering statistical updates of infections and deaths can trigger any healthy mind. The obsessive hygiene routine, germ phobia or the tactless protocols around the city can generate paranoia quite easily. It is normal to feel guilty of belonging to a better societal class and having access to amenities when others don’t. However, the crushing sense of class guilt that so many of us feel isn’t only bad for the psyche, it’s bad for our physical health as well.
“If you are feeling guilty, you are probably stressing out yourself. If one’s body releases stress chemicals, it puts the person at risk for minor issues like headaches and backaches,” shares mental health expert from Evercare Hospital Dhaka (formerly known as Apollo). “Guilt also contributes to cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal disorders. With given time, it can even have a negative impact on the immune system. Guilt also has influence on a previously delicate mental state. It contributes significantly to depression, as it is very often involves a negative view of self, and to anxiety,” the expert explains.
It is entirely normal to feel guilty, but it is not okay to let it consume oneself. The pandemic is affecting each of us differently and it is very normal to feel undeserving of the privilege. We can often see people consoling themselves for ‘having it better’ than other people.
“I lost my job during the pandemic and I don’t know what to do when my savings run out,” shares a school teacher, “at least I have some money and my situation is not as bad as it is for other people.” Similarly, Elma, a private sector job-holder, who has been struggling to work home for over two months is simply ‘grateful’ to have a job. “I have not been meeting the deadlines or been the most productive with office work lately. I am overwhelmed with the unpredictable working hours and I can’t concentrate with all my might especially with my supervisors being assertive. The new routine has been hectic and humbling and it is all too much to absorb when you live and work in the same place. Sometimes I want to quit so I can let my brain rest but how will I pay my bills if I quit during the pandemic? I do not want to be an ingrate where people are losing jobs all over.”
Instead of forcing oneself to be grateful, observe what is really bothering you. Ask yourself why until you find out reasons or ways to turn your guilt into solutions and genuine gratitude. It is okay to pause from work, feel unproductive and lethargic in an attempt to get in touch with inner solitude but remember to pick yourself up and prepare for the upcoming world. Talk to someone who you think can support you be it a friend, family, mentor or colleague. There are many mental health hotlines across the city who are there to listen without hesitation.
In order to reboot your attitude, limit the amount of daily news you watch or read about. Try to come to terms with the fact that pain, loss and suffering are realities of life over which we have little or no control over. Be grateful for what is good in your life, in the world and find ways to reconnect with positivity. Find happiness in little things around you and spread some joy to others which will comeback in tenfold for you. Reconnect with new and old people. Try to find some meaning in the suffering you see, say a little prayer for the ones who left early. If you must blame something, blame the situation, not any person and especially not yourself. Help others as much as you can be it little or small. Most importantly, show compassion to yourself by being kind, soothing, and uplifting because a new world lies ahead of us and we need all stress-free (or manageable stress) thinkers to build a better world.
Tanishaa Arman Akangkha is a researcher in the development sector by profession and a writer by passion.