This global pandemic has put a strain on everyone’s mental health – whether it was the fear of becoming ill or losing loved ones, anxiety around keeping your job or managing finances during furlough or redundancy or coping without your normal routine and social networks. To a stronger or lesser degree, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on everybody to some degree. We are living in uncertain times that are causing increases in the amount of stress, exhaustion and grief.
If you are experiencing any of these feelings, just know that you are not alone. Since the beginning of lockdown in the UK, there has been a 49.6% increase in people reporting high anxiety, according to the Office of National Statistics. The most recent lockdown was seen to have a bigger effect on women, who were often trying to juggle work, childcare and schooling as well as taking on more than their fair share of household duties.
Covid Anxiety Syndrome
You may have seen recent media stories about “Covid Anxiety Syndrome”. This is the residual anxiety left over from the pandemic and some people with some maladaptive behaviours over their fears of the virus, even though levels are very low. This could stop people reintegrating once everything has opened up again and we are all vaccinated. We know that social connections and being outside can have positive effects on our mental health so this is very worrying.
Scientists have stated that Covid Anxiety syndrome is often characterised by compulsive hand washing or cleaning your home, avoiding public spaces, constantly self-checking for symptoms of the virus, avoiding public transport. Of course we all had to be very careful when the virus was circulating freely in the population and then these behaviours were useful. They become more pathological as they continue and become a ‘crutch’ to lessen fear and anxiety. Those with previous high levels of depression or anxiety were the most likely to have Covid Anxiety Syndrome, according to a recent US study.
Managing your mental health post-pandemic
So as the UK is opening up its doors again and we can reintegrate into society, how do we shake off the challenges of the past year and move forward in a positive way?
Managing your mental health as our freedoms increase can be done in the same way we normally can help ourselves
- Meaningful connection – reaching out to friends and loved ones can help improve our mood and resilience.
- Switch off the news – when we are anxious, we look for danger which could mean obsessively checking the news and daily COVID-19 stats. Try and take a break or ration the time you spend looking at these and your brain will thank you. Make sure you are only getting your news from credible sources.
- Look after yourself – eating well (most of the time!) and exercise bring natural endorphins which improve our mood. And don’t forget getting enough sleep is just as important.
- Do things you enjoy – find activities that you love and make time to schedule them in. This is a good way of building connections and having fun at the same time.
- Stay in the present – anxiety pulls us to the future and makes us worry about what will happen next. Try and stay in the current moment as much as possible. This could be through some mindfulness, a sensory walk or just gently pulling your thoughts back to the present whenever you feel them drifting.
- Be gentle with yourself – it takes time to battle mental health challenges and you need to take one step at a time and try to be patient with yourself and reach out when you need help along the way.
- Talk about how you’re feeling – this could be with family, a friend, a counsellor or other mental health professional.
I hope this was helpful and if you are feeling overwhelmed because of the pandemic – know you are not alone. Stay safe and well.
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step”
Martin Luther King