If someone had told us a year ago that in 12 months we’d still be in a lockdown, many of us would have really struggled psychologically.
Fortunately, we had no idea the pandemic would still be with us after all this time. But as we mark a year since the first lockdown started on March 23 2020, it’s an unwanted anniversary that will affect many people and their mental health.
"It’s a good time to reflect on the changes and disruptions to our lives as a result of the pandemic," says Rosie Weatherley, information manager at the mental health charity Mind.
"People are really struggling with isolation, stress, grief, financial worries and fears about the future. It’s important to recognise it’s ok to feel overwhelmed or upset about everything that’s happened in the last year."
Psychologist Dr. Audrey Tang, a member of the British Psychological Society, adds: "The memories of the last year, although with some glimmers of positivity, aren’t necessarily happy ones. This is where a focus on building our resilience – centring ourselves, and gathering our emotional and mental fortitude for this push towards that ‘new normal’ – can help us. Resilience isn’t about surviving crisis – it’s clear, we’ve been able to do that somehow, perhaps instinctively – but it’s about keeping going now we can see the finish line."
You don’t have to mark the date
Tang points out it’s not essential to ‘mark the year of the pandemic’, as anniversaries should focus on what’s meaningful to you. "While it’s certainly as good a date as any to mark a collective remembrance of those lost, it’s not necessarily for everyone," she says. "Do what’s right for you."
Acknowledge how well you’ve done
We've all overcome a number of obstacles over the past twelve months, be sure to pause and congratulate yourself on getting through it all.
Don’t just dismiss how well you have done to get through the past year, says Tang: "Think about and appreciate the strength you, and indeed others."
Talk about it
Opening up about how you feel about the last year can be really helpful, says Weatherley. "Talking about your sadness, disappointment, loneliness – whatever's going on for you – with the people in your life, can help us to process emotions and take some of the power out of things that might feel quite overwhelming."
Don’t expect others’ experiences to be the same as yours
Tang says different people will feel different things about the one year anniversary of the first lockdown, and stresses: "Just because others aren’t showing their emotions in the way you are doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling them. Men have a tendency to withdraw and women to express – and misunderstanding these responses as, ‘You don’t care’, or, ‘You care too much’ can be unhelpful. Take the time to observe and understand each other’s responses – this may even deepen those relationships which are important to you."
Set goals for the second half of the year
Write down your aims for the next year, and then break them down into smaller steps – some of which you might be able to start right now, suggests Tang. "While you may be tentative because our recent experience is ‘anything can change’, having a focus, with flexibility or alternatives, means you have something to work for, and look forward to," she says.
Reflect on the year’s little wins
Perhaps you didn’t achieve the big goals you’d set for the past year, but think about the little ones, advises Tang. "Maybe you got to see some milestones of your children which you might have otherwise missed, or perhaps you contributed to your community through volunteering," she suggests. "Recognise the gains as well as respecting the losses."
Be realistic about the future
Many people will feel hopeful the end of the pandemic is in sight, other people’s mental health will continue to be fragile, warns Weatherley. "Some of us will need longer to adapt to the changes than others, and many people will continue to need support for their mental health beyond lockdown lifting," she says.
"Patience, flexibility, empathy and timely support in this next phase will be essential. We may not see the full scale of the impact the pandemic has taken on our mental health for months or even years to come."
Remember you’re not alone
"If you find yourself struggling, know you’re not alone," stresses Weatherley. "Whatever your particular experience is, remember there’s support for you, and you’re not wasting anyone’s time asking for help."