I was in Canada in March 2020, staying at my university residence, when the pandemic officially became a thing. The entire town ran out of toilet paper overnight. Even as we international students mulled over the implications of this and began hunting for rolls to stash away, we were asked to pack up our belongings and leave the country as soon as possible.
If my university’s notification seemed abrupt, it was nothing compared with India’s decision to ban incoming flights, giving students like me just a few days’ notice. I had two hours to vacate my hostel room leaving behind two years’ worth of school work and housing items. It felt unreal, dangerous, adventurous, thrilling and apocalyptic, all at the same time.
At home in Delhi, despite being quarantined in my bedroom for 14 days, I was relieved and excited to be with my family. My online studies kept me busy for a year until I graduated. I never returned, my student bank account being used solely to pay the rental for my belongings in storage somewhere in British Columbia and for EMIs on a phone whose number I can’t use anymore.
Eventually, Covid with its multiple waves caught up with me and everyone around me. Grief was everywhere, constantly; we all lost someone during this time. I went through a really low period, questioning everything, dealing with trauma and a time that felt endless.
And I was not the only one. Other young adults in their early 20s like me struggled with depression and anxiety, stuck at home for months on end, yearning for socialisation and human contact. Dating and parties – such an ordinary thing for millennials and Gen-Zs just a year earlier – became a distant dream. Many of us also mourned the loss of income and professional opportunities, our careers stuck in a time warp.
We were still the lucky ones – with family incomes to fall back on, with a home to be locked in, with access to the internet so that our studies were uninterrupted. The majority of our peers in India were not so fortunate.
The pandemic has not been easy on the world’s mental health, especially those under 40 years of age: anxiety went up from 6 percent to 51 percent; depression from 15 to 48 percent; post-traumatic stress disorder from 7 to 58 percent; and stress from 8 to 82 percent, according to a report in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
Imagine the scenario in India then, with its complex class, caste and patriarchal structure. More than 64 percent of India’s population is under the age of 35, and – even before the pandemic – we were a stressed lot. India was officially the world’s most depressed country in 2017 according to a World Health Organisation study, which found that 6.5 percent of Indians suffer some form of serious mental disorder. In 2020, over 43 percent respondents of a survey reported signs of depression.
But where there is a problem, there is also a business opportunity.
There has been an increase in the use of wellness apps, video consultations and online classes by millennials and Gen-Zs in the Subcontinent focusing on mindfulness and mental wellbeing. Apps like Black Lotus, Insight Timer, Headspace and Calm are commonly discussed amongst young working people.
Though desi men are taught to clam up their emotions and be invulnerable and desi women more likely to seek help and support for mental-health issues, these apps democratise the landscape and allow both men and women equal opportunity to explore and reach out for comfort and solace.
The pandemic also allowed many to take a step back and work on themselves, spend time with family, and slow down their pace of life. Some took up a new passion, others reconsidered their future goals or rewrote their dreams. Many simply tried to cope with immense loss and confusion.
Forced to take a detour, my generation has gradually accepted the loss, and is trying to bounce back and feel the rays of optimism on our faces again, thankful for each day and for our loved ones. The weight of the pandemic felt like an anchor pulling us beneath the water, but once you let go, the only other way is up.
I reached out to a bunch of 20-somethings for their experience of the pandemic.
Manjishta Datta, 24, post-graduate student, Lucknow
There is no clarity on the present circumstances or a future direction. The course that I am pursuing at present is dependent on clinical work and, with regular lockdowns and restrictions, there is a looming sense of uncertainty whether I’ll be able to complete it.
Moreover, planning for the future is also difficult with shrinking job prospects and international travel restrictions. Routine has been disrupted, affecting productivity. But I am resilient enough to push through.
The wellbeing of my family and friends always weighs on my mind. Such things were rarely a cause of worry earlier, but now there are major health concerns, both mental and physical. Most conversations now revolve around health and wellness.
My academic work and my family have kept me afloat. Working on the task at hand takes you away from the stress of the pandemic, and connecting with family keeps one’s spirits high – some love to lighten the dark days.
Parakh Poddar, 24, businessman, Ranchi
I graduated during the pandemic, and it impacted the plans and ideas I had been working on. My goal is to have a chain of used-car businesses all over India, but due to Covid, I was not able to start working on a new project instantly. I had to take a different path, so I joined my father in his business, which is also related to automobiles.
The goal is set but the way to achieve that goal has changed. Students who graduated this year have no doubt faced opportunity loss. But it has also given them time to study and develop themselves.
I’ve got an opportunity to learn more about the field I am getting into. This has also given me time to make new plans that could be implemented as soon as the situation gets back to normal.
Kriti Mamgain, 25, data scientist, Delhi
Fortunately, I am not directly affected by the pandemic in terms of my job. I still have a steady source of income being in the tech industry. Having said that, members of my family have been affected and I find myself compensating in matters of household expenses.
While I am very fortunate to be able to mitigate the financial consequences of the pandemic, it’s also true that I have had to cut down on some of the luxuries I would have otherwise indulged in. There has been uncertainty in terms of my lifestyle. I used to live alone in Gurgaon and now I am back living with my family.
It’s wonderful to be able to fall back on your family, but it can be challenging to suddenly spend so much time together with new, unpleasant challenges being thrown at you.
I have learnt to practice patience, focus on the positives in any situation, and to let things go. Personal space and privacy are also increasingly important for me.
Ananya Narang, 20, psychology student, Gurugram
I don’t know when I’ll be able to continue with the “normal” college experience. While I am sure I can spring back for the lost time in terms of my education, I think I’ll find it difficult to spring back into my relationships. I’ve not interacted much with anyone and I find it hard to do so anymore in real life.
What weighs on my mind more than ever before is the thought of losing people close to me or the world losing people in general. I am always scared and sad about the deaths and serious cases of Covid all around.
Although there is uncertainty about my studies and career plans, I take comfort in the fact that I’m here with my family and we’re all getting to spend this difficult time together. Thinking of the positives of any situation helps me feel better and deal with it better.
Nehal Kapoor, 24, trekking coach, Hyderabad
Time is precious. Doing a desk job in a city to earn money isn’t worth life. There is so much to explore and one can make so much difference to other people and to the environment. I believe one must get out and do something that matters.
I work in a field where everything is very uncertain. As a trekker, nature is our biggest companion and rival. The best way to deal with uncertainty is to be proactive instead of being reactive. If you react, you only create chaos in your own mind and in the lives of people around you.
When you know there are high winds, you pitch your tent in a manner that it doesn’t fly away.
Damsara Ekanayake, 26, instructor at Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology, Colombo
It was very hard for me to choose my path due to the pandemic. Since my convocation was postponed, I chose to work.
My hopes for a friendly, active work environment were dashed as we all had to work from home. Though it was pleasant in the beginning, it became stressful to work alone after a while.
I worry about not being able to fulfil all my responsibilities before I reach my 30s. It helps to talk to one’s parents. They know you better than anyone else. I also de-stress by talking to my close friends. I have started planning a lot – I have plan B and plan C lined up in case plan A fails. I have also found ways of entertaining myself like singing, listening to music and exercising to keep my mind stable.
Natesh Wadhwa, 26, entrepreneur, Delhi
The only similarity between me and billionaires such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett is that we all have 24 hours in a day; it’s about how productively we utilise it.
The world will be a better place if we are grateful for what we have rather than cribbing about what we don’t. The pandemic helped me rethink and redesign my vision. I think our golden days are over and the next five to 10 years are the most crucial time in which we have to cope with a lot of losses in terms of business, employment, and education. It will be a roller-coaster ride, so buckle up the seat-belt and just enjoy the journey.
As a startup founder, I realise that one should be open to unexpected turns in the road because life is full of surprises. Those unexpected openings will help you evolve into a better version of yourself. It is like stepping out of the comfort zone.
What worked for me is that, every day, I think about five things that I am grateful for in my life. It helps put things in perspective.
Aastha Saluja, 24, law student, Gurugram
The pandemic made me realise that not everything goes according to plan, and we have to make constant changes in our lives to adapt to new things. This phase has left many of our generation feeling lost because we do not know how relevant our current life decisions will be in the long term.
They say one must make the most out of every situation, and that is exactly what I did. I used this time as an opportunity to figure out what I wanted to do in my professional and personal life. I have been lucky to have supporting friends and family and I am thankful to them for keeping me sane.
Whenever I am uncertain about things, I always talk to someone who has more insight on that subject, and it helps me get a better understanding of the situation. One mustn’t bottle things up. If you’re stuck, try finding a solution.