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Happiness and Hope After a Pandemic by Brendan Kelly

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Non-Fiction

By Brendan Kelly

Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted in Ireland and many countries around the world. Cases continue to occur, but the emergency is easing. There is a widespread feeling that we are through the worst of the pandemic.

Our logical brains might understand this good news, but our bodies lag behind. This is natural. We’ve been anxious for more than two years now, and evolution makes us cautious. Adjusting will take time. After living in a state of stress for so long, it is difficult to relax.

From the start of Covid-19, it was evident that mental health was going to be affected by both the pandemic and the public health restrictions. This impact is now apparent and will take some time to resolve.

Evidence gathered over the past couple of years shows that the combined effect of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated restrictions is that approximately one person in every five in Ireland and elsewhere experienced psychological distress. This was mostly anxiety and symptoms of depression. Virtually everyone had times of stress, worry and problems coping.

Not everyone was affected equally. Particular risk factors include being female and living alone. Psychological distress among healthcare workers was double that in the general population. People with pre-existing mental illness were at increased risk and required particular support to maintain their wellness. That remains the case today, even as the situation eases.

For most people, this distress was caused by a combination of anxiety about Covid-19 and the effects of restrictions, which can include confusion, anger and post-traumatic stress. Particular challenges included long periods of quarantine, fears about infection, frustration at home, inadequate information, financial loss for many, and diminished social contact for most. It is no wonder that so many people struggled at times.

Now that society is re-opening, how can we deal with our lingering worries? How can we manage our anxiety so that we take advantage of the new opportunities that are finally open to us? We all know we need to move forward, but it can be difficult to do so.

The first step is to realise that everyone experienced a different pandemic. Some people had Covid-19, and some did not. Many people lost family members or friends, without the usual opportunity to say goodbye or to grieve. Others lost their jobs or financial security, while yet others worked straight through, often from home. As a result, people have experienced the past two years very differently. We need to remember this and make space in our social circles for the bereaved, the lonely, and the hesitant. Everyone has had a different journey, so we should accept people as they are.

The second step is to realise that people will re-adjust at different rates. We should tolerate this with kindness. Some people will rip off their face coverings and dive into crowds at the first opportunity. Others will take a more cautious approach, and feel uncomfortable in social situations for many months. The best advice is for each of us to figure out our next step and take that step whenever we feel comfortable doing so. Your next step might not involve a crowded football stadium, but it might be going to a shopping centre or meeting with some friends. Your next step might be very, very small, but do take it. It’s time.

The third important principle is to be compassionate towards yourself. Set your expectations at a modest level, and do the same for others. Do not expect you or them to leap back into pre-pandemic life in one fell swoop. Let your previous lifestyle re-emerge at its own pace, with whatever changes the past two years have brought.

Life is different now, following Covid-19. It is better than during the height of the pandemic, but life will not be exactly the same as it was before. Be gentle, compassionate and understanding. Change is difficult, especially large-scale, traumatic change. Covid-19 has challenged and changed us all.

It is also worth remembering that the pandemic emergency has eased, but Covid-19 remains. People are still getting the virus, and some of those who were infected in the past have lingering effects: anxiety, depression and features of ‘Long Covid’. Therefore, this is a bittersweet time for many, especially the bereaved, the ill, and those who still feel the effects of Covid-19 in their bodies and minds. They need understanding, encouragement, and care.

Finally, do not forget to hope. This is a time to renew our belief in ourselves and the world, and start to thrive. Happiness grows in the most unexpected circumstances.

The past two years have highlighted the value of human connection above all else. We can now connect more directly and more personally that at any point over the past two years. We should do so immediately. We help to make each other happy. Let’s prioritise that.

(c) Brendan Kelly

About The Science of Happiness:

The science of happiness is a new and flourishing area of scientific research that provides us with a clear understanding of what actually makes us happy. In this timely book, leading psychiatrist Professor Brendan Kelly examines the most up-to-date findings to arrive at a comprehensive set of principles and strategies that are scientifically proven to increase happiness levels. Combining research evidence with scientific, psychological and even spiritual advice, it will enable us to chart a happier path through our complex world.

Professor Kelly examines features of the brain that lead us to think the way we do, common misconceptions about happiness, interesting facts about happiness trends around the world and the research that can empower us to create the circumstances for happiness to flourish in our lives.

Does a superb job at tackling that most bedevilling of things – happiness. Reading this book will bring it a step closer in your life.’ Professor Luke O’Neill

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Brendan Kelly is Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin and author of “The Science of Happiness: The Six Principles of a Happy Life and the Seven Strategies for Achieving it” and “In Search of Madness: A Psychiatrist’s Travels Through the History of Mental Illness” (Gill Books).

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