We recently observed Mental Health Awareness Week across the UK, which has taken on more meaning the past year due to the pandemic and the uncertainty and chaotic effect on all our lives.
Most of us will have struggled at some point over the past year, whether due to being cooped up at home under various shades of lockdown or due to illness and even the fear and reality of death. Maybe some are still struggling.
The past few months have changed the thoughts and feelings over what mental ill health is for many people, because the pandemic has brought it into the limelight and will certainly be revealed as we emerge from the crisis.
More and more of us are beginning to realise that mental health is as important as physical health and we need to do more to support people, particularly our young people, who experience mental health issues. Sometimes we may not even realise we need support, or know where it is available or find it difficult to reach out.
The past year has taught me that I need to be kinder to myself and not to put too much pressure on myself to perform better at work, to get fitter or to have accomplished something amazing while in lockdown. However, that’s easier said than done. It’s a practice rather than a single-use solution and one that requires daily work.
Taking up the practice of being grateful and writing down what I am grateful for has been useful to give some perspective. My gratitude entries may change slightly from day to day, but mostly I feel grateful for being alive and for having people who love me. This can help put the day-to-day toil into perspective and has a positive effect on my mood.
The fact that we’re at the mercy of a virus brings our position on the planet into question and whether we are actually the apex species. Come to think of it, we’re whizzing through space on a ball of rock that will eventually be consumed by the sun, so waking up each day and having the blue sky and green grass outside the door and birds singing isn’t such a bad thing. We must enjoy it all while we can and play our part in helping to keep it that way too. This also brings a bit of perspective. I also realise I’m speaking from a position of privilege, which is also useful to be aware of and that others have different experiences.
They say nature helps our mental health as it brings us back to our primordial essence and reminds our souls that we’re actually simply matter, just like the trees, the ocean and the ant making its way towards your homemade picnic sandwich. We’re all made from the same stuff and we’ll go back to it when we die. There’s something beautiful and comforting in that thought.
While there is still much uncertainty around our lives at the minute in the UK, and indeed across the world, with variants of the virus creeping into cities and affecting the transmission rates, I think people are slowly adapting to the uncertainty. Plans are being put on hold and there is a caution to actions that normally wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. How this affects our mental health too is worth exploring along with the question of whether we’ll ever be the same as pre-COVID times.
Then again, perhaps it’s best that we aren’t. Perhaps we will grow to respect our limitations as a species on this planet, and act accordingly. Something tells me this is wishful thinking.
— Christina Curran is freelance journalist based in Northern Ireland.