Martin Gallagher opens up about the impact of COVID-19 on his mental health
December feels like years ago. But it was only months ago when we were surrounded by our loved ones, making plans for 2020 and talking about all the exciting things we were going to do this year.
I miss how blissfully unaware we all were of what was around the corner.
Within a matter of weeks our ‘new normal’ became a state of lockdown, with confusing daily briefings and the unprecedented rise of the use of the word ‘unprecedented’. Gloves and masks became the new must-have items, online festivals became the closest thing to live music we’re likely to see all year, and my plans to watch my children finish their school year and compete in sports days were cancelled.
Life as we knew it was put on hold.
The anxiety and unwelcome thoughts I have experienced for years due to my own mental health struggles have suddenly become a day-to-day reality for millions around the world. Stepping outside our own homes is fear-inducing, and many people are talking openly about how they’re feeling for the first time.
Ahhh… December 2019. I remember being surrounded by loved ones proclaiming that, “2020 is going to be a great year!” We were making all sorts of holiday plans, exciting things to do and see with my children, and talking about how I’m definitely going to get rid of the extra Christmas weight I’d put on.
I miss how blissfully ignorant we all were.
For my wife and I the last few months have been very difficult to cope with. Our children’s lives were paused, no more school, no more playdates, no more visits to grandparents. Overnight we became their teachers and their full-time entertainers, all while trying to hold down our full-time jobs from home.
Trying to find the energy to wrestle with a bored four-year-old after an eight-hour day of Zoom meetings was, and continues to be, exhausting.
It has also taken me a while to adjust to the idea of leaving the house. My fear and anxiety was telling me that it was dangerous and the risk too high, so I had to find ways to reassure myself that by following the rules (wearing a mask, keeping my distance from other people and washing my hands when I got home) was all I could do to protect my family.
But the support network I’ve built to help me cope with my mental health was gone.
Finding new ways to deal with my anxiety
Being in the moment became very difficult for me. The daily briefings only brought more sad news into my home. My usual coping mechanisms such as mindfulness, meditation and long walks weren’t working, and after just a couple of weeks of lockdown I had to seek out counselling to help me cope with my mental health.
It helped for a week or two. It was reassuring to hear from someone else that following the guidelines was all I could tangibly do to keep my mind calm and my anxiety at arm’s length. Unfortunately, it wasn’t feasible to continue talking about the state of the world week after week, when there was nothing that either I or my counsellor could do about it.
They were living through the exact same things as me and it got to a point where they were at a loss for what to say. It’s important to note here, however, that this isn’t everyone’s experience, just mine, and so I looked for other ways to cope.
It took me a long time to accept that I needed to live each day as it came, without planning or looking to the future as I would normally do. I’ve learnt that trying to figure out what is going to happen next causes me more stress and frustration, and that by living in the moment I can be safe and live out lockdown for as long as it lasts.
Coping with the new normal
All of us are craving a sense of normality right now, but the uncertainty of when that will come is unsettling. Anxiety seems to be a common feeling in every household, caused by everything from the fear of getting ill or a loved one getting ill, through to the isolation of lockdown and the absence of our normal routines and support networks.
Our worlds have been turned upside down and that is bound to impact our mental health. Accepting that it’s OK to feel anxious, low and stressed has been key for me during this time. It allows us to recognise what triggers our feelings of anxiety and fear and find ways to mitigate them. Talking to others has always helped me, and there are many services here in the UK and beyond that are available to everyone that needs to do the same. Here you will also find helpful information on how to cope with mental health concerns during this very strange time.
In the last few months we’ve watched the world change right before our eyes. The impact this has had on our physical health is just half the story, our mental health is equally challenged. It’s important that we all prioritise our wellbeing right now. To find ways to help ease our anxiety around the unknown of the virus and the stresses of lockdown. Talking to someone about concerns is one way I have found some relief, while living in the moment, and recognising that following the guidelines is the best way to minimise the risk have helped me to not be overwhelmed by a period of time that will go down in history.
NPS-IE-NP-00008 October 2020