Bouncing back emotionally from COVID-19

The last couple of years have been challenging for us all. Isolation, job changes, home schooling and the unknown have seen us ride a rollercoaster of emotions. For some, COVID has triggered anxiety and stress, for others it’s caused depression. All of these are natural responses. 

“I think on a global scale, people have been in a heightened emotional state because their brains have been perceiving a threat in our environment,” says psychologist, Dr Marny Lishman.

“Initially we feared ourselves or our loved ones catching COVID-19, but, over time, the impact that the pandemic has had on all aspects of our lives has increased our negative emotions considerably.”

Research reflects this to be true. Findings by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed that mental health worsened during the pandemic. 

From March 2020 onwards, the prevalence of anxiety and depression increased, and in some countries, even doubled. The highest rates of mental distress correlated with periods of intensifying COVID-19 deaths and strict confinement measures.

Other research indicated a significant increase in negative emotions during the pandemic, including feelings of boredom, stigma, frustration, and anger.

Ongoing recovery

As we emerge from the pandemic and return to some form of normality, many of us will go through a period of emotional ‘recovery’. Dr Lishman notes that this ‘recovery’ is completely normal when people have been in a heightened state of anxiety, stress, or depression for an extended period.  

Over time, positive actions and efforts to cope will reduce these negative emotions, although it will be different for everyone. 

So, what are the things we can do to bounce back emotionally post pandemic?

  • Avoid isolating yourself

Seek out and reconnect with friends and family. Schedule a regular meet up so that you have something to look forward to. Widen your social network and gain back your confidence by engaging regularly with co-workers, joining a local club, taking up a new hobby or volunteering in the community. 

  • Establish a routine
    Re-establish a routine to gain a sense of order and normalcy. Incorporate a clear divide between work/study and home and block out regular personal time. Stick to a consistent bedtime routine, and consistent times for meals and exercise. Knowing what’s coming can help you feel in control. 
  • Stay healthy
    Mental health and physical health are intrinsically linked so it’s important to put yourself first. Maintain a good diet, ensure you’re getting enough quality sleep, and exercise regularly. It’s a good idea to moderate or avoid alcohol, as this can exacerbate low mood. Similarly, limit caffeine as it can aggravate stress and anxiety.
  • Limit your exposure to the news
    Constantly hearing or reading about the after effects of the pandemic can be distressing.  Consider limiting your exposure to news by turning off alerts on your phone and avoiding TV and news online. It may be worthwhile removing yourself from email newsletters or groups relating to COVID. Find positive news outlets or uplifting articles or shows to focus on instead. 
  • Make time to unwind
    Dedicate time to doing things that help you relax and feel good. Maybe it’s a good book, a relaxing bath, or a walk with friends. Doing something that fires up those feel-good hormones will help to boost your mood and improve mental health. Even a few minutes of quiet time can help reduce anxiety.
  • Identify sources of stress post COVID and remove them
    Consider the things that negatively affect you and take proactive steps to remove those stressors from your life. If a certain friend’s worries make you anxious, maybe distance yourself. If your job is no longer fulfilling, start seeking work elsewhere. Keeping focused on the positive will help reduce negative feeling and thoughts. 

If things aren’t improving, it may be time to seek further help. 

“If people don’t manage these conditions, they can lead to chronic stress or burnout, and ongoing anxiety or depression that’s hard to shake,” says Dr Lishman. “It’s important that people recognise the signs and symptoms of each of these conditions and do something about them now to manage them.”

If you need further help and strategies, talk to your loved ones, or reach out to a mental health professional for strategies. Remember that a problem shared is a problem halved. 

Jo Hartley