Coping with Level 3 restrictions: ‘Take mini-breaks from Covid in your head’

Four mental-health experts on how to cope with the limited lives we’ve been asked to lead

For three weeks from midnight on October 6th, all of Ireland moves to Level 3 restrictions. This is a familiar scenario for Dublin and Donegal, but a new limit for most of the country.

And the prospect of further restrictions – the much discussed Level 5 – makes this an uncertain and for some an anxious period. Clearly, recent measures have not been sufficient to control the disease and the high volume of community transmission.

Here, four mental health experts share their thoughts and tips on how to cope in these “abnormal times”.

Hospital Report

Professor Jim Lucey

Consultant psychiatrist at St Patrick’s University Hospital, Dublin


Society is going through a collective trauma, and we all feel fear and grief for the loss of the things we can’t do. It’s important that we understand this and recognise the collective distress.

I find the “new normal” an unhelpful phrase because this is a collective abnormal we are living through. We have to hold on, be patient and adapt at this time, and to make sure we get enough sleep, exercise and eat well.

There are four steps to managing anxiety which can be helpful. First, we have to acknowledge it. Then, we have to recognise the pain it is causing. Then, we have to re-focus on the small useful things that we can do like going for a walk, tending the garden, etc. And, then we have to value what we are doing now in the moment.

It’s also hugely important to be compassionate and kind to yourself and others. Now is not the time to win arguments with family and friends - let the other person have the last word.

Trudy Meehan

Lecturer in positive psychology at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland

We need to think about salvaging Halloween and Christmas for young children. Some children are already saying Halloween is cancelled so we need to talk to them about what low-risk activities they can do.

We need to take mini-breaks from Covid in our heads and give our children Covid-free time. To take a personal mini-break from Covid, you could visualise an imagined future time – such as a skiing holiday or a party with friends. This might sound frustrating but if you allow your body to take on all the senses of the experience, it can give you a sense of relief for a few minutes.

With children, we need to be mindful that they can become saturated with Covid news – on the television, on the car radio. They listen more than we realise, and we need to turn off the adult talk and keep the home space child-friendly.

If schools remain open, their lives are largely unchanged. Teenagers are more likely to listen to their peers so it’s useful to direct them to information written for them. Spunout,ie has good resources for teenagers.

Tony Bates

Clinical psychologist and founder of Jigsaw, the national centre for youth mental health

Human beings tend to repeat behaviours so we need to ask ourselves what worked for us and what didn’t during the first lockdown if more restrictions are brought in.

It’s particularly hard for young people not to have vibrant contact with their peers. Tensions at home get heightened so it’s a good idea for young people to acknowledge that it is a difficult time and work out with their families how to share practical chores around the house.

Don’t float through the day, put a shape on it and re-imagine how to live, love and fill the day. Don’t hide behind a wall of denial, blame or resentment /[about Covid-19/] as this will bring you negative energy.

Discover what nourishes you and ask yourself what you can manage rather than what you should do. One practical approach is to follow the five-a-day for your mental health – connect with people you trust, be active, be curious, keep learning and give something to others.

Maureen Gaffney

Clinical psychologist and author

Everyone would find a move to further restrictions very difficult at this stage, I think. First time round, we understood that little was known about the virus and shutting the country down was accepted as a drastic measure. And hard as it was, it had novelty value. That’s definitely gone now, and my sense is that it’s going to be more difficult to get buy-in this time.

Living with Covid-19 is no longer just a medical issue, it’s a social and psychological problem now as well as an economic one.

A lock down is a very blunt instrument to try to change human behaviour. People who live in areas with currently low level of infections are going to question why new restrictions apply to them.

I would like to see a more localised approach – where local partnerships between public representatives, businesses, doctors and civil society are kept up to date in a meaningful way about the rate of infection in their area and can work out a proportionate response.

As for individuals, yes, we all got careless over the summer months and we have to be more careful again. I believe people are prepared to do that but they also need to feel that their concerns are being taken into account. They are trying their best to protect themselves and the people they care about while also trying to keep their lives going.

We have to find ways to make this easier for people to do and to treat people as adults who have the capacity to take responsibility for themselves and work out good solutions.