June 19, 2020
Mindfulness on the go
As creatures of habit we thrive on routine and structure. Our need for order and stability stems back to our early development, whereby a predictable environment helps us feel more settled and secure in the world, and an absence of certainty creates a sense of anxiety and unease.
Uncertainty about what lies ahead triggers a threat response in the limbic system (the part of the brain that controls our emotional and behavioural responses, particularly self-protective responses that are essential to our survival). Certainty, on the other hand, releases dopamine in the brain, creating a reward response. It therefore makes sense that when our usual sense of order is interrupted, people begin to feel fearful and insecure and will instinctively go to any lengths to restore stability and predictability. This is exactly what we are seeing in our supermarkets across the country as people are panic buying as an attempt to restore some order and control in their lives.
If you are feeling anxious and nervous about what lies ahead this is completely normal and you are definitely not alone. This is an understandable reaction when plunged into unchartered territory. When faced with uncertainty it can be helpful to focus on aspects of our lives that we CAN control, so we have provided some tips and ideas to stay mentally healthy during this difficult time:
Acknowledge your inner resources
Despite our innate resistance to change, brain plasticity provides us with a remarkable ability to adapt to our circumstances. Think about the ways we have already adjusted to life since the onset of Coronavirus. Social-Distancing and Self-Isolation are new terms that have quickly become part of our everyday language. Routinely washing our hands, avoiding touching our face and remaining more than a metre away from others is becoming second nature. We continue to anticipate changes to our daily life, adhering to the latest guidelines in an effort to protect ourselves and others.
It can also be helpful to remind ourselves that we will get through this and this pandemic WILL come to an end, even though the outcome at this stage is uncertain.
Limit your media exposure
While it is important to keep up with the constantly changing guidelines and recommendations, constantly checking the internet, keeping the news on all day or watching clips of people panic buying can lead to increased anxiety. Try to limit your media exposure to specific times of the day, such as the morning and evening news. That way you can spend the rest of the day focussing on other tasks that need doing, as well as looking after your own self-care.
Reach out and stay connected
Social distancing is a concept we are all adapting to, but it goes against our natural human instinct for connection. One of the benefits of the digital age is our ability to connect face-to-face, in real time, with others across the world. While Facetime and Skype cannot replace in-person interaction, it comes a close second in situations where we are required to physically distance ourselves from others. Check in with friends and relatives, both locally and overseas. Group chats can also provide increased social interaction if you need or choose to self-isolate.
At times like this community spirit is more important than ever. We saw this during the recent bushfire crisis, where the support and generosity of people across the country made such a different to the affected communities. If you have elderly neighbours or know someone who is more vulnerable, check in with them regularly and try to support them whenever possible. If you are able to get to the shops, let them know when you are going and see if they need anything, or share any resources you do have. Even a quick chat on the phone every few days can make a big difference to someone who is otherwise isolated, and you will feel good about doing something positive to help others.
Practice good self-care
Try to keep to your usual routine as much as possible, keeping in mind that this may require some creativity and flexibility. Maintaining good habits such as keeping active, eating lots of fresh and healthy foods and getting enough sleep are essential to our physical and mental wellbeing.
Exercise releases brain chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin, which promote a sense of well-being. Even if you are self-isolating try to engage in some form of physical activity for at least 30 minutes each day. This could involve following an exercise class online, doing some gentle stretches or yoga, or even dancing to your favourite playlist. Exercising outdoors, particularly around nature, has the added benefit of reducing stress and promoting a sense of calm, so if you have a garden try to exercise outside as much as possible. If you are still able to get out, take a brisk walk or run around your local park.
Cook nutritious meals every day, and maybe experiment with different recipes and combinations, especially as some of your usual staples may not be available due to temporary food shortages.
If you are working from home it can be even more challenging to implement a good work-life balance, as there is no separation from your home and office. Be strict around clocking on and off and ensure you include some downtime as part of your daily routine.
Engage in positive and enjoyable activities
Research has shown that engaging in positive activities and hobbies can improve your mental health. When you become absorbed in activities you enjoy, you often become so immersed in what you are doing that you enter a state of flow, requiring a high level of concentration which in turn releases feel-good chemicals in the brain (again serotonin and dopamine). It is therefore important to make time for positive and enjoyable activities, ideally every day.
Access help if needed
While a certain level of angst is to be expected during this ever-changing situation, if you are feeling very anxious, depressed or find yourself struggling to cope with current events it may be helpful to access psychological support. Given the current circumstances, many psychologists and support services have begun to offer online or telephone sessions so you can access help even while self-isolating.