This is for many the most difficult part of the pandemic. We have been living with restrictions for a long period of time, and many of us are really starting to feel the effect of the chronic pressure and anxiety that has characterised the past year.
Today has been designated 'Blue Monday' because scientists have established that the combination of difficulties that occur at this time every year can have an impact on our mental health.
However, whilst science has led to today having this unfortunate title, science, particularly an understanding of how our body responds to stress, can help us identify strategies that we can use to protect our mental health.
Psychological models of stress provide a helpful way of viewing our current situation and understanding the mental health impact.
The body's stress response system is activated to respond to challenge, it is designed to help us deal with aggressors - to fight or run away.
Challenges are a very normal part of life, we need them so that we can set and achieve goals and feel good about ourselves.
However, uncontrollable stress that we feel unable to cope with can impact on our mental health because this stress response system is activated too frequently.
This "fight or flight" state does not serve us well in the modern world. It prepares our body for anger and action, not reflection and problem solving. It can be difficult to control this response, since it is inbuilt to help us survive.
However, when we recognise what is happening, there are things we can do to help our bodies return to a calmer state, where we can see things more clearly and problem solve.
If we look, we can easily find many things to worry about. Our animal brains are primed to seek out danger, so we are drawn to bad news. However, we can over-ride our instincts, and choose what to give our attention to. This can require a bit of practice, but evidence shows how through carefully choosing what - and who - to devote time to, we can change our mindset so that the world becomes a less stressful place.
We can also increase our sense of control by focusing on the things that we really can exercise control over.
One thing we can do is make some changes to our environment.
For example, we should look at how we are using news and media. 'Doomscrolling' on social media leads to a bombardment of stress inducing (bad) 'news' to our brain.
When we focus on negative news, without giving attention to aspects of life that give us joy or pleasure, we literally change our perspective on the world, and if we are not careful it can contribute to a downward spiral. Select reliable sources of information and control your exposure.
Mindfulness, where we practice really focusing on the present moment, can calm our stress response and help us realise that our thoughts, and the feelings caused by these thoughts, are under our control.
Our physical health is vital to our mental wellbeing. If in doubt about where to start, focus on diet, exercise and sleep. Now is not the time for crash diets, we should eat well and eat regularly, this 'tells' our animal brain that there is plenty of food and no need to worry. Walking, wheeling, or any form of movement, signals our animal brains that we have 'fought' and that we can now switch to 'rest and digest' mode.
It's even better if we can enjoy pleasant sights and sounds while we are being active. Being unable to sleep is a natural part of the stress response, in 'fight or flight' mode we must keep watching for danger.
Establishing a regular sleep routine will help switch off the cycle of stress. This means going to bed and getting up at the same time - give up naps if you can't sleep at night.
If you can't sleep, don't lie in bed ruminating, your brain will find something to worry about - or you will worry about not sleeping - and that will make sleep even less likely. Do something distracting, but not anxiety provoking.
Self-compassion is important. This is a very difficult time, we are living through a global pandemic and the threat is very real.
We should not expect too much from ourselves right now. We must be flexible, lower our expectations, and extend that generosity and patience to our employees and colleagues.
It is natural to feel overwhelmed at times, and indeed this stress response is a sign that our bodies and brains are working as they should.
Rather than beating ourselves up we should attend to our own inner voice, find kind words for ourselves and celebrate our incredible strength in getting through these difficult days.
To help maintain and improve your wellbeing, check out the 'Take 5 steps to wellbeing' at www. covidwellbeingni.info, for more resources and information.
Professor Siobhan O'Neill is Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland