Battling Emotions During Covid-19
As a by-product of the Covid-19 pandemic and infodemic, we are confronted with a battle against untamed emotions.
The National Commission of Women has reported a rise in domestic and gender-based violence since the imposition of the countrywide lockdown. Financial hardship, risk of unemployment, worry of pay-cuts and the fear of contracting the disease are all affecting our collective mental well-being. The gigantic surge in misinformation has triggered fear-driven reactions such as panic buying, disowning pets, communal divide, discourtesy towards frontline workers, indignities against migrants, etc.
This scale of negativity can have devastating impacts on the physical and mental health of individuals, and the community as a whole. At times of crises like this, showing empathy, self-regulation and positive relationships is much needed to maintain a healthy environment in our homes, workplaces, and the public sphere. Thus, it is imperative for policymakers to appreciate, advocate and channelize the power of emotional intelligence (EI) to overcome this hardship.
EI is a crucial skill. Extensive research shows that EI significantly influences our decision-making and our actions. Mastering the emotional brain is a matter of accepting, understanding, and regulating one’s feelings. The five key components of EI are self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy, and social skills. Sometimes even simply recognizing an emotion can prevent a mental spiral from being triggered.
The government can capitalize on the power of EI to improve societal well-being through a number of policy possibilities.
Daniel Goleman, in his international bestseller on EI, highlights the importance of including emotional training as part of the school curriculum. The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (YCEI) has designed evidence-based educational approach (called RULER) to help develop EI among all age groups starting from pre-school. In response to Covid-19, resources for school communities to adapt to changes due to the pandemic are also being shared on the community page. The Department of School Education and Literacy can collaborate with the YCEI to disseminate EI training through online portals like e-pathshala and also to incorporate it in school curriculums. The EI module can be incorporated in the pre-school curriculum for early childhood education under ICDS to enhance social–emotional development.
Furthermore, EI training must also be included in skill development and employment generation schemes rolled out by the government through different ministries (like PMKK, PMKVY, DDU-GKY, PMEGP etc.). State skilling schemes that aim to train women to become self-employed must include EI training in their programmes to equip them with emotional competitiveness as well. Also, as one of the outlined objectives of the Swadhar Greh and UJJAWALA schemes by WCD is to help women who have undergone difficult circumstances to regain emotional strength, counselling sessions offered under the schemes can be coupled with emotional training to achieve this objective.
To limit harsh behaviour, the government must channelize the power of emotional connect of village leaders and government workers with the people. When sensitizing people about the virus or distributing food to families, PRI and ASHA workers must utilise the opportunity to also advocate the need to be kind and considerate. Faith leaders must also appeal to their congregations to show empathy towards front line workers, the vulnerable and the affected.
At workplaces, organizations must help employees cope with anxiety and fear. Listening to and understanding what an employee is feeling, showing empathy, and delivering constructive criticism are of prime importance. Well-being surveys can also help in understanding the general mood of the employees and identify people who need more support to get over the impact of the pandemic. Few examples of innovative interventions by organizations to help employees cope emotional distress in response to Covid-19 are launching psychological counselling helpline by Vedanta, organizing virtual meditation sessions by Axis Bank, dedicating certain working hours to ‘Work FOR Home’ by Ola, along with regular team interactions. The government can issue a guideline for workplaces highlighting measures and best practices that must be adopted by organisations to cater to the mental well-being of their employees.
The ongoing coronavirus awareness campaigns issued in public interest must also highlight the need to be empathetic and considerate towards frontline workers, the vulnerable and the affected. Engaging podcasts and advertisements in regional languages can also be created to highlight how an act of kindness can go a long way and how important it is to come together as one large family to fight this pandemic. The Information and Broadcasting and Health ministries can work together to implement this. Misinformation has continually proven to be deadly. Along with belief in false claims, it also diffuses undue panic among the masses. Self-awareness and self-regulation can be capitalised on to reduce its spread. An online campaign similar to the ‘Stop and Consider Campaign’ run by Australian Electoral Commission in 2019 can urge people to stop and check the source of information before believing and sharing it. Like the UK, India can also develop curricula to assist children in spotting fake information and disseminate it through Department of School Education and Literacy schemes as well as digital literacy schemes like PMGDISHA.
While social distancing and washing hands are effective means to fight this contagious virus, emotional intelligence is the weapon to overcome emotional turmoil. The world must unite to overcome the disturbing and overwhelming consequences of this pandemic with a positive spirit and an empathetic attitude, key traits of emotionally intelligent minds. As we prepare for life after lockdown, work towards avoiding recurring waves of infection, and consider how to revive the economy, we must all use our emotions wisely, because after all, emotions are contagious too.
Fatima Mumtaz is Young Professional, NITI Aayog. Views expressed are personal.