Image: Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

SocietyAugust 13, 2020

Here we go again: Looking after your mental health during the resurgence

Image: Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

Coronavirus is back in our community, bringing with it anxiety, fear and uncertainty. If you’re feeling like you can’t face going through it all over again, here are some coping strategies. 

Aucklanders are once again being asked to dig deep, emotionally speaking, in preparation for another lockdown and the accompanying uncertainty. The country is still reeling from the initial impacts of Covid-19 on our collective mental health, with Lifeline still reporting higher than average numbers of calls.

The fear of another lockdown has been the cause of anxiety for many, and now it is here. So how do we deal with it?

Where the level four lockdown in March was a new and unique experience, and to an extent we did exactly what we were told because it seemed like our only option, this time around we’re each armed with a set of experiences that inform how we feel about it.

Clinical psychologist Jacqui Maguire says that because of this, our reaction to the news may be different to last time, and will vary widely from person to person.

“We’re all different. For some people it might be the fear or the dread of going back into lockdown, another person might be overjoyed at getting time at home again. Some might fear losing their jobs, or being isolated from loved ones. I don’t think we can assume everyone reacts to the same trigger point, but we can all follow good mental health guidelines to protect our wellbeing.”

She says that using our emotions, whatever they are, will help us get through. “It’s absolutely natural for people to be feeling anxious about the fact we don’t know where this community transmission started. Emotions evolve for a reason – we feel anxious because there’s a threat to our safety and a threat to the country. We don’t want people to suppress that or ignore it. It’s important to use that emotion for a particular reason.

“For example, use that anxiety to follow the rules, to stay safe and protect yourself and your family. What we don’t want is anxiety, disappointment, grief, anger, frustration completely overtaking people and impacting every facet of their life. Some anxiety, some grief, some disappointment is helpful. Too much can impact on our mental wellbeing.”

Read more: Where do domestic violence victims go in lockdown?

One thing we didn’t have in such large numbers the first time around were those who believe the government is deliberately withholding information from the public or feel that Covid-19 is a hoax of some kind. Maguire says it’s important to validate the feelings behind those sentiments when reassuring loved ones, because they’re likely driven by fear.

“I think it’s really important that we encourage everybody to take one day at a time and focus on the facts that we do have. Engaging in conspiracy theories, thinking about what’s outside of our control is unhelpful.

“There’s no point arguing with somebody if they’re caught up in unhelpful thinking, but you can validate the emotion. ‘I understand that it’s a really scary time, I understand it’s difficult not knowing what’s going on.’ Validate the emotion – it doesn’t mean you have to validate the person’s thought pattern. You don’t need to agree with them to validate them.”

With schools and childcare centres closing, parents will have to have difficult conversations with children who might be too young to understand why their freedoms are being restricted once more.

Diane Lummis, a programme leader in child and adolescent psychology at AUT, says it’s important to put the short-term lockdown in perspective.

“Families should take the time to reassure children and vulnerable family members that they are safe and that this is just a precautionary measure designed to protect the whole of Aotearoa’s whānau.”

She says it’s normal for children (and adults) to feel dysregulated – or unable to manage their emotional responses – by yet another change to their routine.

“Children and adults need to take the time to address the feelings generated by the rapid changes and uncertainty and to reassure one another and be kind.”

Maguire’s advice for everyone is to use your past experiences positively, and review what was learned.

“We’ve been through this before. It’s important to take stock of our past experiences and ask ourselves: ‘What did we do well during lockdown last time? Is there anything we took from that that we could implement now?

“We’ve got the upper hand, because we’ve done it before.”

More mental health and wellbeing tools and resources can be found at the Ministry of Health website and the Mental Health Foundation.

Please reach out to neighbours, whānau, friends, iwi and hapū if you need support. 

Keep going!