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How to look after your mental health if you need to self-isolate this winter

Winter is rapidly approaching and colder weather means Covid-19 cases, like any respiratory disease, are rising once again.

This week, the UK saw 223 deaths in a one-day period on Wednesday from people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid. This marked the highest figure for daily reported deaths since 9 March.

However, while the British Medical Association and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) is calling for the government to trigger their “plan B” for the pandemic in England – which would see face coverings be mandated once again, introducing vaccine passports, encouraging people to work from home and communicating the need for caution – health secretary Sajid Javid said on Wednesday, 20 October that the government would not be implementing plan B measures “at this time”.

Javid also warned that these mandates could return if Brits don’t get their Covid-19 booster jabs, adding that the “race between” the virus and the vaccine is growing.

Sage has called on the government to “act now, rather than later” in enacting some key plan B components such as mask-wearing, working from home and vaccine certification. In a meeting it said introducing these components would “reduce the need for more stringent, disruptive, and longer-lasting measures” further down the road.

Over the last week, the number of Covid patients admitted to hospitals in England has risen by 11 per cent and the number of deaths has risen by 21 per cent compared to the week prior.

“Plan A”, which is currently in place, included the removal of all restrictions while encouraging ventilation for indoor gatherings, hand-washing and wearing face masks in crowded places. It also sees the government offering booster jabs to 30 million people as well as single vaccine doses to 12 to 15-year olds

Plan B will be introduced if the NHS falls under “unsuitable pressure” – something health minister Edward Argar says it is currently not.

If plan B is enforced, working from home could once again become the norm – but should those who are more vulnerable than others already be looking to self-isolate as we head into winter?

“Those who are vulnerable can enact their own ‘plan B’ at any time without having to wait for a government mandate,” Dr Julian Tang, clinical virologist, respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, says.

He added that voluntarily wearing masks can help vulnerable people further protect themselves when they are in crowded indoor spaces like supermarkets.

“The virus is still circulating, vaccination does not confer 100 per cent protection and vaccine breakthrough infections are quite frequent with the delta variant,” he added.

If you are vulnerable or are feeling anxious about the increasing Covid numbers, you may be considering self-isolating but, in doing so, you need to prepare for the toll this could take on your mental health.

According to a report published by the Office for National Statistics in May this year, around one in five (21 per cent) of adults experienced some form of depression during the winter lockdown months of January to March 2021.

This number increased from 19 per cent in November 2020 and has more than doubled since before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, where 10 per cent of adults experienced a form of depression.

“The primary toll that we experience during lockdowns is the sense of social isolation and feeling restricted. We feel that we have lost our freedom,” Counselling Directory member and psychotherapist, Melissa Sedmak, tells The Independent.

“This perceived loss of freedom affects people differently, and while we can still connect with others online, it is not the same kind of connection. An added layer is the monotony that can set in with these restrictions. Different feelings can come up, frustration, anger, sadness, grief, fear and anxiety among others.”

If you do need to self-isolate for any reason this winter, Sedmak suggests staying connected with the people you care about and talking to them in advance to determine the best ways to stay connected.

She also suggests incorporating activities you love to your time spent at home, such as having an at-home film night instead of going to the cinema, playing board games or reading a good book. If you can, Sedmak also advises going outside for a walk in nature.

Psychotherapist Melissa Sedmak recommends reading a book as a good self-care activity

(Inside Creative House/iStock)

“Keep connected with people,“ Sedmak continues. “If you haven’t set up a WhatsApp group at work by now, maybe it’s time.

“Introduce some positive vibes as these can contribute to feeling better. What is it that makes you laugh or lifts your spirits up in normal times? Start from that and build on it.”

Sedmak also recommends keeping a regular routine, such as a set bedtime and wake up time, looking after ourselves with nourishing food and indoor activity if you can’t go outdoors.

“Checking with ourselves what we need and what we are missing, thinking of ways to make up for it, and following through, are all steps in making sure our mental health does not suffer too much,” she adds. “And if we get to a stage that it does, then seek help from relevant professionals.”