Plus, three mental health experts share how to cope, if you are.
It’s been exactly 365 days since the first UK lockdown. Twelve months. A whole year around the sun. And so, this week of all weeks, we thought it fitting to chat to three mental health experts about why you may be feeling a little triggered, how to combat those feelings, and further, to discuss the definition of trauma as, really, that’s what a lot of us are experiencing right now.
If you’re feeling low, nostalgic or reflective about the past year, don’t worry: we all are.
This time twelve months ago, we thought we’d be dealing with this ‘new normal’ for a few weeks, tops. We didn’t really understand the scale of the problem, nor could we have fathomed the sacrifices that would have to be made or the number of lives that would be lost.
“After a year of living in isolation with constant reminders of a deadly virus, it’s no wonder that we may feel triggered by the news that this all began one year ago,” shares licensed psychotherapist and founder of Epiphany Counseling, Miyume McKinley.
“Nobody could have imagined that the pandemic would have lasted this long, and as we reflect on a traumatic year cooped up inside, you may feel intense feelings of despair, frustration, hopelessness and depression, reaffirming underlying patterns of negative thinking,” she goes on.
Sound familiar? Keep reading for expert tips from three mental health experts to help you both identify and address symptoms of trauma – even if only minor – and further, how to cope with your mixed emotions this week.
What is the definition of trauma?
According to the Oxford English dictionary, trauma is ‘a deeply distressing or disturbing experience’ and ’emotional shock following a stressful event or injury which may lead to long-term neurosis’. The example of a personal trauma that they share is the death of a child.
This year, many have lost loved ones, spent months without touching family members, and stayed home for months on end to save lives, not to mention handled the stress of home schooling, redundancies and, well, loo roll shortages. So to say that the nation has experienced emotional shock is sadly very accurate.
Why may the first anniversary itself stir up mixed feelings?
According to psychologist, author and founder of The Village, doctor Kalanit Ben-Ari, because annual anniversaries signify the end of an era, in some senses. “They’re a time to reflect and evaluate the year that has passed – what was achieved, what was lost, milestones, relationships and so on.”
“We also tend to judge ourselves against what we thought we would have achieved in that time,” she explains.
Will the anniversary itself be traumatic?
In short, it shouldn’t be – but it will certainly remind you of the trauma you’ve experienced over the past year. No surprise here, but psychologist Dr Fardin Jussab of The Family Treatment Service shares that the pandemic – and subsequent lockdowns – have had a significant impact on the UK’s mental health.
8 emotions you might experience this week
So, what emotions will the anniversary bring up? Think:
- Low mood
Is it normal to feel down, sad, empty or lost right now?
“Absolutely,” shares Jussab. “There is no single way of dealing with such unprecedented times. All the above emotions are normal and understandable to experience. There is no right or normal emotion for such a unique event,” he explains.
So, if any of the above does apply to you, do know the best thing you can do is talk to someone. A problem shared is a problem halved, after all, and as everyone has experienced the stress of the last year, you’ll likely find many want to talk about it, too.
If any of your feelings of anxiety, anger or depression get worse quickly, do reach out to your GP or consider online therapy. It can’t harm, after all, and they’ll be able to give a qualified medical perspective on the best course of action for you.
Again, this is largely normal – we are living through a pandemic, after all. Although do note here – feeling emotional this week or even struggling with your mental health is different to experiencing full blown trauma, like PTSD.
“Try to acknowledge your feelings and seek help if your feelings are impacting your relationships, work or school,” McKinley shares. “Whether you turn to a loved one or a professional, recognise that there is strength in asking for help.”
5 tips for safeguarding your mental health
1. Focus on what’s in your control
Since we have no control over the nature of the virus, it can make us feel increasingly angry and powerless, McKinley explains. “Focusing on what is within your control can reduce stress. Think how you stay healthy, who you choose to communicate with, and who you visit,” she explains.
2. Set healthy boundaries
This one is key. “Be mindful of what information you’re consuming and who you’re surrounding yourself with,” McKinley advises. If you have to, she advises restricting your news consumption, unfollowing certain social media accounts, or thinking more carefully about who you spend your time with.
Sharing your time with uplifting people is important – they will promote feelings of hope during these challenging times.
3. Be kind to yourself
“Lower your expectations of yourself and others at this time and show up with compassion,” advises Ben-Ari. This means practicing self-love and self-care, but also accepting how you feel, taking care of your mental health, and being gentle with yourself and others, she explains.
4. Take the pressure off going back to normal
Pinning all of your hopes and expectations on going back to ‘normality’ as you knew it? You might want to re-think that one. “Think about the last year meaningfully and purposefully and try to cultivate all the lessons you learned,” Ben-Ari reccomends.
She thinks, if you sit and work through it, that you’ll likely have learnt lessons in:
- Slowing down
- Family time
- Importance of community
- Embracing the unknown
- Not taking our privilege for granted (eg travel, social events, education, good health).
5. Reach out
As above, if you experience persistent feelings of negativity, know this: there is help available, and you are not alone. “It might benefit you to talk to a mental health professional or your GP if you feel particularly stressed, low or are struggling to cope,” Ben-Ari shares.