HOW TO SURVIVE ANOTHER LOCKDOWN – Donna Thistlethwaite

Brisbane, like many cities and regions, is back in lockdown this week. For many of us, lockdown isn’t an easy time. It might be the practical challenges causing distress but it can also be the psychological impacts of the uncertainty or the reminder that there is a significant health risk within the community.

I’m hoping that we get on top of the current outbreak quickly and that we get to experience many more of the long periods of semi-normal life that we’ve enjoyed over the past 12 months. But it’s also likely that we will continue to experience intermittent lockdowns for some time yet.

I’ve been considering how I can help others during the lockdown. I was about to get to work on organising a wellbeing webinar when I remembered that I recorded one called “Staying Healthy During Covid-19” last year and could make it instantly available – you can view it here.

I have pulled out some of the key messages in this article in case you’d prefer to read or would like some insight into what to expect in the webinar recording.

You’ve probably noticed that everyone responds differently to stressful situations or changes. Some will be fine now but struggle later and vice versa – it’s not a linear process. The important thing is that we don’t do this alone. We need to look after each other and we also really need to look after ourselves.

THREATS TO OUR MENTAL HEALTH INCLUDE …

Information overload and the negativity bias of the media. Studies have shown that most of us are attracted to bad news because of our survival instinct. We need to be conscious of what we’re taking in while needing to be informed … Choose one credible source of information and check it once or twice per day. To balance it out – join a group like The Kindness Pandemic on Facebook – focused on doing or seeing an act of kindness. It will restore your faith in human nature.

Financial stress – many of us have, or are at risk, of an income reduction or loss. One of the first emails I read this morning advised that an invoiced, but as yet unpaid, conference gig booked for next month was cancelled. The thought of how to meet our expenses when income changes can be worrying.

During my crisis, I talked myself into a really dark place by wanting to ‘deal’ with my problems myself. Once you get into that place, it’s almost impossible to claw your way back out.

Don’t go there! The government has again introduced some options for support. Find out what is available to you. Everything is figure-outable and people want to help.

Isolation – We’re facing ongoing periods of isolation but as Brene Brown says ‘we are wired for connection’. Thankfully we have the technology to make safe connections possible. Imagine if this happened even 20 years ago?

Embrace technology … You could hold Zoom catchup. It’s free for 40 minutes and longer for 1:1 chats. Physical distancing doesn’t need to be an obstacle to social connection.

There are opportunities to use the time in isolation to connect with our family, get back into a hobby or find a new one, learn a new skill. Check out cheap and free education sites like Coursera, Udemy, Khan Academy, Class Central.

Time is a non-renewable resource and how often have you wished you had more of it? You could write a list of all the things you have wanted to do when you got a ‘round tuit’ that fit within the restrictions. Here’s your ‘round tuit’, it’s time to get started.

Fear and Uncertainty – We don’t know when all this will end or how many casualties there will be.

What we focus on grows and before we know it, everything can feel out of control. It’s tragic that the COVID-19 virus will cause deaths but to lose people because of stress and mental illness will be an even greater tragedy.

Right now, all we can do is focus on what we can control and support each other.

SO HOW CAN WE MAINTAIN OUR MENTAL HEALTH …

Stay calm, the thinking part of our brain doesn’t function properly when we are in a state of distress. We need it to be able to logically work through what we need to do.

Monitor your thoughts. We don’t have to believe everything we think. It’s possible to change your thoughts. I would encourage you to ask “Is this a useful belief”? If it’s not you can choose not to let it go rather than ruminating on it. The more you do this the easier it gets.

Diet, exercise, and sleep are as important as ever. Other resilience strategies you could think about could include:

Gratitude – now is the time to introduce or maintain your gratitude practice. You could write your gratitude in a journal or write a list of friends you’re grateful to and start calling them up to let them know.

One of my favourites is to text three gratitudes to up to five friends every day. I’ve been doing this for 4+ years and it truly changes what you see in the world for the better.

Brene Brown found in her research (with 11000 pieces of data, I assume people) that 100% of people who identified as joyful had a gratitude practice. Brene points out not an attitude of gratitude but a gratitude PRACTICE.

Every day is not good but it is good every day.

Breathing – when it feels too much, and even when it doesn’t, stop and ground yourself with your breath. If you want to progress to a meditation practice, this can be an awesome way to create a sense of calm.

Helping others/connection – this can be a fast track to lifting your mood. Your brain releases happy chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin and research indicates that someone you help is likely to pay it forward twice. We can create a ripple that surely is an antidote to the Corona fear.

Do what energises you. I call it your thing and mine is cycling. I’m grateful to still be able to do it but it definitely looks different. What brings you joy and energises you?

PLEASE Reach out to someone if you’re struggling – We all need to get through this. Don’t let pride get in the way. I almost lost my life by keeping my struggles to myself and not wanting people to think that I was a failure. A problem shared is a problem halved.

FINALLY, HOW CAN WE SUPPORT OTHERS?

Stay connected – Write a list of the people you are going to check in with each week.

Sometimes people are going to react in ways that we don’t expect or can’t understand because of the stress or perceived stress they’re feeling. It’s a good idea to recognise that they may be struggling and cut them some slack. Don’t judge someone simply by the behaviour you’re seeing during this time.

We need to have lots of RUOK? conversations.

The RUOK? conversation model is great:

  • Ask are you ok? I’ve noticed you don’t seem yourself? etc
  • Listen with an open mind (non judgmentally)
  • Encourage action (they may benefit from speaking to a professional)
  • Check in (make a note to come back and see how they’re travelling)

Practise asking people if they are having thoughts of ending their life. Not easy but it can save lives. Mental Health First Aid has a comprehensive Guide for Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviours that you can familiarise yourself with.

I trust that you have found this information useful. You can download a pdf summary here – Staying Mentally Healthy During COVID19 handout

Stay safe and well!

Donna Thistlethwaite is a Brisbane-based speaker and trainer specialising in mental health and resilience. She is an accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Resilience at Work Facilitator with a passion for suicide prevention and for helping individuals, teams and organisations to THRIVE. You can find out about her next Mental Health First Aid courses here.

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