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Social isolation, lockdown, fear of serious illness and economic collapse … we are all currently having to adapt to a new normal that changes daily. Lacking information and certainty, it’s no surprise that most of us feel uncertain, anxious, vulnerable. Dealing with the mental health effects of this rapidly changing social and economic environment are not easy, but there are steps you can take to ease the psychological costs in these unprecedented times.
Take control … as much as you can
Feeling powerless, helpless, and at the mercy of external events is detrimental to our mental health, so the more areas we can exercise control, the better:
- Finances/business/work – we’re all struggling to understand the implications of this worldwide pandemic, so try to get clarity on your own position. Reach out to others in a similar situation – we can all share better ways of doing things. The internet is your friend – with one caveat: be informed but try not to read too many depressing predictions. We are all in this together and there are many, many people working to make this better.
- Face the worst – dealing with the unknown is scary, so face up to it. Work out your assets, resources and strengths, and your liabilities and weaknesses. Basically do a SWOT analysis. Then deal with your worst case scenario. Figure out your plan B. And plan C. Although it may not be a pretty picture, dealing with fears helps put some ground under our feet – you’ve seen the worst, and you know how you’re going to deal with it.
- Structure and routine – decide how you want to use this time at home, set some goals, and create a routine. We’re all stuck with this situation, so we may as well determine how we can make it work best for us, and create a routine that will make it happen. Structure holds us, reassures us, keeps us safe. You may want to keep the same routine as you had when you were working; you may want to use the time to sleep in until noon; get up every day to work on that home project; start a meditation practice; teach the kids the piano; write that book – whatever you’ve been putting off until you have more time, make it happen now.
- Focus on what really matters – as it says in the very useful resource, NZIWR Real-time Resilience Strategies for Coping with Coronavirus, now is the time to focus on the intersection of Things That Really Matter and Things I Can Control. That’s how you can start to leverage this situation.
We are social creatures, and suffer in isolation, so we need to combat the detrimental effects of the absence of connection, which is a basic human need.
- Connect outwards – as above, connect with others in similar business or employment situations, share information, create a support network, take advantage of current support networks eg Chamber of Commerce. Information and support is out there – tap into it. The more we work together, the better we will come out of this. And help others if you can. Share your knowledge, expertise, strengths.
- Reach out for help – reach out on a personal level if you’re struggling, connect with the resources you need, talk to the bank, access the helplines, particularly the free national helpline number – 1737, and the resources on the Mental Health Foundation’s website (https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/get-help/covid-19/). Make sure you take care of yourself. Look after the basics – sleep, nutrition, exercise, social connection. And find time to have some fun, do things that make you happy.
- Friends and family – above all, connect with family and friends, reassure them that you are there for them, and be reassured that they are there for you. Social media and video calling platforms (Skype, Zoom, Facetime) are your friend. Strong and supportive relationships are the number one predictor of wellbeing across the lifespan. This is what counts. And this is when it counts.
- Connect upwards and inwards – this is also an opportunity to connect both with any sense of higher power or spiritual authority, and to connect within, through prayer, meditation, contemplation, and gratitude practices. To figure out how this event fits into the scheme of things, how we can be part of creating positive meaning through how we respond to this situation.
We will eventually come through this, and it’s up to us whether we will emerge into a world that will be a little bit worse, or a little bit better – it’s in our hands. While we can focus on the number of deaths, the business failures and the falling stockmarket, there are many signs of hope.
And we need hope.
People are coming together to share resources, they are singing from balconies, offering free concerts, the government is providing money, measures have been put in place to limit the worst effects, the climate will be better off, there have been scientific advances, worldwide sharing of information … there are good things that could come from this which will benefit the generations to come.
Given that we will emerge from this at some point, we need to make sure we are in the best possible position to take up the reigns again and create a new – and hopefully better – normal.
We have – individually and as a species – survived through many challenges, losses and hard times. We have internal strengths and resources we can utilise to get through this as well.
The simplest and most practical tips on resilience I have seen are from Lucy Hone’s TED talk, The Three Secrets of Resilient People, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWH8N-BvhAw):
- Accept this situation is part of life. S**t happens, suffering is part of every human existence. Everyone in the world is dealing with COVID-19 on one level or another. Adversity doesn’t discriminate. It is not just affecting us – illness, death, disasters and loss affect everyone alive. In other words, it’s not just you. It’s not personal.
- Selectional attention. Choose carefully where you selectively place your attention. We are hardwired to pay more attention to negative experiences, but we can train ourselves to focus on the positive, on things we can change. Make the effort to find the good in your situation. Don’t let the loss and grief overwhelm you.
- Ask yourself the question – “is what I’m doing helping or harming me?” Use this question to guide your thoughts and actions in this time. This is a very practical strategy. It puts us back in the driver’s seat, gives us some control over the situation. In general, be kind to yourself, do what works to help you get through.
Hang in there. Take care of yourself, and of each other … together, we’ve got this.