Prepare for lockdown 4.0 – here’s how to get through it

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My heart, literally, sank when I heard the news new Covid-19 variant discovered in South Africa, among warnings that it may be the “most significant” strain of the virus to date.

There are concerns that the B.1.1.529 variant may have the potential to avoid immunity built up by vaccination or previous infection – with Health Secretary Sajid Javid warning that it may be “more transmissible” than the Delta strain. As a result, the UK has added six new countries to the red list for travel: South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

I’m pretty sure I was not alone in feeling both anxious and emotionally shattered by the latest news – to be honest, have we not all had enough? Still about Covid, enough with lockdowns (the idea that we Power to face lockdown 4.0 in the coming months, depending on how quickly this latest strain can be held back, is enough to make any of us really cry). We have had enough of the anxiety of becoming infected and passing on the infection; probably also from our collective grief over the friends and family members we have lost to the virus; enough about the fear that weighs heavily like a cement slab in the stomach every time we travel by bus or train, or go to a cramped place.

Last night I went to an event that was full of people – all double-waxed, all lateral flow negative, many masked – but the first thing I talked about with a stranger? How worried we felt about being in that room. It’s because, let’s face it – the last 18 months of living through a pandemic have changed us all profoundly. We may not even realize it yet – we are so busy “moving on” with life: work, family, relationships, everyday details with care and cleaning and shopping and thinking before the holidays.

We have not had the chance to stop to breathe and recalibrate, look back and begin to process what months of shielding or self-isolation have done to us, to lick our wounds and scars. We wear them, every single one of us. But in the classic British “stiff upper lip” way, we tie everything together and soldiers on.

After all, today is Black Friday – and most of us will not think existentially about how we feel about the virus – we simply do not have time. Instead, we will probably look frantically at offers on toys and electronics and clothing and gifts and games to make sure that Christmas 2021 (unlike the deplorable Christmas 2020) goes according to plan. But behind everything we do? Fear – for those we love and for ourselves.

The long-term effects of living with fear are both unclear and worrying. The potential effects of chronic fear on physical health, according to an expert, includes headaches that turn into migraines, muscle aches that turn into fibromyalgia, aches and pains in the body that turn into chronic pain and breathing difficulties that turn into asthma.

There are also devastating potential effects on our emotional health and well-being: dissociation, inability to have loving feelings, helplessness, anxiety or phobias, mood swings and obsessions.

Fear can also affect our ability to learn new things, with Mary D Moller, head of psychiatric services, explaining that the brain’s ability to pick up on previous learning depends on “specific chemical conditions”. “Chemical changes can distort the perception of sensory information and thus distort storage,” she said.

When the brain is hyper-excited – as so many of us may feel, given our constant state of vigilance around the virus – “this distorts the storage of sensory inputs and the retrieval of information will be affected”.

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So, what to do with all this fear? How do we even begin to cope and carry it? Some people swear by simple things: like mindfulness, others exercising and getting out into nature; Many people like to stay as informed as possible – so they feel they have some form of control. Personally, I fall into the latter camp – I do not like what I do not like know. It helps me stay calm if I feel that I have explored all angles, have read the experts, am aware of the latest news.

Perhaps a basic way to start would be to validate our own feelings, as we would with a friend or colleague (this is a technique that has been explored in recent times). Dear Vix the Council column). It’s okay to be scared – it’s a natural response to the discovery of the new variant. It’s bigger than us, we can not control it. It can be difficult to deal with, but acceptance can take us far.

I also believe a lot in talking – just airing a worry or anxiety does wonders for me. The old adage “a shared problem is a problem that is halved” exists for a reason. And no, we may not be able to “solve” or “fix” it, but we can listen and feel empathy and understanding. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last 18 months, it’s how much we need each other.

So let’s start doing that: let’s #Please. We can not control the virus, but we can control how we support each other. And even if we do not know what the outcome or ripple effect of this latest variant will be, as we march on through the cruel winter that lies ahead, we will need that support more than ever.

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