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Why it may not feel like it’s over

Dr Jemma Day, clinical psychologist at the Young Adult Liver Service at Kings, looks at the effects of the pandemic on young people with chronic health conditions.

Official restrictions may have been lifted but the repercussions of the pandemic are not necessarily over. Even prior to the pandemic, difficulties with emotional wellbeing and mental health were at an all-time high in young people, and there’s some evidence that these difficulties are higher still in young people with chronic health conditions. It is not hard to see why. Suddenly they could not go to school or college, or see their friends  Many worried about catching the virus, or loved ones becoming unwell.

In the early days of the virus, there was not much information available and we didn’t know then that children with liver conditions were not necessarily any more vulnerable to COVID-19 than their peers. Many young people and their parents told us that it was very frightening to receive a letter from the government, informing them of the need to shield. Although sometimes people talked about “everyone being in the same boat” during the pandemic, this really wasn’t the case.

Research by the UK government early into the pandemic revealed that returning to education was key to resilience in children and young people, but for those with liver conditions, this was delayed. Many have told us that this was one of the hardest parts of the pandemic – it was  easier when everyone was isolating and home-schooling, but when their friends could return to school (and hang out together afterwards), they felt very left out and upset. The easing of the restrictions also caused anxiety for some – when the government said it was okay to return to ‘life as normal’, many parents felt anxious to do so, leading to tension and arguments at home.

“COVID lockdowns and shielding protocols put an immense strain on my ability to interact with people……… The danger of COVID to myself, as an immunocompromised young person was completely overwhelming… I became paranoid, standoffish and generally miserable… It has taken a lot of time and effort to readjust to the ‘new normal’ post COVID and what exactly that means for me.”

Young patient from Kings

Two years on from the pandemic, it is absolutely normal to still feel anxious about COVID-19, even if everyone around you is telling you “it’s over now”. Whilst it is probably true that we are going to have to learn to live with this virus, it is okay if some of the activities you used to enjoy don’t feel so fun anymore.

It is important to look after yourself and your family. Keeping a routine is so important. Simple things like getting up and going to bed at the same time each day, and eating well, can make a huge difference, especially if you’re still working from home. It can be helpful to have particular rooms (or ‘zones’ within particular rooms) for working and resting, and make sure you stick to a proper work schedule.

Social contact remains important.  Try to find ways of staying in touch with friends and family, even if you are still not comfortable with large groups. Videocalls and telephone calls, whilst absolutely not a replacement for face-to-face contact are certainly better than no contact. If you are keen to get back to real life socialising but feel anxious about it, then take it step-by-step; perhaps meeting a couple of friends for a picnic initially, then build up to the level you are comfortable with.

Avoid alcohol, smoking and other kinds of drugs. They can sometimes help you feel better in the moment, but usually much worse in the long run. Exercise is important and can really help our mood and mental health too. It does not need to be anything super strenuous or a big change – taking a short walk instead of driving, using the stairs or finding a fun online class will all help.

If you have tried the above and still feel stuck, then it can be helpful to ask your doctors and nurses at your next appointment for advice. They may be able to offer some reassurance, and  link you in with psychology support. You can also contact CLDF’s support team who may be able to signpost you to the appropriate resource. Remember, help is available so do not struggle on alone

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