How a global pandemic affected my mental health

Calm in Chaos: a general rambling post from me amongst the uncertain times which are COVID-19 and how I generally stay sane when it feels like the world is ending.

As I’m writing this, I can hear at least three different species of birds chirping, couples laughing and friends gathered together basking the glory of the sudden sunshine. Despite this, the context shows an entirely different tone. It’s March of 2020 and the world is in an incredibly strange state right now, just two nights ago Boris Johnson had announced that the United Kingdom was officially going into lockdown for the next couple of months, which basically means that everyone needs to self-isolate and remain in quarantine apart from “essential” workers. Understandably, everyone is freaking the fuck out. With thousands of events getting cancelled like weddings, holidays, festivals and even educational institutions having to shut which means exams have been cancelled for the time being and teaching has been transferred online. Right now, we really are living in the midst of a historic moment which will affect millions of people across the world. A real dystopian Black Mirror episode, if you will.

Despite this, this is the happiest I have felt in months. I know, I’m not making the best impression so far. I’m sat in a large nature park right now where other people are when I’m meant to be isolating (Sorry, dad) and I just said that a massive pandemic is making me happy. Well, allow me to justify. I use the term “happy” very loosely here. I know 2020 has been shit show from the get go; from shock deaths (RIP Kobe and Brianna Bryant), floods, wildfires, potential world wars, nation-wide drought, Brexit (which commenced on my birthday for fuck sake), climate change acceleration and now an international pandemic. And it’s ONLY March. I can understand why you’d read my naïve indifference as arrogant.

It feels like everywhere you turn, there’s bad news after bad news. Like, not to be dramatic, but life is feeling a lot like that time Edward broke up with Bella in Twilight and Stephenie Meyer made all the chapters during the break up empty pages with just “September.” “October.” “November.” written at the top. All of the days are blurring into one and are filled with uncertainty. Every social media platform that you log into, including Instagram which is usually a form of escapism, are only constant reminders of the virus as well as productive things we’re meant to be doing throughout this period of isolation, even though I’m fully aware that I’m meant to be chasing a degree (I know, what the fuck) while constant stats remind us about how deadly and scary this virus is. It truly is overwhelming and I do not blame anybody for feeling especially scared and anxious in this time.

I rarely get personal on this blog, despite the fact that it IS my personal blog. I’m usually quite general, but I’m going to share how I’ve personally felt the calm in all of this. I mean, I speak from a place of general privilege. I’m not exactly calm about the death, collective grief, global poverty, deadly exploitation of working-class people of colour, financial ruin and ever-callous leadership that sets the scene for this time. Furthermore, circumstances for a lot of people are desperate and financially there’s bound to be some kind of crash, I understand that this is a scary time for us all. Yet, for some reason, I find the collective feeling of worry, the resentment of this current year, holding billionaires and the 1% to account for their greedy money hoarding as well as everybody’s combined efforts in improving our circumstances to be extremely reassuring of humanity. Even the NHS has had over 400,000 people offer to volunteer to help those directly infected by the virus when the government were merely expecting half of that. That’s something to celebrate within itself.

Overall, my person issues pale in comparison to refugees and more vulnerable groups who are far a lot affected by this this virus than me personally. This isn’t ideal for anybody. However, if I’m too think in a way that makes the glass appear half full- I’d talk about the environmental impacts, for example; did you know that air quality has improved significantly in major cities since tourists have stopped occupying them? And think of all the free concerts all of your favourite artists have intimately live-streaming!! From Chris Martin of Coldplay, John Legend, James Blake. Miley Cyrus has started a cute livestream platform where she interviews celebrities and medical professionals on remaining positive while being aware of your surroundings. The sheer quality of MEMES that have come out of this are…incredible. And lastly, the newfound respect the general public now have for service workers and our community.

Apologies if this blog post seems lazy compared to my usual work, I’m still adjusting. I know this is hard, I’m scared too. I’ll probably add more positive outcomes and more informed updates of this in due time. But for now, I know it’s easier said than done- but do try to make the most of this time of peace and quiet. Get creative, contact people you’ve grown distant from due to busy schedules. Whatever you want. There’s bound to be some form of humanity to come out of this and it’ll be beautiful. We can’t see it now but we will. There’s no telling what’s ahead but I do truly believe that in spite of everything, we’ve got this. Look after yourself reader.

The rise of ‘eco-anxiety’ in an Extinction Rebellion era

In the midst of the US President’s continued active denial of climate change and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s unclear stance on the issue, we sit in the most brutally severe heatwave we’ve had since 1911. It’s easy for anybody to feel discouraged and anxious about the environmental trajectory.

As a student or young person, there are a lot of things in life that tend to make us feel anxious. The looming dread of adulthood, rising rent prices, feeling lost about what you’re going to do with your life, Brexit, the temperature, the temperature, the temperature.

The warmth was nice for a little while but isn’t it getting a little, I don’t know, excessive? And people are protesting at the Houses of Parliament? And stripping naked in the House of Commons? And protesting outside the houses of MPs? Who are the Extinction Rebels?

The full notion of the tragedy that is climate change is unravelling before our eyes. And it’s extremely overwhelming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, we have 12 years to fix the crisis. However, a recent BBC article argues that the next 18 months are absolutely vital to acting on our global warming crisis.

According to environment correspondent Matt McGrath, the loss of biodiversity “threatens to unravel the planetary web of life.” One million species are at risk of extinction and human civilisation faces total collapse if radical changes to our socioeconomic system are not made now.

For some people, climate change may feel like an inevitable event that is totally out of our control. For others, the knowledge of this can be overwhelming to the point where they feel powerless.

Yet, since the pioneering 16-year-old Greta Thunberg popularised the climate strikes late last year, the awareness surrounding just how dire the climate crisis is has risen and become more pressing. This has been good for action and productivity, especially with social media becoming a catalyst for global issues and bringing them to the forefront. Many countries, including the UK, have subsequently declared climate emergencies.

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Image Credit: World Economic Forum via Flickr

In one of her most powerful speeches to British MPs, condemning their stance on climate change, Greta said, “You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. “You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in the solutions that will enable you to carry on like before.”

However, being aware of the current state of the environment doesn’t come without compromise. In this case, it’s towards your mental health – it has a name and, most notably, it’s nothing new. The group that this disorder tends to heavily affect are indigenous communities that live close to the equator as well as those that depend on the natural environment, who can experience disproportionate mental health impacts.

Climate anxiety is a relatively recent phenomenon, but the concern is spreading. The phrase doesn’t have an official meaning, yet variations to the definition exist; such as the broader description explaining it as the “worry or agitation caused by concerns about the present and future state of the environment”.

Eco-anxiety, then, is ultimately having a strong feeling of unease surrounding ecological disasters and threats to the natural environment, such as pollution and climate change. An issue that doesn’t only show physical symptoms, such as insomnia, loss of appetite, irritability and panic attacks, but also the results of a constructive or adaptive reaction associated with pro-environmental attitudes and actions.

A very small number of mental health professionals in the UK have begun to mobilise against the phenomenon, but there are plenty of online forums and support groups gaining momentum.

Whether you’re feeling the heat of eco-anxiety or not, here are just a few simple steps that can help make a difference if you are feeling resigned to climate change doom. As we all know, charity begins at home and no man is an island, yet if we all collectively commit to these small acts, the world will ultimately become a better place. Plus we’d be doing our girl Greta proud.

RECYCLE – Use different bins for different things. Compost, plastics and glass should NOT be going in the same bin.
GO ‘SORT OF’ VEGAN – If you’re not vegan, I am not going to shame you into cutting meat from your diet entirely. However, I will encourage you to eat less pork and beef, and eat more food that uses fewer protein sources, i.e. organic soy.
PACKAGING – A recent viral internet thing has happened where people are calling out supermarkets for their unnecessary amount of plastic use. Think about packaging before you buy products.
BE PROACTIVE – Look around you. If you see rubbish on the floor, pick it up. Encourage your local community to do more. Or at least tell your friends, family and whoever you want to do their piece.

If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder or panic attacks, visit your local GP or wellbeing service to find out how you can be supported. For more information, visit Mind.