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You woke up feeling OK, but as soon as you looked at your social media feed you started to feel anxious. Patting your cat lifted your spirits briefly, but a phone call from your stressed-out sister-in-law left you miserable, your kid had a tantrum and now you’re really on edge.
Sound familiar? If your emotions are all over the place right now, that’s entirely normal. The uncertainty of the pandemic and all the associated stresses are adversely affecting mental wellbeing for many of us, says psychologist Marny Lishman.
“The biggest challenge to mental wellbeing at the moment is fear,” says Marny, who is Nine Network Perth’s resident psychologist and author of A Beautiful Mess – How to Thrive in a Modern World. “We’re constantly bombarded by information wherever we turn, whether it’s the media or talking to your family, it’s all about COVID-19 and the ‘what ifs’. Everyone’s in fear mode, and that has a huge impact on our brain and what it tells our bodies to do.”
Taking deep, slow breaths into your abdomen regularly is one way to help dampen anxiety symptoms and that fight-or-flight response in your body.
We asked Marny for other tips on how to manage your – and your family’s – wellbeing during this challenging time.
Notice the emotions that are coming up for you instead of trying to ignore them.
The first thing Marny recommends is to notice the emotions that are coming up for you instead of trying to ignore them.
“Once you have that self-awareness, then you can do something about it straight away,” Marny says. “If you can notice that you’re in distress or you have a feeling of dread, for example, then you can go, ‘Okay, what can I do about it?’”
The next step, she says, is to focus on what you can control. Marny says that our brains are designed for survival, so if there’s anything fearful in our environments, that tends to capture our attention. So, if you notice reading the news is raising your anxiety levels, it may be a good idea to limit your exposure.
“Your brain is wired to look for information because it wants to prepare, it wants to predict and it wants to be precautionary, but by scanning the news, often we end up just more stressed and anxious,” she says. “So, if we can consciously shift our mindset and say, ‘I’m just going to control what I can, and do all the things I normally do as best I can’, rather than being reactive, you’re being proactive, which will help your wellbeing.”
Marny says the number one priority for parents should be helping kids feel safe and secure during the pandemic.
“We know that kids thrive on routines, and being at home is a big adjustment for them,” she says. “So retaining their normal hobbies, sleep routines and school times is going to be really helpful, and not putting any more pressure on them with tests and assignments.”
For those of us with parents or grandparents in the at-risk age group for coronavirus (COVID-19), keeping them physically safe is a major consideration. But Marny says managing their mental wellbeing is also important.
“Don’t underestimate the power of distraction,” she says. “Keep your elderly family members and neighbours as distracted as you can. Not everyone’s online, so think about sending them letters or popping by and talking to them through the window. That connection is really, really important because a lot of them can’t do the things that they were doing before.”
Looking for other ways to keep you and your family healthy during this time? From at-home workouts to grocery and nutrition guides, check out the rest of our COVID-19 content series.
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