‘I AM worried mummy, what will happen if Santa gets coronavirus? Will Christmas be cancelled too?”

Well, that was an unexpected question that I was not prepared for, but I guess it sums up the bizarreness of current times!

“Erm, no darling, he’s being very good and is self-isolating until then,” I replied quickly.

This alleviated his anxieties thank goodness but I have to admit my heart was left feeling sad at how this year continues to unfold.

New restrictions have been announced this week and while some will argue that they are not strict enough, the majority remain confused.

I am finding that, in general, people are getting tired. Week in, week out we continue to live on tenterhooks about what the next thing will be. I empathise with this because I am feeling it too.

For many, heading into winter tends to bring comfort, excitement and warmth as preparations for the festive period begins.

The beautiful tones of changing seasons, grounding homely meals, family and friends gathering together are all associations we have with this time of year.

Kids especially bring the hype as we enter the mid-term holiday which is all tainted at present.

“Will be able to do trick or treating mummy, can we go pumpkin picking mummy, when can I go to my friend’s house again mummy….”

As a parent, I feel quite helpless at times because I simply do not have the answers. I know I’m not alone.

In GP land, we usually see surges of common winter illnesses, namely viral upper respiratory tract infections but we also see a rise in mental health issues.

There are several reasons for this including shortening of days, lack of sun exposure, colder weather, isolation and this time of year does evoke levels of nostalgia especially remembering those who are not with us.

So when this is what our normal is, it is natural that the pandemic which is starting to drag is adding a whole other level of stress and anxiety for us all.

I am used to seeing four to five cases of mental health issues per day in my surgery however at the moment, the majority of my consultations are centred around new onset or the deterioration of existing mental health problems.

The service is feeling quite stretched because the wait times are long for secondary care input and a lot is therefore falling onto us, the GPs.

While this is overwhelming at times, I feel comforted to know that people are picking up their phones and are speaking to us because suffering in silence, or bottling it up is only going to make matters worse.

I am learning that the best medicines truly include offering compassion, empathy and a listening ear.

There is solace in knowing that you are not alone, that how you are feeling is normal under what is a very difficult time.

I find myself practicing what I preach which above everything, is being kinder to myself.

There are days when the motivation levels can drop; a sense that freedom is being capped by external sources can be frustrating, but speaking to others about it helps share the load.

One of my patients said to me last week, “I don’t want you to give me solutions, I just want you to listen.” I listened.

He felt better for it. A consultation worth having. And no, I didn’t feel like he wasted my time.

I thanked him for feeling brave enough to call in.

At the start of this pandemic where we were granted permission to go for walks, we welcomed them and started exercising daily and it did make us feel better.

However, as restrictions have eased and changed again and again, we have been forced into limbo land of not knowing what we are doing as we straddle the gap between “normal” and ever evolving normals.

I advise you check-in with yourself. I worry we face a mental health pandemic once this is all over and we need to halt that now. Make it a habit to wake up every morning and audit yourself. Ask yourself, “How am I feeling today? How would I describe my mood? What are my energy levels like?”

If consistently you are finding yourself to be feeling unrefreshed, tired all the time, having little/no energy, flat or sad, then please seek help.

Carrying on for a long time with little mental reserve will cause you to crash and burn-out so take stock for now and intervene.

Support one another, check-in on each other, journal your thoughts and feelings if that’s easier and remember that your GP is your one constant in the community. Just call if you’re struggling.