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 still 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 immunize as many chronically ill and vulnerable people as possible.
Currently, in the UK, where I live, over 44.5 million have already been fully vaccinated. As you might expect, there was a priority list.
My own condition placed me in the fourth category on the list. I feel very grateful for that.
Hope is on the horizon, but stay cautious
COVID-19 is still 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 symbolizes the return to "normal life," – so I can understand people's impatience to have it.
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 to see how effective the vaccine is, so please remain cautious.
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 in many countries now understands and acknowledges a lot more about mental health. In the United Kingdom, there has been a big shift in attitude, which is undoubtedly positive. I hope that other countries across the world can 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 are changing. Many people understand nowadays, and they aren't afraid to say that they, too, struggle sometimes.
In fact, approximately 264 million people suffer from depression worldwide. That's 264 million people struggling daily who, on the outside, appear "fine."
It's a sad situation but, if you're feeling anxious or depressed right now, I promise it's not just you.
It's not a mystery why depression and anxiety are rife among us. When there is something to fear, such as COVID-19, and how it may affect the vulnerable, mental health will suffer.
I get up and face my fears every day
My family has recently had their fair share of panic attacks, 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.
Related: 7 Tips to Get a Better Night's Sleep with COPD
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 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 was shielding during the pandemic, going outside is a no-no most of the time. Instead, my doctor suggested a light exercise regime to do in my living room.
Related: 8 Steps to Help You Manage COPD Exacerbations
It's so therapeutic. However understandable, if you've stopped exercising recently, 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-ALL-NP-00327 SEPTEMBER 2021