It feels a long time coming, after the dreary days indoors that have so far defined 2021. But as speculation grows regarding the details of the roadmap, the divide in how people are feeling also appears to be widening.
People are frustrated, overwhelmed, anxious, scared, angry and numb ahead of the announcement, says psychotherapist Ruairi Stewart. There’s no single or correct response to the situation, he adds – we’re all carrying our experiences of the past year, plus our needs and expectations for the months ahead.
“After nearly a year of restrictions and having to adapt to huge changes, people are eager for some concrete, tangible news that will give an indication of when things will begin to shift,” Stewart says of the clients he’s spoken to recently.
“This gives them a target, something to be focused on to help persevere – knowing there is an end in sight.”
However, the goal posts and policies have frequently changed throughout the pandemic, often at the last minute – as was the case with schools. “It leaves people feeling distressed and without faith that things will improve,” says Stewart. “There has also been a serious mental health impact as a result.”
When we asked readers how they feel ahead of the roadmap announcement, responses varied from “utterly deflated” to “weirdly really excited”. Some expressed anxiety about things remaining closed, while others are “petrified” restrictions will be relaxed too early.
“I feel like we’re still in it for the long-haul, whatever the government announces,” says Alexis Forsyth, 37, from Newcastle. “I’m tired of getting my hopes up, for them to be dashed some weeks or months later.”
Ambivalence or numbness to the news also seems common. “I’m not hopeful for good news, I haven’t been for some time,” says Emily Davidson, 38, from Sussex. “I feel strangely fine. I mean, not good about it, but accepting.”
For business owners, as well as retail, travel and hospitality workers, the announcement will determine whether or not they can reopen – and it may be make or break for some of their livelihoods.
But for those on the shielding list, or people choosing to remain home for their health, nothing will actually change. “For me [the roadmap announcement] has no relevance,” says Marie Blackett, 30, from Suffolk, who has ME.
“I won’t be venturing out for more than the essentials until the vast majority of the population is vaccinated and case numbers are barely a blip.”
February 22 symbolises a finishing line we’ve been limping towards for some – a much-needed signifier of how life might regain some normality. But is it a good idea to pin our hopes to the date?
“I would advise caution and check your expectations,” says Stewart. “It could be that things are gradually eased, but to assume a return to ‘normality’ could be setting yourself up for disappointment and further frustration.”
Preparing for the worst-case scenario may seem defeatist, but in this situation, it may be smart, Stewart adds. Consider what is in your control, then make a plan for it – whether you’re planning a big event like a wedding, or waiting to see how the announcement will impact your business.
“The aim is to stay solution-focused, to look at what you can physically take control of as opposed to falling into negative thought patterns and rumination,” says Stewart. “For some business owners, it may mean exploring other strategies they previously haven’t entertained to get through this period.”
Stewart is hopeful the announcement will at least provide some answers for parents, who’ll be eagerly awaiting a decision on schools. But inevitably, for some of us, there’s likely to be a feeling of disappointment on February 22.
“Expectations of things form a large part of your level of disappointment, especially if they’re unrealistic or irrational,” says Stewart. “The aim is to stay as grounded as possible and plan around the new information given as opposed to assuming that things will change faster than is possible.”
Stewart recommends meditation and breath work to keep you grounded in the moment if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It can be as simple as breathing in for four seconds and breathing out for seven seconds.
8 tips for boosting wellbeing, whatever the roadmap reveals
Here, therapist and Counselling Directory member Dee Johnson shares her advice.
Limit negative media and news exposure and don’t spread and collude with it.
Focus on finding humour and happy things to do and watch.
Stop saying ‘when we get back to normal’ – it feels too arduous to keep thinking that.
Share some love and positivity – either good news stories, funny memes or jokes. Laughter is a really good energy to share and makes you feel better by being part of it.
Keep up random acts of kindness – we still need purpose to feel good about ourselves and when we help someone else unconditionally, it has a self-healing effect too.
Keep up daily gratitude moments on the small everyday stuff – like having a great cup of coffee, hearing the birds sing, getting a parking space that’s convenient.
Keep checking in on other people, be honest about how you are feeling and encourage others to open up there is no shame in struggling.
And remember, just because we’ve been living with this pandemic for a year, it doesn’t mean we’re supposed to be used to it yet.
“Have some self-compassion and go easy on yourself – this is a lot for anyone to be dealing with,” says Stewart. “Remind yourself you have coped up until this point and you have the strength and resilience to cope with whatever news comes in the near future.”