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13 tips for dealing with the mental fallout of Covid-19

Illustration of crowd of people all wearing surgical masks | Freepik

Tips & tricks by Lauren Hubbard

The Covid-19 pandemic brought with it a host of new psychological challenges that we have all had to accept as part of our 'new normal'. Lauren Hubbard provides her top tips on how to deal with these obstacles and ensure we keep our mental health in check.

Being told to stay in your home and reduce contact with anyone outside of your household, in my view, is traumatic. It’s traumatic because, even for those of us who are not sociable creatures, we are hardwired to connect with other human beings. It is a trait that intertwines with one of the five layers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: love and belonging. It's featuring in the hierarchy suggests that connection is crucial for meeting our physiological and psychological needs.

The process of meeting this need is different for everybody. For some, sitting silently with a friend reading a book could be enough to fill our connection cup. For others, a consistent level of frequent interaction with friends and loved ones is required.

If you are a younger soul, you may have relished the opportunity to learn at home, away from the school crowds and the fast-paced learning environment. I was right there with you, getting out for a run an hour a day and working from home – it felt peaceful.

Over time though, this can cause issues for us. Having structure to our days, meeting different people and challenges helps us to problem solve and navigate our way through the world. If we aren’t exposed to the everyday uncertainties of life, then it can lead to us feeling anxious. When we feel anxious most of the time, we may start to notice our mood change, especially when we have little to look forward to.

How the effects of lockdown have manifested over time

In my experience of supporting young people in schools, I have seen levels of anxiety and low mood on the up because of Covid-19. But rather than manifesting in one obvious manner, the symptoms of anxiety and low mood have not always been immediately clear. The same can be said for broader society too, both during lockdown and in the present day.

  • Eating and appetite

Planning out meals and cooking different foods could have been a useful way to maintain a sense of structure and routine during lockdown. Sadly, for me, this led to me thinking about food so much that I lay awake at night. You could argue that instead of feeling worried about the wider world, my mind honed in on obsessing about what I could control. For others, we may lose our appetite completely or become more concerned with our body image. With an increase in anxiety, I’ve seen more adolescents suffer in their relationship to food.

  • Sleep

If we are worried, our minds can save any worrying until it’s time to sleep, leading to tossing and turning. A lack of good quality sleep over the long term greatly impacts on our mood too and as we integrate back into the world, everyday social events can feel more tiring than they used to.

  • Emotions

If we continue with the idea that Covid-19 has been a trauma, trauma invokes a rush of overwhelming emotions, our ability to feel as though we can cope is less, and the tools that we usually use to cope have been reduced. The small things felt huge during lockdown so we are bound to struggle in regulating our emotions.

  • Social anxiety

With the limited opportunity we had during lockdown to be in social spaces, we may feel more sensitive to ‘social threats’ that make us question how we say something or whether people like us.

  • Attendance

Schools, universities, and workplaces are important for navigating new experiences, and we don’t get these opportunities if we continue to stay at home. In the schools I have worked in, more issues with attendance have emerged and this could be because some of us feel overwhelmed by returning to normal after so long.


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Dealing with the mental fallout of Covid-19

In my work, I am trained to support emerging wellbeing needs using cognitive behavioural approaches with a focus on the behavioural elements. If you remain affected by lockdown, here are some useful tips based on my training. Please note, if you get overwhelmed by this list, I’d suggest picking one or two of these ideas.

1. Be patient with yourself

It takes time. When we were told to ‘resume everything, it’s all good now’ this may have felt overwhelming. We must gradually return to normal. If you don’t feel ready to go back to your usual hobbies that’s okay, but what small steps could you take to get there?

2. Tune in to your body

Sometimes our bodies tell us things before we’re aware, giving us uncomfortable symptoms. Breathwork or meditation is a great tool for managing any discomfort. There are plenty of exercises on YouTube to get you started. Here’s a video that could help:

3. Express yourself freely and wholeheartedly

Whether it’s through journalling, playing sport, singing, hitting something soft, playing an instrument, screaming, crying – let your emotions out, otherwise your body could hold on to any tensions causing physical symptoms.

4. Be curious about behaviour

We often assume that a person’s behaviour is the whole picture. If you often find yourself getting annoyed, be curious. ‘Is it just annoyance that I’m feeling?’, ‘what has set off these feelings?’ – these are both good questions to ask yourself when emotions start to run high. Some emotions may feel more comfortable for us to express than others. That’s why expressing yourself in a variety of ways is important.

5. Identify ‘safe’ people in your life

These are people you trust will listen, acknowledge how you are feeling, and provide helpful responses. Most of us want someone simply to listen, not to give us advice. Identify helpful people at home, work, university, or wherever else – we all deserve to feel seen and heard.

6. Try to reduce your screen time

Easier said than done I know, but if you look at the time you spend on your phone, you can then think about how that time could be better spent. I for one feel that social media can cause us to feel anxious or low. We only show the world the good bits which leads the rest of us to feel isolated and as though we are missing out.

7. Create a structure or schedule to your days

It’s good to get others involved in this so that it increases the likelihood of you doing something. For example, making dinner with your friend every Wednesday night could be a commitment that you both agree to.

8. Make small promises to yourself

Do one or two things each day to look after yourself. In her bookHow to do the work’, Dr Nicole LePera refers to this as ‘reparenting’ ourselves, where we learn to trust ourselves through daily acts of self-care. For example, ‘I will get up ten minutes earlier so that I can have my favourite cup of coffee’. Small achievable goals are key, it’s the small stuff that matters.

9. Celebrate the little wins

Make a note of how you have achieved these small promises and/or reward yourself at the end of the week. Our brains love reward. Clinical psychologist Rebecca Gray has a podcast called Breakthrough: Overcome Self-Sabotage, Achieve More, Be Your Best Selfwhich provides valuable advice on habit forming, values and setting goals.

10. Focus on what you can control

We can’t control having to return to work or education, but we can control who we reach out to, identifying what parts of the day we struggle the most with, and seeking help for it.

11. Practice good sleep hygiene

This involves establishing a consistent evening and morning routine that works for you. The Sleep Charity has tonnes of advice around this, check out their website here if this is a big concern for you.

12. Do what you don’t feel like doing

When we feel low, we often feel like doing very little, we eat junk food, and we stop responding to our friends. According to acceptance and compassion therapy, we should push on with the opposite – we should be going to the gym, connecting with friends, and making a meal instead.

13. Move your body more

You don’t have to be running marathons, but if you get home and tend to sit on your phone, try delaying this and walking around the block. Again it’s the small stuff that matters.

Think: ‘little and often’

Speaking of marathons, I would approach these tips the same way you might when training for a marathon. Making small changes to our daily habits and lifestyle improves our emotional resilience. The emotional and psychological impact of Covid-19 will affect us for years to come but if we take small steps, little and often we can better manage our experiences of anxiety or low mood.


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