It feels like we’ve been here before. The pandemic rages on, new variants are emerging, and it’s uncertain how the Christmas period will go.
We’re also seeing reinforcement of safety measures we had previously said goodbye to. From Tuesday, face masks will be mandatory again in shops and on public transport in England, bringing the country in line with existing policies elsewhere in the UK. Secondary school teachers and pupils will also be advised to wear masks in communal spaces.
The rules on self-isolation are also changing; anyone who’s identified as a contact of an Omicron case will have to isolate for 10 days, regardless of vaccination status, and anyone returning to the UK from aboard will have to isolate until they have a negative PCR test.
All that is bound to stir up a lot of feelings, according to Dr Nihara Krause, a consultant clinical psychologist and founder of youth mental health charity stem4. She tells us it’s natural to experience a mixed range of emotions right now.
“The ongoing nature of the pandemic together with the uncertainty of not knowing what to expect can cause frustration and anxiety in most people. This is because when we are faced with uncertainty, we do not know what to prepare for and we see the unknown as a threat,” Dr Krause tells HuffPost UK.
“It’s also very disappointing for many people to either put their plans on hold or to cancel something they have been looking forward to, especially if they had to put this on hold all of last year.”
We’re slowly learning to live with Covid, but the message from scientists so far is that it’s too early to know how Omicron will impact transmission rates or serious disease. This in itself is unsettling.
But while we can’t rush the science, there are some things we can all do to improve our mental health if the news has knocked you for six.
Dr Krause advises you to:
1. Focus on the present rather than the unknown future. “This is because when we are unsettled in the present, we tend to create worst case scenarios of the future which then makes us more unsettled,” she says. “Focussing on the present includes looking at what is working now, what certainties you do have at the moment, things you can do today to make it a positive one. ”
2. Catch worse-case scenario thinking and ‘dial down’ to other less worrying alternatives. “For example, if the worse-case scenario is another lockdown, then limited number gatherings will seem less frustrating.”
3. Stop over-checking! “Rather than listening to lots of news reports, searching the internet, joining social media chat groups all worrying about what next, etc, decide on a reliable source of information that you will get information from with less frequency, for example, once a week.”
4. Plan for something positive in the New Year. “Even though you probably don’t want to deal with another disappointment, things will change for the better.”
If your feelings do not feel manageable, speak to your GP or another mental health professional for more personal support.
And don’t forget, we are still in a better position than we were a year ago. The vaccine programme has been widely successful, booster jabs are being circulated and the world’s sharpest minds are working together to find a way to live with this virus without catastrophic consequences.
A lot is changing, and much of it is for the better.
Help and support:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
- CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.