AS THE WORLD RE-TURNS
In the coming weeks and months, children will return to school, businesses will begin to re-open and families & loved ones will re-connect. This is a big win for both the economic and emotional wellbeing of all Australians. Right?
It will be business as usual. Except it won’t.
The transition from life as we knew it, to the almost dystopian life we’ve experienced mid-pandemic, to the ‘new normal’ (whatever that may be), won’t be smooth sailing for everyone, at all times.
BARRIERS TO RETURNING TO ‘NORMAL’
There are a number of reasons for this.
- We don’t want to go back to the way things were. Despite the many downsides of COVID, we’ve seen that the grass could be greener. Working from home has created a work-life balance. Working families have discovered quality family time, without distraction. ‘Busyness’ has been replaced with a reconnection to the simple pleasures of childhood – boardgames, puzzles, handball, silliness, creating… We don’t want to lose these, again.
- Conversely, many people have been living in panicked isolation, drowning in bills. The media’s constant drip-feed of economic doom and swelling unemployment figures has created a fear culture. Being without meaningful work to provide a daily sense of purpose, achievement (and distraction) has been replaced with a sense of hopelessness and uselessness. Disposable incomes have been replaced with a lack of economic confidence.
- As Aussies, we’re a stoic lot. Our unofficial national mantra being, ‘’She’ll be right mate.’ This attitude can be helpful in a crisis, but not always healthy long-term. It isn’t always our truth either! We hold it together for others, we protect our kids, we do our jobs, we suck it up and keep going. But when the immediate threat is over, what happens to all that pent-up fear, stress and anxiety that we’ve carried? Especially without access to our usual ‘blow off steam’ outlets (AKA the pub, gym, church, cafes, etc.).
- We’re simply significantly distressed. For months, we’ve watched a literal body count tick over on the news like we’re all trapped in a disaster movie. We’re not just hearing about, but watching, graphic footage of the carnage. Photos of American protestors pressed against the doors of congress have been mistaken for Dawn of the Dead posters. YouTube videos have been uploaded from ER deathbeds. Graphic detail has been used to describe the shutdown of children’s immune systems under the threat of a new virus strain. What has this constant stream of terror done to our coping mechanisms?
- As a society, we’ve been forced to disconnect physically, thus creating an emotional disconnect too. States have literally been separated under martial law. Vandalisms have occurred on cars with interstate number plates. Children have been forcibly removed from playgrounds. Hate crimes have resurfaced. Somehow politics and conspiracy theories have become intertwined with medical advice. Grown women have come to blows in suburban Woolworths stores over toilet paper rolls. How are we all supposed to reconnect when the threat of ‘the other’ is still ever-present? Xenophobia is so high, we don’t even know who or what to fear anymore. Studies show that many people are comparing this pandemic to WWII – it is that distressing, in their experience.
BREAKING DOWN THOSE BARRIERS
So, what do we do? How do we re-enter society and keep our mental health intact after this crisis?
- Keep doing more of the little things you’ve come to love during this period and carry these routines with you post-COVID. Family time and downtime doesn’t have to stop. Find moments of joy in simple things every day – not big-ticket items, just the basics. Set aside regular time without ‘busyness’. Remember that returning to a simpler, less materialistic life is a gift, not a consolation prize.
- Be proactive and make use of available support services. Investigate government financial packages. Check out free online courses - this could be a good opportunity to upskill, without juggling work and study. Seek practical and emotional support, as well as care packages, from community service organisations. Even without work, every single person has had a purpose these past months. Every time you’ve put aside your own mental health needs and stayed on the couch, you’ve actually demonstrated selflessness, personal responsibility and empathy in saving the lives of vulnerable Aussies. Remembering this can help to restore a sense of purpose and self-worth.
- It’s important to check in with yourself and really be honest about whether you are actually coping, or just ‘appearing to cope’. Unresolved stress, fear and anxiety can easily snowball into a mental health issue without adequate support. Put YOUR life mask on first. Make yourself a priority and seek help if you are experiencing symptoms – even if you don’t have a history of mental illness or haven’t been ‘directly’ affected by COVID. This may mean keeping in regular contact with friends, practicing mindfulness or seeking professional help.
- It might seem simplistic, but stop watching or reading content that is causing you distress. This may mean switching from TV to online news articles, having a social media detox or actively seeking out content that you know will give you a ‘boost’ (e.g. comedy specials, good news stories and meditation apps). Studies show that almost 50% of all Australians fear re-entering their normal routines and falling ill. It’s easy to forget the good news; but Australia is actually making daily progress in the war on COVID. This too shall pass, as every other crisis in history has previously.
- Continued hypervigilance around everything we touch, every location we visit and every person we come into contact with can be extremely isolating, making us almost agoraphobic outside of our own ‘bubbles’, as well as creating ‘moral flexibility’ in the way we conduct ourselves in public. Make lists of your personal qualities to remind you of your personal standards; who you hope to visit soon to remind you that you are not alone; and what you enjoy doing to remind you there are things to look forward to. A connection to community, culture and socialisation supports good mental health. When it’s safe to do so, seek opportunities to reconnect with people, places and activities using appropriate social distancing and hygiene measures to give you peace of mind. Trust that, if the experts advise it is safe to engage in an activity, then their advice is guided by experience and research. It is not about putting your physical health at risk, but supporting your mental health.
If you’re struggling, ask for help. In an emergency, call 000 or Lifeline on 13 11 14 any time for free.
Artius offers appointments with qualified, experienced Psychologists via Telehealth, no matter where you are in Australia. Face-to-face appointments are still available at our clinics throughout QLD.
If you have a Health Care Card, Pension/Concession Card or are economically disadvantaged due to COVID-19, we are here to help. We currently bulk-bill these appointments. Ask your GP for a referral or Mental Health Care Plan to access the Medicare rebate.