It’s been a very difficult and challenging yearIt’s been a very difficult and challenging year for all of us.

No-one has remained unaffected by the fall out of the global pandemic and its impact on our health, our relationships, our livelihoods and our mental health. For most of us this has been the most significant event that will happen in our lifetime.

Although news of the vaccines on the horizon is heartening, many of us will not yet have processed the effect the pandemic has had on us. In times of crisis, we focus on survival, and sometimes we park difficult emotions and feelings until immediate danger has passed.

Existing mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression have been exacerbated by the pandemic.  People have lost some of the routines and support structures that kept them well. Isolation and loneliness are also an issue, many of us are experiencing emotional distress and boredom, particularly those who live on their own.

Add to that the uncertainty of who we should visit at Christmas, especially for larger families, can lead to us feeling pulled in all sorts of directions and feeling guilty. Making the decision of who we visit and who we do not can lead to big family fall outs and huge tension, which we really do not need at this already stressful time.

So what can we do to look after ourselves and prepare for the year ahead? The most important thing is to regularly check in with yourself – how are you feeling? Are you feeling overwhelmed?  Sometimes when we are struggling we neglect the basics of looking after ourselves, believing we haven’t got time, but it is vital we practice self-care as a way of protecting ourselves from burning out. Number one on the list is to go outside every day without fail in the daylight. It will always improve your mood and make you feel happier and calmer. Exercise is also vitally important, even if you don’t feel like it. Research has found that low-intensity aerobic exercise – for 30–35 minutes, 3–5 days a week, is best at increasing positive moods. Even just a ten minute brisk walk can increase mental alertness, energy and positivity. Sharing how you are feeling with someone, a friend, family member, or a colleague can often help.