The arrival of COVID-19, and then the emergence of new strains of the virus, plunged fear into the hearts of people diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease [COPD].
And what’s worse is that things are changing every day.
However, the situation finally appears to be changing for the good. Just when everything seemed hopeless and uncertain, scientists released the COVID-19 vaccine.
Suddenly, there’s a mass effort to immunise as many ill and vulnerable people as possible.
Currently, in the UK, over 20 million have already been vaccinated. As you might expect, there's a priority list.
My own condition placed me in the fourth category on the priority list. I feel very grateful for that.
Hope is on the horizon, but stay cautious
COVID-19 is a global crisis, and people are dealing with it in their own ways.
Suppose you're lucky enough to have no physical or mental health problems. In that case, I know that social isolation can be an issue and the vaccine symbolises the return to "normal life" – so I can understand people’s impatience to have it.
For people with COPD and other conditions, the vaccine also symbolises hope. No more fear of going outside. Being able to enter a shop without worrying about catching anything deadly. Seeing friends and loved ones without a care in the world.
Still, I feel like I must say this:
Please don't be lulled into a false sense of security.
Millions of us are still waiting for the vaccine, so please be as cautious as ever.
Keep going – you are not alone
I also want to talk about my own experiences, and how the last year has affected the mental health of thousands of people.
In my opinion, the medical profession now understands and acknowledges a lot more when it comes to mental health. In the UK, there has been a big shift in attitude, which is undoubtedly positive. I hope that other countries across the world can eventually say the same.
Although it may seem like a platitude, if you’re struggling with your mental health at the moment, I can safely say that you’re not alone in how you feel.
Attitudes towards mental health have changed. Many people understand nowadays, and they aren't afraid to say that they, too, struggle sometimes.
In fact, 8.2 million people have admitted to feeling frequent anxiety in the UK. That's 8.2 million people struggling daily who, on the outside, appear "fine".
It's a sad situation but, if you're feeling anxious right now, I promise it's not just you. Anxiety could even be described as the “new normal".
It's not a mystery why anxiety is rife among us. When there is something to fear, such as COVID-19 – and how it may affect the vulnerable – mental health is going suffer.
I get up and face my fears every day
My family have had their fair share of panic attacks recently, but we've supported each other the best we can.
Some mornings, I wake up with a sickening feeling. I think to myself, "What's the point?" It's hard to see the beauty in life when I'm feeling like this.
Yet, I also know there's nothing worse than lying in bed, dwelling on my fears. I get up and do anything I can to distract myself. I know my own feelings are exaggerated most of the time, so I soothe myself with a cup of tea.
Sometimes, the grip of anxiety makes my breathing difficulties worse. When this happens, I have to make a supercharged effort to breathe through my nose and out of my mouth. The trick, I've found, is trying to convince myself that I feel calm.
It may seem like an amateurish tactic, but it works. For me, it's a practical solution that helps me get through the day.
I’ve also learned to soothe myself with light exercise. Sometimes, exercise can be difficult (particularly if you live with a respiratory condition like COPD), so I asked my doctor for some advice.
Exercise gets the blood flowing, and studies say it makes you feel happier. As I’ve been shielding during the pandemic, going outside is a no-no most of the time. Instead, my doctor has suggested a light exercise regime to do in my living room.
It’s so therapeutic. If you’ve stopped exercising recently, however understandable, I highly encourage you to give some gentle activity a try.
Whatever you feel right now, it’s understandable. Please know that you’re not alone, and talk to someone if you can. Friends and family are just a call or video chat away. You could also consider online therapy, which some people say works wonders.
Your mental health and peace of mind are the foundations your house is built on. Look after yourself, show some self-love, and your “house” will stay strong.
NPS-IE-NP-00222 March 2021