How Does an Island Like Cyprus Survive a Pandemic?

An interview on island lockdowns and living resiliently.

Posted Sep 09, 2020

Eliz Volkan, used with permission
Source: Eliz Volkan, used with permission

Living under COVID-19 lockdowns has produced unique challenges for everyone. Dr. Eliz Volkan describes the unique situation in North Cyprus and shares some tips for how we can cultivate resilience.

Eliz Volkan is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Cyprus International University and has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and an M.Sc. in Cognitive Neuropsychology. Throughout her education, she has been keen on understanding neuropsychological underpinnings of clinical disorders, namely traumas, hence most of her research centers around that. Her cultural background as a Turkish Cypriot as well as growing up in Nicosia, the last divided capital of the world, also affected her research interests. Therefore, conflict, bi-communal studies, psychological resilience, war trauma, and shared traumatic responses are the main topics of her publications.

Jamie Aten: How would you personally describe the COVID-19 situation in Cyprus?

Eliz Volkan: As we have stated in our article, “Under the COVID-19 Lockdown: Rapid Review About the Unique Case of North Cyprus,” the first wave of COVID-19 has been dealt with successfully in North Cyprus by applying strict rules for the lockdown from March 11 till May 4. However, as the island relies heavily on the external market for its economy and goods, the travel and transportation restrictions were lifted on July 1, hence the number of COVID-19 cases that are on the rise again, currently being 192. A similar scenario can be seen on the south side of Cyprus, as their numbers are also increasing (on average 15/20 cases daily). Although these numbers are alarming, the restrictions are not as strict as before, and the initial psychological response of fear and heightened anxiety seem to be fading away within the public.

JA: What are some ways understanding Cyprus' COVID-19 situation can help us live more resiliently?

EV: Even though the lockdown restrictions are eased around the globe, COVID-19 still has a huge toll on our lives. The negative effects of COVID-19 are widely covered and the research is still ongoing, yet COVID-19 is also helping a lot of us to be more resilient. Although more research is needed to state this, this pandemic initially taught us how to better handle unexpected and unavoidable setbacks in life. In terms of Cyprus though, the previous traumas and setbacks may have aided the process and the psychological reactions given to COVID-19. As it was shown in the paper, North Cyprus is a country with a history of war and related atrocities, as well as political isolation. These and the potential lack of trust towards government may have helped Turkish Cypriots in playing an important role in the first wave of COVID-19 by applying strict rules of lockdown as well as by being more resilient in the way they coped with the psychological burden of COVID-19.

JA: What are some ways people can cultivate resilience amidst this pandemic?

EV: The challenging times we are in will certainly affect us both in economical and psychological aspects. In this period, we will need to be cautious about psychological problems that may occur and develop "psychological resilience" as needed. Human beings are in a seriously uncertain period of time and uncertainty is not a situation that we can easily cope with! Therefore the best way we can cultivate resilience amidst this pandemic is probably through creating better coping mechanisms for global uncertainty. Additionally, we need to be better prepared for the experiences of worry and anxiety that are embedded with uncertainty. As concentration-camp survivor Viktor Frankl once stated, it is vital to acknowledge that “an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.” Hence the anxiety response that is being given nowadays can be considered normal, under these abnormal situations.

JA: Any advice for how we might use what you have learned to support a friend or loved one struggling with a difficult life situation?

EV: This was and still definitely is a global learning experience. There is a list of ways we can help. Initially, we must keep physical well-being intact. It is very important to eat and drink healthily, have regular sleep patterns, and exercise regularly even at home. We should also maintain the routines we have! Our routines will most definitely get affected throughout this period, but it is very important to keep the same routines we had before the outbreak. In addition, we must find ways to virtually communicate! Even though you are not meeting with your relatives, friends, and/or loved ones face to face, it is very important to keep in touch. We should limit our exposure to the news. Let’s stay as far away as possible from the posts that we are unsure of and from the news that will increase the level of anxiety and stress in this period. And we can always rely on psychological strategies! It is very common to have psychological problems within this period of time but it is important not to support these times with "catastrophizing" scenarios. Instead, let’s try to avoid catastrophe and focus on what we can do! Let’s accept that there are things we cannot change that are out of our control. Finally, we should always remember to be empathetic towards others, especially in times like these.

JA: What are you currently working?

EV: There are many projects going on at the moment. There is a multi-cultural study that is focused on examining the beliefs and outcomes related to COVID-19 internationally. We are also trying to carry out research on the effects of COVID-19 on daily life habits and attitudes of Turkish Cypriots which is still in the phase of data collection. Moreover, there are online training programs and webinars that we are currently offering in order to benefit the community in times of uncertainty, which are mostly organized by Cyprus International University (CIU) and/or myself. Finally, in order to help people with psychological problems during this time, we have established UKU-PIY, which is a psychological help hotline by CIU.

References

Volkan, E., & Volkan, E. (2020). Under the COVID-19 lockdown: Rapid review about the unique case of North Cyprus. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(5), 539-541. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tra0000809