Coping with Uncertainty
Recently we’ve been talking more and more about emerging from life during the coronavirus lockdown. Things might be different but we don’t know how different and for how long.
The worksheets and resources shown in this article are available as a downloadable PDF at the end of the post. They tips on how to respond to the challenge of all this uncertainty and look after your mental well-being.
Look After Your Wellbeing By Finding Balance
Activity scheduling is a common behavioural method used by psychologists to help depressed patients improve their moods. We find people who are depressed are generally less active and less motivated. I will sometimes talk with them about the vicious cycle of inactivity that maintains a depressed mood i.e. we feel low and unmotivated so we do less then we feel even more depressed. So one method of working against this is to schedule activity that is compulsory regardless of mood or motivation. When we do more we begin to feel something is changing and we feel better.
With the current health situation, many of our normal routines and daily activities are changing. Naturally this can be unsettling, and we can find that the things we usually did to look after our well-being have become difficult.
Whether you are working from home, or in some form of physical isolation or distancing, it can be helpful to organise a daily routine that involves a balance between activities that:
- give you a sense of achievement,
- help you feel close and connected with others and
- activities that you can do just for pleasure.
An imbalance of pleasure, achievement, and closeness can affect our mood. For example if you spend most of your time working with no time for pleasure or socialising, then you may start to feel low and isolated.
Conversely, if you spend most of your time relaxing for pleasure and not doing other things that are important to you then this can also impact your mood.
Use An Activity Menu To Give You Some Ideas To Stay Occupied
Positive psychology is a relatively new branch of psychology that shifts the focus from what is clinically wrong, to the promotion of wellbeing and the creation of a satisfying life filled with meaning, pleasure, engagement, positive relationships and accomplishment.
Positive psychology is not about putting on a smile and just thinking the happy thoughts. Life can be hard and disappointments and challenges are inevitable. Scientific research has shown that some simple activities can help people to navigate the challenges of life more effectively and enjoy life despite stressful situations.
At times of uncertainty, developing a gratitude practice can help you to connect with moments of joy, aliveness, and pleasure. At the end of each day, take time to reflect on three things you are thankful for today and write down these three things.
Try and be specific and notice new three things each day, that went well and why. For example ‘I am grateful that it was so warm and sunny at lunchtime so I could sit in the garden’. This happened because I planned a good lunch break at the right time and got up from my desk and went outside. Reflecting like this causes psychological well-being levels to increase in a lasting way.
You could start a gratitude journal, or keep notes in a gratitude jar. Encourage other people in your home to get involved too. These and other strategies are detailed in Martin Seligman’s book Flourishing
Coping with Worry and Fear
What is worry?
Human beings have the amazing ability to think about future events. When we worry it can feel like a chain of thoughts and images, which can progress in increasingly catastrophic and unlikely directions. Some people experience worry as un-controllable – it seems to take on a life of its own.
Worry isn’t just in our heads. When it becomes excessive we feel it as anxiety in our bodies too. Physical symptoms of worry and anxiety include:
- Muscle tension or aches and pains.
- Restlessness and an inability to relax.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Feeling easily fatigued
Worry can be helpful or unhelpful, and psychologists often distinguish between worries concerning ‘real problems’ vs. ‘hypothetical problems’.
Real problem worries are about actual problems that need solutions right now. For example, given the very real concern about the virus at the moment, there are helpful solutions which include regular handwashing, social distancing, and physical isolation if you have symptoms.
Hypothetical worries about the current health crisis might include thinking about worst-case scenarios (what we might call catastrophizing). For example, imagining worst case scenarios such as most people dying.
In the next section of this guide, I have included a few worksheets for maintaining well-being and managing worry.
–Look for the silver lining of this time
Ok so maybe we need to work on training the mind to focus on what we can take and learn from having to survive this challenge. How would we like this experience to have changed our mindset as we move out of the lockdown.
1. We will all be washing and sanitizing our hands a lot more
2. We will work to support our local businesses
3. We have rediscovered the neighborhood community and will talk to the dogwalkers in the park
4. We will check in with friends and family more often
5. We hope more flexible work arrangements will continue so we have more time in the day
One of the resources I have included in the references is an app called Smiling Mind for those of you who aren’t familiar with this it is a free app with short mindfulness meditation exercises for adults and children. Mindfulness training stems from the Theravada Buddhist practices 2,500 years ago and has only recently become an evidence based form of treatment for depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
The essence of mindfulness training is to train the mind to be present in the moment we have RIGHT NOW and to stay present without any judgment. This training helps our minds to become more objective about what is happening in our worlds. Through this we become less critical of how we and others think and behave. When we can begin to experience life in a more present and sensory way it is very peaceful and enjoyable.
Seek Help and Support
Asking for help from others is a challenge for some of us and many people have never had to do this in their lives before. It is really important to me everybody leaves here tonight knowing this is not something we need to do alone and we are so lucky we live in Australia and can get support to cope with this difficult corona time.
If you feel that the stress or anxiety you or your child experience as a result of the coronavirus is impacting on everyday life, a psychologist may be able to help. Psychologists are highly trained and qualified professionals, skilled in providing effective interventions for a range of mental health concerns, including stress. A psychologist can help you manage your stress and anxiety using techniques based on the best available research.
If you are referred to a psychologist by your GP, you might be eligible for a Medicare rebate. You may also be eligible to receive psychology services via telehealth so that you do not need to travel to see a psychologist. Ask your psychologist or GP for details. There are number of ways to access a psychologist. You can:
- ask your GP or another health professional to refer you.
Coronavirus Mental Well being Support Service 1800512348
Australian Psychology Service Find a Psychologist
Smilingmind.com.au – Free App for adults and children
Information on Coronavirus
World Health Organisation (WHO) – http://bit.ly/3cQUwCw
Australian Government Department of Health – http://bit.ly/38OOwHe