How has COVID-19 affected our mental health?
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted our lives more than we could ever have imagined. All of a sudden, we had to deal with unprecedented loss and separation, but curbs on our usual freedoms as well.
Looking after our mental wellbeing right now has never been more important – but it’s most likely never been so difficult either. According to a study by Mind, more than half of adults and over two thirds of young people said that their mental health has gotten worse during the period of lockdown restrictions.
In this guide, we’ll explore the substantial impact Covid-19 has had on our mental health and look at what we can do to manage it in these difficult times.
Anxiety in a pandemic
We’d never have previously imagined a life where we’d be hit with a daily death toll on the news every day, or constantly awaiting a new set of restrictions we have to abide by. Whilst these are starting to feel like normal parts of our daily lives by now, it’ll inevitably be causing a heavy burden on our minds.
Everyone deals with things differently, but for some, that burden could become extremely overwhelming and develop into an anxiety disorder.
Symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder can include:
- Feeling worried or restless
- Feeling constantly ‘on edge’
- A sense of dread
- Difficulty concentrating
Everyone can feel these symptoms of anxiety at some point in their lives, particularly right now. But if you’re feeling like you can’t control your worrying and it’s having a significant impact on your life, you may benefit from extra support.
If you can, you should discuss your symptoms with your GP and explore the possibility of counselling or other treatments. Help for anxiety is also available online or over the phone:
- Anxiety UK provides support if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety condition. Their helpline is 03444 775 774 and they’re available from Monday to Friday 9:30am to 5:30pm.
- No Panic offers support for sufferers of panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Their helpline is 0300 772 9844 and they’re available every day from 10am to 10pm.
Is Covid making you feel depressed?
When our lives have been severely restricted and we’re not allowed to do some of the things we enjoy for the time being, it’s not surprising that a lot of us will start feeling really down or upset. If those feelings start to feel like they’re never going away, you may be suffering from depression.
According to a study by the Office for National Statistics, almost 1 in 5 adults were experiencing some form of depression during the pandemic, almost doubling from around 1 in 10 before the pandemic.
Symptoms of depression can include:
- Continuous low mood or sadness
- Feeling hopeless
- Low self esteem
- Feeling tearful
- Feeling guilt-ridden
- Having no motivation or interest in things
- Having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
Depression can range from mild to severe, but even the mildest of symptoms will have an impact on your daily life. If you’ve been experiencing symptoms of depression every day for more than 2 weeks, you should speak to your GP for support and possible treatment options.
If you experience thoughts of suicide or harming yourself, it’s extremely important to seek immediate help. Helplines for depression and suicidal thoughts are available to everyone, including:
- Samaritans provide confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair. Their helpline is 116 123 and they’re available 24 hours, 7 days a week.
- CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, a charity providing a mental health helpline and a webchat. Their helpline is 0800 58 58 58 and they’re available every day from 5pm to midnight.
- Shout Crisis Text Line provides 24-hour help to those who can’t or don’t want to talk over the phone. Text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258.
Are you dealing with symptoms of OCD?
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that is often misunderstood, even more so in the presence of a contagious virus. Washing our hands often or keeping our surroundings clean and tidy aren’t necessarily symptoms of OCD, despite common misconceptions.
The difference with OCD, in the context of cleanliness and hygiene, is that you may feel extremely uneasy, or think that something bad might happen to you, if your hands or surroundings aren’t clean.
It’s not just about cleanliness either: obsessions and compulsions can involve anything, often stemming from a particular worry or phobia.
- An obsession is an unwanted or unpleasant thought that repeatedly enters your mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease.
- A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that you may feel you need to do to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought.
Some compulsive behaviours can seem irrational – for example, turning light switches on and off obsessively. Others can be easier to understand – for example, washing your hands excessively if you fear you may become sick.
If you’re experiencing any obsessive thoughts and are having to carry out a compulsive behaviour to calm your mind, you may be suffering with OCD and could benefit from speaking to your GP. Help for OCD is out there if and when you need it:
- OCD Action provides support for people with OCD, including information on treatment and online resources. Their helpline is 0845 390 6232 and they’re available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
- OCD UK is a charity run by people with OCD, for people with OCD. Their helpline is 0333 212 7890 and they’re available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
Signs of burnout
We’ve all got a lot on our plate at the minute – having to juggle working at home with childcare and homeschooling, for example, or taking on extra responsibilities to help our vulnerable family members. Perhaps you’re a healthcare worker and you’ve been working tirelessly to tackle the pandemic on the front-line.
Juggling these new challenges could lead to burnout: a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. ‘Covid burnout’ is affecting a lot of us, and some signs could include:
- Feeling stressed out
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of motivation
- Poor performance at work
- Low self-esteem
It’s important not to ignore the signs of burnout and push yourself too hard. Going easy on yourself in these difficult circumstances will always be a good idea - we can’t expect to function at our best at all times, never mind during a pandemic!
If you’re feeling burnt out, be sure to take time out for yourself: rest, eat well, exercise, or take part in your favourite hobbies (if they’re allowed right now).
Loneliness during lockdown
We’re all missing friends and loved ones at the moment, but for some of us, loneliness may have taken hold like never before. Perhaps you’re living alone, working from home, unable to go to school or work, or live far away from your loved ones.
Feeling lonely isn’t specifically a mental health problem by itself, you’re much more likely feel depressed or anxious if you’re cut off from other people. Even if you’re by yourself at home every day and feeling really isolated, it is possible to combat loneliness:
- Use social media to keep in touch with friends and family. You could schedule a weekly video call with a loved one, giving you something to work towards when you’re at home all day.
- Join an online community. If you have any specific interests or hobbies, there are often online groups or forums where you can interact with likeminded people.
- Try a befriender service. Some charities offer telephone befriending services, where volunteer befrienders are put in touch with people feeling lonely. This could be a great way to make a new friend.
Coping with bereavement
We’ll all go through bereavement, the experience of losing someone important to us, at some point in our lives. Covid-19 has sadly taken the lives of many of our loved ones, and all too many people have been affected by this terrible virus and the sorrow it brings.
Grief can be one of the hardest, most isolating things many of us have to experience, and can often lead to feelings of depression and loneliness.
If you’ve sadly lost a loved one and you’re having trouble dealing with your grief, you’re not alone, and support is available whenever you need it:
- Cruse Bereavement Care offers face-to-face, telephone, email and online support for anyone who has experienced a loss.
- Sudden helps people have experienced a sudden, unexpected bereavement to access specialist information and advice
- Widowed and Young offers support to people under 50 who have sadly lost a partner.
The virus and our finances
The economic devastation caused by the pandemic has left some people furloughed and unable to work, or unfortunately without a job at all. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but those without financial security are often left feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, people living in the lowest 20% income bracket in Great Britain are two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems than those in the highest.
Employment is beneficial for mental health: those who are unemployed are reported to have higher rates of common mental health problems than those who are employed. If you’ve lost income due to the pandemic, there’s no shame in talking about how that’s affected you mentally.
If your mental health has been negatively affected by a recent job loss or financial issues due to the lockdown restrictions, specific help and advice is available:
- Mental Health & Money Advice works to help you understand, manage and improve your mental health and money issues, with a free downloadable mental health and money toolkit.
- National Debtline have a range of online resources, including a webchat, for advice about debt. There’s also a dedicated Coronavirus Hub for those affected by the pandemic.
Has Covid affected your relationship?
Love in the time of Covid has been tough for a lot of couples. Maybe you’re both married or co-habiting and working from home, struggling to find time to yourself and finding more time for disagreements instead. Or perhaps you and your partner live apart and lockdown restrictions have forced you to spend prolonged periods away from each other.
According to Relate, 38% of 16-34 year olds in relationships say they have struggled to support their partner emotionally during lockdown.
Try not to be too hard on yourself or your partner - we’ve never dealt with these types of restrictions on our lives before and nurturing our relationships, whilst looking after ourselves in the meantime, can be challenging in such difficult circumstances.
Relationship worries can lead to mental health problems such as depression or anxiety, so be sure to look out for the signs in yourself and your partner, making sure to seek help from your GP if you need to. If you’re in need of relationship advice, or perhaps counselling sessions, Relate can provide help and support with the opportunity to talk to a trained counsellor.
As we gradually come out of lockdown, many of us may be feeling anxious about adjusting to this change after spending such a long time staying safe at home. You might be worried about the health of yourself or your loved ones, or anxious about social distancing measures being lifted.
Perhaps you’ve gotten used to working and socialising from home and are dreading the thought of being in social situations again. You’re not alone – many people are feeling really worried about life returning back to normal, or the possibility of Covid cases rising again.
If your post-lockdown anxiety is feeling extremely overwhelming, it’s important not to ignore these feelings. If left unchecked, these worrying thoughts could develop into agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder where sufferers are afraid to leave environments they know or consider to be safe. If you feel panicked at the thought of leaving your home, you need to seek help from your GP, even if all you can manage right now is a telephone call.
No Panic also provides a course to help overcome a phobia or OCD.
The ‘stay home, stay safe’ message is soon to be a thing of the past – re-emerging into society is important for our wellbeing, so it’s vital that we’re all feeling mentally prepared before we get back out there.
How to look after your mental wellbeing
Looking after yourself and your mental wellbeing is so important, now more than ever. If you’re struggling, there are some positive lifestyle changes you could try which may boost your mood and make you feel better mentally:
- Talk about your feelings – There’s no shame in letting it all out, and you’re bound to feel better once you’ve lightened the load and shared your worries with a friend.
- Keep active – Even if you’re no fitness fanatic, it’s important to move your body and get those endorphins flowing. Even a short walk outside could have massive benefits on your mental health.
- Eat well – We have to nurture our bodies as well as our mind. Improving your diet may improve your mood, give you more energy and help you think clearly.
- Drink responsibly – We often drink alcohol to change our mood, but the effect is only temporary. Drinking is never a good way to manage difficult feelings.
- Keep in touch with friends & family – You may start to feel isolated if you don’t reach out to your loved ones. Keeping in touch with supportive friends & family can help you deal with the stresses of life.
- Find a hobby or activity you enjoy – Enjoying yourself helps to beat stress and low mood. Take some time away from work and household chores to engage in something you love doing.
- Take time for self-care – It’s hard to feel good mentally if we’re not looking after ourselves physically. Even just the simple act of taking a shower can instantly make you feel better.
- Improve your environment - Tidy room, tidy mind! Open your curtains, let that natural light in and take some time to declutter.
It’s been a really hard year for all of us. Covid-19 has turned our lives upside down, causing a whirlwind of negative emotions.
Some of us are experiencing mental health problems for the first time, whilst some of us are experiencing symptoms that are worse than what we’re used to. Just remember - you’re not alone, and you don’t have to suffer in silence.
For a comprehensive list featuring many of the mental health organisations out there that can provide support, visit our guide about how to get support from a mental health charity.