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Opinion: This Covid lockdown is particularly hard, so it's important to mind your mental health

Therapist Bernie Hackett says this lockdown, coupled with dark January days can take its toll, but she has some helpful advice for self-care.

Bernie Hackett

JANUARY CAN BE a particularly emotionally turbulent month. You may find – as many do – to be experiencing a general malaise.

You may be coming down from the emotional high associated with Christmas. This may result in a low mood that has a negative knock-on effect that can increase anxiety and stress.

This January, in particular, our emotional health also must contend with the ongoing threat of the Third Wave of Covid-19 – with a record high level of infections – and the current Level 5 restrictions.

The recent restrictions have had an extremely detrimental effect on our national (and global mental health).

According to IACP’s recent Membership survey, 75% of our members polled reported that clients are raising issues relating specifically to Covid-19 with some regularity.

In addition, it was reported that more clients are presenting with 70% more anxiety as well as 62% with more sleeping difficulties.

Even my fellow IACP members are not immune from the negative mental health effects of the pandemic, with 39% reporting that Covid-19 has had a negative effect on their emotional/psychological health as it relates to their practice ability.

Many people are struggling with the lockdown restrictions, and January – historically speaking – is the coldest, darkest and wettest month in Ireland.

The lack of sunlight can have a detrimental effect on our mental health which added to the current trials and tribulations associated with lockdown restrictions can possibly have a severe impact on our collective psyche.

Light is crucial

Furthermore, Winter is a time when many Irish people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This condition is caused by a lack of sunlight. Our sunlight contains Vitamin D, the lack of which can contribute to low mood, fatigue, and depression.

Therefore, it is imperative to try to get out – safely and within our 5KM radiuses – during the day and absorb as much of the sun’s rays as possible.

Doing so can significantly boost your mood and is hugely beneficial for your health. I know that it can be tricky to motivate yourself when it’s close to freezing outside, but trust me, it’s worth it. Considering the current restrictions on movement and gathering, and with no end in sight.

It’s difficult for us to plan for the events we usually look forward to, the birthday parties, weddings, and get-togethers. We can also forget about booking flights to exotic climates.

It’s also very important during this time to continue to work on our relationships, so it’s crucial to keep in touch with family and friends.

Remember to have regular emotional check-ins with the important people in your life. You will not be alone in your feelings, allow yourself to be emotionally vulnerable with others and you will find that many people are dealing with the same issues as you.

There is so much outside our control at the moment, so take time to acknowledge that, but try to shift your emphasis on the things you can control such as the way that you feel about things and how you approach your life. You cannot control the weather, but you can control how you react to it.

Be kind to yourself and try to have patience and demonstrate kindness to others currently. Everyone is dealing with the same terrifying pandemic that you are, so keep that in mind when interacting with other people.

But remember January is a difficult time of the year. For those of you who are dealing with particularly difficult or underlying mental health issues, I’d encourage you to keep in touch with your care team and stay on top of your routines.

If you feel that you are struggling with negative feelings, please contact your GP in the first instance.

Or if you would like to speak to a professional you can log on to iacp.ie where you can find over 2,500 trained and accredited therapists based nationwide– many of whom are working via phone/video call – who can talk to you today.

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Bernie Hackett is an accredited member and Chair of the Irish Association for Counselling and psychotherapy (IACP).

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Bernie Hackett

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