Photo: The writer - Photo: 2020

What the Dickens, Let’s Fight the Stress of Coronavirus

Viewpoint by Dr. Dilkhush Panjwani *

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of people, institutions or organizations that the author is affiliated with, in a professional or personal capacity.

TORONTO (IDN) – Humanity is in the midst of an unfolding global public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus is spreading at an alarming rate and there are no vaccines or approved treatments so far, except assisted breathing.

Mental stress affects all of us to a greater or lesser degree just like physical stress. We need to learn how to cope with the stress, fear and anxiety in these exceptionally difficult times. We need to safeguard the physical and mental health of ourselves and our loved ones. We must stay home and maintain physical distancing with a sense of togetherness, unity and social caring. “Soap and water and common sense are the best disinfectants.” (William Osler).

If Charles Dickens was alive today, he would have said, “It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is the age of wisdom, it is the age of foolishness, it is the epoch of belief, it is the epoch of incredulity, it is the season of Light, it is the season of Darkness, it is the spring of hope, it is the winter of despair, we have everything before us, we have nothing before us….” (Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

It is the best of times, as we have the best selfless and dedicated frontline health providers, the best medical equipment, the best hospitals and the best scientific knowledge to deal with the infectious COVID-19 pandemic. It is the worst of times, given our greed, selfishness, lack of common sense, lack of faith, lack of compassion for others, lack of unity, lack of cooperation with the preventative guidelines and safety protocols.

It is the age of wisdom, as we have been able to extract knowledge from the overwhelming flow of information and the wisdom to act appropriately and safely. It is the age of foolishness, as many of us have defied the safety precautions, ignored hygiene guidelines of handwashing, indulged in the hoarding of household items, acted unethically in price gouging, and do not practice social distancing and social isolation.

It is the epoch of belief, as we have hope and faith in the Creator that tomorrow will be a better day for all humanity. Patience, empathy and compassion in tribulations are noble virtues indeed. It is the epoch of incredulity, as many of us harbour fear of the unknown, have doubts in our system, and some are cynical.

It is the season of Light, as we have learned to overcome every difficulty with our faith in the Creator, our spiritual strength, our realistic optimism, our resilience, our ability of emulating patience, self-denial and sacrifices, and our compassion and charity for the needy and the poor. It is the season of Darkness, as tragically many precious lives have been lost due to COVID-19.

It is the spring of hope, as we humans have overcome many challenges posed by pandemics in the past; we shall succeed in conquering the virus and in flattening the curve of this pandemic. There is hope that effective treatments and vaccine will be available soon. It is the winter of despair, as we were not fully prepared for what is yet to come, we were tardive in taking immediate steps of containment, testing for the virus and mitigation.

We have everything before us, as we have highly qualified medical, nursing, paramedic and public health staff, who are taking risks to save our lives. We have nothing before us so far, as we lack evidence-based treatments and vaccines, lack of enough hospital beds, lack of ventilators and personal protective equipment, and the uncertainty of how long it will take to control the pandemic.

We have experienced sudden changes in our daily life, family life, work-life, social life and our financial situation. These changes and factors such as social isolation, shortages of household and food items, unemployment, worries about the uncertain future, and overload of news and social media have caused high levels of stress for many of us and precipitated despair, fear, anticipatory anxiety, apathy, sadness, panic and sleeplessness. Stress tends to compromise our immune system and weakens our body’s response to infection and recovery.

We all need to cope with the stress on a daily basis, as stress increases exponentially like the COVID-19 virus. Stress is defined as a series of physiological or behavioural responses to an environmental or perceived threat or danger. The threat of the present pandemic is both environmental and perceived. We tend to show a heightened flight-or-fight response to the threat or danger. Everyone of us could experience some degree of stress differently, depending on many factors such as the capacity of resilience, personality traits, socio-economic status, social support and individual lifestyle.

Stress affects both the body and the mind. Most of us are worried well, although some might develop psychological symptoms of anxiety, depression, fear, anger, guilt, apathy, boredom and loneliness. Some of the bodily symptoms include insomnia or hypersomnia, fatigue, unexpected change in body weight, lack of appetite, muscle tension, headaches and pain. Some of the factors that increase our vulnerability to stress include social isolation, alcohol and substance abuse, poor anger management, dysfunctional relationships, and chronic illnesses.

The ABCs of stress busters and stress management:


Accept the inevitable situation

Adhere to accurate facts from authentic sources

Avoid alcohol or substance abuse, or excessive caffeine intake

Avoid overindulgence in social media and television


Balance work, family and leisure time

Beware of phone scams and “text-scams”

Beware of sensationalism in news and social media

Boundaries on time spent for news and social media


Common sense in screening fake information

Compassion and charitable contributions to the needy


Deep diaphragmatic breathing exercises five times daily


Exercise the body and mind to relieve tension and boost immune system


Family communication and support on regular basis

Fasting intermittently for the body, mind and soul


Godliness and faith in the meaning of suffering as a blessing rather than punishment gives courage and strength to fight stress


Hope dispels fear and overcomes tribulations

Humour that is not offensive releases tension


Imagery: mental imagination of the sounds and sights of nature and of pleasant experiences of the past


Journaling: keep a diary of your feelings


Kindness toward others uplifts your spirits


Love all to enhance your brain’s chemicals


Mindfulness meditation, music and massage

Mindful eating


Nutritional foods and vitamin supplements


Optimistic attitude of the future

One day at a time approach  

Organize your daily routine


Prayer uplifts your soul with positive energy

Prudent financial management and savings


Quiet time for peaceful contemplation     


Relaxation exercises daily and relaxation apps with visual cues


Sleep enough to revitalize your body and mind

Smile often

Spiritual mindset to renew your hope and patience

Stay in contact with family and friends virtually

Stretching exercises to ease muscle tension

Social distancing with a sense of closeness


Time management every day

Togetherness and sense of belonging even in social isolation

Tele-Counselling/therapy online via telephone or secure video


Use your time wisely and avoid procrastination


Volunteer to assist the elderly and the disabled

Virtual work from home


Wash your hands often

Waste not your food and resources


Exit all negative thoughts from you mind


You and you alone have the power to adapt to change

Yoga for healthy body, mind and soul


Zealous enthusiasm keeps you going one day at a time

In closing, let us reflect on what the pandemic has taught us:

  • Let us salute and express our gratitude to all the selfless frontline healthcare workers, law enforcement officers, paramedics, firefighters, and all essential service providers, as they are risking their lives to serve the sick and the frail members of our society. Notwithstanding the risk, doctors are also faced with making tough ethical decisions.
  • Let us transcend cultural, racial, religious, linguistic and social differences, as we are all equal.
  • Let us make humanity our race.
  • Let us believe that coronavirus does not threaten the existence of humanity.
  • Let us accept that our lives have a meaning, purpose and value.
  • Let us appreciate the importance of maintaining a balance between family, work and leisure.
  • Let us value health more than wealth.
  • Let there be no place for ego, pride, prejudice or hatred.
  • Let us keep our faith and hope alive for this pandemic is not the end.
  • Let us help the most vulnerable persons in our society, as our moral character is reflected by how we treat our weakest fellow human beings.
  • Let us together make this a new beginning of a better life and a better peaceful world.
  • Let us strive to change ourselves, even though we might not be able to change the current situation.
  • Let us all become citizens of the world and work for humanity across borders with cosmopolitan ethics.
  • In the end, “Truth alone will endure, all the rest will be swept away…” – M.K. Gandhi.

Author’s note: The phrase ‘What the dickens’ has nothing to do with Charles Dickens. It is a euphemism that Shakespeare used in ‘the Merry Wives of Windsor’.

* Dr. Dilkhush Panjwani is a highly qualified psychiatrist who is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s department of psychiatry and consultant staff psychiatrist at Trillium Health Partners. As a community psychiatrist for over 30 years, Dr. Panjwani has vigorously promoted dignity for those suffering from mental health issues and workplace injuries, dedicated his career to helping patients without access to care, and advocated to end the social stigma of mental illness. He has also promoted pluralism by connecting diverse community organizations and initiating interfaith and intercultural dialogue. He was appointed to the Order of Ontario in recognition of his outstanding contribution and achievements. [IDN-InDepthNews – 09 April 2020]

Photo: The writer

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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