‘Oh, what strange times we are living in’.

There are so many questions and observations as we live through a time that most of us have never experienced in our lifetime.

Some of us are feeling flat, lonely, bored, or apprehensive. Some feeling excited as restrictions are lifted.

The vaccine

Some welcome the vaccine with open arms and relief. Some with concerns about the vaccine worrying about the long-term effects. Will we need it again in 6 months’ time? Is it wrong to be forced, as some get pressure from others to have it? Can we have freedom of choice, to live as a society?

Loneliness

People have felt very lonely especially people without a partner to have adult conversation or intimate connections with. Different experiences of single dating both negative and positive. On the plus side some people have made friends, talking about things in common and having a plutonic friendship.

Rising rates of Suicide

Unfortunately, people dying by suicide is rising and we need more resources. In response to this need, I performed an Online Show on understanding suicide and deliver training about this topic.

Most people have suffered with anxiety throughout this pandemic. People have been affected differently depending on their work situation, experiences, and losses.

Loss

We have all experienced Loss.

In making sense of loss, I refer to the cycle of loss which highlights the 7 stages.

Shock – for example, that suddenly there is this virus in our life that we have no control over.

Denial - the disbelief that something that is invisible is controlling our lives.

Anger - the fact that our lives have been disrupted, times when you can’t see your family, you can’t see your friends, you can’t go on holidays, you can’t have a hug and the list goes on…

Depression - feeling lonely, isolated, loss of hope sometimes wondering if it is ever going to end.

Bargaining – Some of us thinking, if only I was a better person, maybe this would not have happened. Some of us losing loved ones thinking, why them and not me.

Acceptance – Accepting this is real and we have to live a certain way. Accepting difference of opinion.

Hope – That this Covid-19 can be managed, that we can live without fear and live happy lives.

Also, there can be Guilt and blame – some people blaming themselves for passing on the virus. Remember

‘We are doing our best and that is good enough’.

Mood swings

No wonder most of us feel we are on an emotional roller coaster. Some of us going from one stage of loss to the next, sometimes experiencing 2 or 3 stages at one time. I think most of us experienced and continue to experience mood swings through the impact of this situation on our mental health.

Hope

What can we do about it? We can learn ways to regulate ourselves and work with our emotions as they surface.

Offloading emotions

If we are feeling anger, we can find healthy ways to offload it. This can be done through punching a punch bag or using part of a sofa. I use a big part of the sofa that I call the anger cushion.

If we are feeling sad, we can watch movies or listen to music that trigger our sadness and allow ourselves to have a good cry.

Bottling up emotions leads to mental health conditions and it is never too late to try some new ways to offload.

Some people have kept journals where they have written down their thoughts. This can be another great way to offload.

Meditation

Last May I could see the seriousness of this pandemic impacting on peoples’ mental health. In response I developed a Therapeutic Guided Meditation. I am very proud of how it has helped people and continues to do so. For me, that meditation keeps me going as it enables me to have an emotional offload when I need it.

Fear

Most of us have spent the last year experiencing fear and of course this will have an impact on our mental health. This does not mean that we must spend the rest of our lives living in fear.

Yes, we can be cautious and take time to assess situations to keep each other safe.

Anxiety

One of the main emotions behind anxiety is fear. We need some level of anxiety to keep us alive. When I did my online show on Anxiety last October, I encouraged people to see anxiety differently, to work with it and befriend it. When we accept these feelings and see how they are trying to protect us, we can then work with them and may have a different outcome. You can purchase a recording of that show from my website if you think it might be helpful.

Regulating your breathing can be a great way of managing anxiety. One technique to help do this is called ‘Rectangular breathing’. If it helps, you can visualise the shape of a rectangle or draw a rectangle as you breath in for 4 and out for 5.

Acceptance

We might never be post covid, however, we can learn to live in a world with Covid-19. This does not mean permanent quarantine. We can live our lives keeping some of the changes already made throughout the last year. Changes like social distancing when needed, wearing masks if needed or if you still want too.

Wearing masks

In some countries, people were choosing to wear masks well before the pandemic. We have seen positives from people wearing masks, lower rates of flu and how wearing masks has helped some people manage hay fever.

Pace

Life continues. This can feel very cruel if you are trapped in the stage of depression. Not only do I professionally know this, but I personally know this as I have been there. Sometimes we really do need to break the overwhelm down and take it day by day, moment by moment and at a pace that suits you.

Kindness and patience

We need to continue to be kind and patient with each other as each one of us will experience Covid-19 differently. We have an amazing resource in our communities which came to life so many times during this pandemic and continues. If you are struggling, I encourage you to talk, talk to someone whom you trust and for the person listening, to listen to hear and not to respond. Just listen, allow that person to offload how they really feel as this validates and acknowledges their feelings. If you do not have someone whom you feel can do this, then call the Samaritans on 116123. At Samaritans there are people who care, trained to listen, and want to be there for you.

The present

Most of us have lost loves ones which for a lot of people has been incredibly difficult. I wonder what your loved one would want for you now. Would they want you to live your life and be happy? Some of us who have lived through this have had near death experiences. Sometimes near-death experiences can be helpful to remind us that life is not a dress rehearsal; life is now, and it really is what you make of it.

Resilience

Like most people I have had to adapt how I do my work and live my life. I have been in awe of how parents have home schooled and adapted to look after their children. In awe of our amazing NHS and Keyworkers. None of us are perfect and it is so important to acknowledge we are doing our best and that is good enough. I also think it is important to acknowledge how far we have come and our resilience to get through this despite ‘Covid fatigue’.

Humour

Humour has been such an important coping mechanism for many of us going through this tough time. Sharing funny quotes like:

‘Mom said, “Drink is your enemy”. Jesus said, “Love your enemy – case closed”!

Reflection

This can be an opportunity to reflect. What had covid taught us? Have some of us taken our freedom for granted?

If you are not satisfied with your life, then I really encourage you to think about “How do you want your life to be”? “How do you want your new norm to be”?

If you made changes during the pandemic, will they still be helpful to you post pandemic?

On reflection,

‘Before Covid-19, some people were alive but weren’t actually living’.

Maybe it is time to give yourself permission to live.

Some people have become accustomed to the way we have lived the last year. Ironically, most introverts have loved this time. In some ways the introverts have taught us extraverts how to take a step back and enjoy the moment. To enjoy the peace and the stillness.

Attitude

We get to choose our attitude. Sometimes it can be helpful to take on the attitude of your pet. What does your pet think about Covid-19? They do not care! They are probably thinking ‘Where’s my food and give me some love’…on my terms - if it is a cat!

Finding the Fun

During lockdown, my eyesight rapidly deteriorated and I had to succumb that between using screens all the time and being in my mid-forties I am getting older, and I need glasses. In preparation for my eye test, I anticipated the same questions that the optometrist must ask about 10 times a day. When she asked ’Miss McMahon, how long has it been since your last eye test? I replied, “Must be over 60 years”. She paused, gave me a strange look and then we both laughed!

The Future

So here we are, with vaccines in place that will hopefully continue to make Covid-19 more manageable and enable us to live as a social society once again.

We can look forward to all the things we want to do. For me, it’s been great meeting up with friends, yes, I have been apprehensive, however I have done my own risk assessment, kept to the guidelines as best I can and decided that I refuse to live my life in fear. When I do get to hug my loved ones that I have not been able to do for over the last year – I might never let them go!

Mental Health Counsellor Sheila McMahon Reg. BACP, FSP, Comedienne and CEO of Mind Management For You, reflects on the last year and how Covid-19 has affected our mental health.

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