So many parts of our lives have been commandeered by Covid, with everything from grabbing a coffee to seeing our loved ones affected.
Nobody would have expected that so much of what we do would be dependent on an NHS app, as checking into venues and inputting symptoms is now almost second nature.
As we begin to re-enter a more ‘normal’ routine, the threat of Covid still exists, as does the likelihood that at some point you’ll get the dreaded ‘ping’.
The NHS app alerts you that you need to isolate because you’ve been in contact with someone who has Covid, and any semblance of normality you may have felt is out of the window.
Although you will (and should) accept your isolation period, it can bring up anxious feelings, worries about health and money, and even a sense of guilt.
Even if you don’t get ‘pinged’, there’s the looming threat that it could happen at any moment, throwing your plans and sense of safety into the air.
‘We are accustomed to being “pinged” by notifications from social media on our smart phones, but the fact that one of our apps could ping us, out of the blue, with news that we have to self-isolate for 10 days is totally unprecedented,’ says Alan Crawford, counsellor at The Mind Map.
‘The very randomness and unpredictability of when you might be pinged adds to its anxiety-inducing potential.’
Alan says that, if you already deal with anxiety, you can feel out of control because of this unpredictability, which can exacerbate symptoms.
‘The advice with notifications from our apps is often to silence them so that we can choose to engage with these apps when we are ready, rather than be pinged by them randomly throughout the day,’ he continues.
‘Yet, with the Covid app, we are required to wait for an act on that ping whenever it comes. This can be difficult to manage.’
Uncertainty over moving forward – and the potential of having plans snatched away – can undoubtedly be damaging. This becomes even more difficult when there are material worries on top of that.
Matt Hawkins, co-director of Compassion in Politics, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘The financial implications [of isolation] are potentially very stark for someone on a low income – the lump-sum payment is diminutive and only available to people in a narrow set of circumstances.
‘It also fails to take account of the fact that people in the gig economy risk losing work if they are unable to show-up for a week or more.’
So amid home testing and asking neighbours to bring groceries round, fear over rent or mortgage payments, childcare costs, and how you recover financially are all swirling.
Alan says: ‘If we are concerned about our ability to pay the rent and feed ourselves and our children, this triggers a very primal anxiety relating to our basic needs for shelter, food and safety.’
The NHS app is designed to alert you, overriding whatever you’re doing on your phone to show a full-screen message that reads: ‘The app has detected that you have been in contact with someone who has coronavirus.’
Warning you to ‘show this message to a trusted adult’ if under 18, you must then click an icon to confirm you understand. A red, pulsating circle will then count down the days until you’re allowed out.
The message is clear: Danger.
While a sense of danger can be useful for getting people to stay alert, these are already threats we’ve been going over in our heads for the last 18 months.
An isolation ping is a glaring reminder that the safety of the reopening world is only an illusion. Mask wearing won’t be mandated from July 19, but even if you do everything ‘right’, you could still be at risk.
Matt says we have to put the effects of these pings in the context of how the pandemic has been handled by the government.
‘The Prime Minister has talked up the fact that “Freedom Day” is approaching – heralding a return to “normality” when we can operate as free and independent agents.
‘This ideal will sit uncomfortably with anyone who is asked to isolate. It might cause confusion (stuck between two mindsets), fear (of missing out) and anger (at perceived misfortune).
‘All of those feelings may well be exacerbated by the inconsistency of some of the government’s policies – for example, fining individuals for breaking isolation but allowing 2,500 UEFA VIPs to enter the country without a period of quarantine to watch the European Championship Final.’
Compassion in Politics’ solutions to these complicated feelings are rooted in policy.
Increasing the isolation payment, in line with Portugal and Germany who gave employees up to six weeks full pay when they had to isolate, ‘says to an employee that they are being supported, cared for, and protected’ – therefore taking away one source of strain.
Secondly, they feel that carers should receive greater support, as many face the choice between receiving a fine for breaking isolation or having to rely on local councils who don’t have the resources to help.
Finally, Matt claims a shift in political opinion is needed, ‘ensuring everyone has a basic standard of financial support at all times, investing in our health and care system, and encouraging businesses to go beyond social responsibility to become socially productive.’
For the average person, these changes aren’t going to be implemented in the short-term, so we have to find ways to cope if we do receive that foreboding push notification.
Alan added: ‘What we can do, is make a conscious effort not to focus our thoughts and attention on the possibility of being pinged and direct our attention to positive activities, especially if we feel anxious.
‘Having a routine that includes time in nature, exercise, mindfulness, connection with friends and time for creativity can really help keep us grounded and feeling more positive.’
He also highlights self-care tips which, despite becoming cliché over the course of the pandemic, are necessary for staying calm and collected in isolation: Zoom calls, attending online classes or staying social that way, and using your isolation time – where possible – to relax, exercise, or whatever else helps.
‘Using positive self-talk or affirmations can be a helpful addition if you are struggling with anxious thoughts relating to your health,’ Alan says.
‘In both CBT and mindfulness we are encouraged to try to break cycles of negative thinking. Getting stuck in a loop of negative thoughts can lead us to spiral and feel worse.
‘You can replace negative, anxiety-inducing thoughts with more reassuring ones and focus your attention on the present moment to get out of these loops.’
It’s understandably jarring to have the carpet swept from under you with an isolation ping, but all we can do is look after ourselves and our loved ones.
Focus, if you can, on the positive action you’re doing just by staying at home. Isolation is a precaution that protects everybody, just like getting vaccinated, taking tests, and wearing masks.
And, while the days after your ping may be a stressful time, remember you’re playing your part in reducing the spread of coronavirus.
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