For the second time in under three months we are inundated by challenging images and uncertainty. The current COVID19 pandemic is a new, and novel situation, and for us, like the bushfire crisis that we faced, there is great uncertainty, and the fear of the unknown. We just don’t know how it will unfold and when it will end. So, it is entirely normal to feel stressed about the situation.
We have seen images of cruise ships, people in masks, empty supermarket shelves, and people fighting over toilet paper. Events are being cancelled. The football season may not go ahead in a form that we expect. Daily teleconferences from politicians and chief medical officers also underscore the seriousness of the situation. We have also seen our social cohesion challenged, with Chinese restaurants emptied, and people of Asian heritage abused. We have also seen a deluge of information and misinformation through our social media feeds. All this creates an uncertain situation.
It’s important to look after our mental health as well as our physical health during this crisis. There are simple things that people can do. Firstly, take control of the things you can control. Get prepared (don’t go nuts though and buy up all the toilet paper or pasta). Add a few things to each shop. This will just make it easier if you do need to self isolate, and reduce stress. Think about what you would do if you need to work from home. Or who can help you with daily tasks, if you become isolated (develop your Key3).
Know how to prevent the spread of the virus. Washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water is a good start. Pick a little song that you can sing in your head (a couple of verses of the North Melbourne theme song will do it for me, without the instrumental break). Follow advice from your health department on measures to take to reduce the spread.
Talk to people you trust about your feelings. Its OK to be scared or angry. If someone is talking to you about their feelings, don’t dismiss them. Acknowledge feelings, and encourage people to talk. Have open conversations with children about what is happening. UNICEF have a good guide for this. Suggest techniques to calm or stop ruminating about what is going on.
Choose a source of information that you trust, and follow it. This could be your health department, or WHO. IF you feel like you can, play a part in sharing positive or factual information to help counter misinformation.
Its important to minimise exposure to media, both traditional and social media. Again, the images can be overwhelming, and information can be incorrect. Some of the commentary is positive and direct, others are sensationalist. As above, pick a source, and just check it once or twice daily. If you are finding social media, overwhelming or confusing, consider limiting your use, as its easy to get caught up down that rabbithole.
Think about what strategies you use to manage challenges. We talk about psychological preparedness, or preparing your mind, about being able to anticipate, identify and manage stress, anticipate the stress what it will cause you, identify how you might react to this stress, and manage using calming techniques that you’ve used previously to manage difficult situations. Find a mindfulness app that meets your needs like Smiling Mind, or for health professionals, Treat.
If you need to be at home, then its important to maintain routines, undertake healthy activities, keep connected with people, get good sleep. If you can’t work, use the time to catch up on life admin, or that boxed set, or heaven help, read a book. War and Peace, A Suitable Boy or the Hilary Mantel series would be good if you have time on your hands. If you know someone who must stay home, check in with them. Don’t just use text. Call them. Or better still, use a video calling system (facetime etc) so that people can see you, and you create that human bond. Think about online games you can play with people.
But we can and should go about our daily business as we can and as advised by health authorities, so to maintain a sense of normality. Go out, catch up with people, spend money in shops (not on toilet paper), go to a Chinese restaurant. Things will change, and we’ll have to adapt, but we’ve always done that.
For pure joy and wonder in times of uncertainty, you cannot go past Sigur Ros.
*one of the most annoying TV ads when I was growing up, but 40 years later, I can still remember it, so must be effective