These 4 steps will help you cope with the changing Covid-19 finish line

Written by Amy Beecham

If you feel like it’s becoming increasingly difficult to cope with not knowing when the pandemic will end, you’re not alone. A psychologist shares her actionable steps to check in with yourself and boost your resilience during coronavirus.

Despite being nearly two years into the pandemic, at the moment it feels like we’ve never been we’ve never been more uncertain about what’s happening and what the future might look like.

The messaging around Covid-19 is as confusing as ever and wreaking havoc with our mental health. Yesterday, the same day the scientist behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine said the worst of the pandemic was “absolutely behind us,” the prime minister told a news conference: “Anyone who thinks our battle with Covid is over is profoundly wrong.”

The World Health Organisation says that it’s seen more evidence that Omicron causes milder symptoms than previous variants, but cases continue to hit new records daily and hospital trusts are declaring critical incidents across the country.

When the pandemic took hold back in March 2020, hardly any of us would have believed that we’d still be dealing with the physical, mental and emotional implications of coronavirus in 2022.

The continuous mixed-messaging, so many unknowns and what feels like hourly changes has left most of us wondering how we’re supposed to cope with a constantly changing finish line.

Writing for Psychology Today, psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee explains that when the threat of Covid-19 first appeared, we started a running race towards safety.

“We got to work and adapted, but we had no idea that we were running a marathon as opposed to a sprint until we were several miles into the race itself,” she explains.

“By that time, we were facing the effects of not knowing that we needed to pace ourselves. We were tired, had burned through our emotional resources. We realised that the finish line was constantly moving and that we had little control over how the pandemic would play out, aside from our ability to become vaccinated, wear masks, and socially distance.”

As the finish line moves yet again, she stresses the importance of stepping off the marathon route to do a self-assessment.

“If you are finding yourself feeling irritable, angry, reactive, sad, manic, and/or anxious, or if you are noticing changes in the way you feel about, or care for, yourself or others, it’s likely that the following actions would be of help,” Dodgen-Magee suggests.

Here are four actionable steps you can take today to help deal with the uncertainty of the pandemic. 

Do a mind, body and feeling scan

“Set aside 10 minutes to an hour to do a mind, body, feeling scan in as much solitude as you can find,” writes Dodgen-Magee.

Body scanning involves paying attention to parts of the body and bodily sensations in a gradual sequence from feet to head, which can help to release physical tension you might not even realise you’re experiencing.

“If you feel that there is no way you can take this time, it’s likely an indicator that you need it more than most,” Dodgen-Magee says.

“With whatever paper you can find, make columns, across the long edge of the paper, titled, ‘My mind is trying to tell me…’ ‘My body is trying to tell me…’ ‘My heart/emotions are trying to tell me…’Without editing, spend time writing down whatever comes to mind, working with one column at a time.”

Rank the most important messages to listen to

News-induced anxiety is very real, and can come to a head when we feel bombarded with negative, scary or conflicting media. On top of that, while maintaining connections with our loved ones is undoubtedly important throughout the pandemic, if you’re being trauma dumped on by a friend or just need some space, it’s OK to set some healthy boundaries and tune out for a while.

“When everything is changing around us and we have little control, ignoring our mind, body, or heart can actually make things worse. Spend a few minutes looking over the messages that your own self is trying to communicate to you. Consider which would be the most important and/or impactful messages to tend to.”

Taking stock of your emotions is important for maintaining good pandemic mental health

Identify three to five steps you can take to begin working on the top need and commit to taking those actions

“Resist the urge to “resolve” to change your entire life or routine,” advises Dodgen-Magee. Instead, she suggests thinking of three to five small and easily implemented options for addressing the need you’ve identified as most important.

This could be getting more exercise and fresh air, limiting your time spent scrolling on social media or taking real time to decompress and relax after an emotional day.

Set an alarm to return to this process

Consistency is key.

“It seems clear that we’ll be working with a constantly changing map and finish line as the pandemic lives on. Pushing through the unknown and ignoring the message indicators of our bodies and beings can lead to burnout and injury.

“The more frequently you practice this assessment, the better you’ll become at it and the more likely you will be to finish the marathon well.”

If you are worried about your mental health, or if you’re concerned about someone else, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website, with NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS list of mental health helplines and organisations.

If you are struggling with your mental health, you can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer. For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email [email protected].

Images: Getty

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