As Australia continues towards COVID-safe re-opening, you could be forgiven for feeling like we’re returning to normal. But the reality is we’re still a fair way from our pre-COVID life. For many, the months and possibly years ahead are going to require us to dig deep as the country strives to come out the other side of the coronavirus crisis.
We’ll need to find ways to help navigate the uncertainty. And we could really benefit from strengthening our resilience muscles, because the aftermath of COVID-19 looks like it’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint.
Resilience is defined as our flexibility in changing situations and the ability to bounce back from adversity, says Dr Suzy Green - clinical and coaching psychologist, and founder and CEO of The Positivity Institute. “There are many psychological skills required for resilience; however, much of it is underpinned by our mindsets.” In other words, choosing how to think about the situation we’re facing can make all the difference to our wellbeing.
Dr Green, who is also a lecturer and honorary academic for numerous organisations, including the University of Melbourne and the Black Dog Institute, shares her tips on how we can use positive psychology to get through the journey ahead.
Addressing unemployment fears
Australia has been fortunate compared to other countries during COVID-19. However, we’ve still seen unemployment rise and a recession rear its head. Many people have benefited from the government’s stimulus packages such as JobKeeper, but with those expected to end in September1, there’s a risk the number of unemployed will rise further. This means many Australians are living day-to-day with uncertainty when it comes to their financial future.
Dr Green advises that “learning to sit with uncertainty will be key as we enter the new normal.” Techniques like mindfulness can help increase your capacity to sit with difficult thoughts and emotions, and there are mindfulness apps that can help you practise this new skill.
Another way to bolster your resilience toolkit is with problem-solving skills. Ask yourself questions such as:
- What options do I have?
- Who can I reach out to for support?
- What ways can I enhance my chances of keeping my job or finding a new one?
“These are useful for taking a solution-focused approach to a situation,” says Dr Green.
She also recommends finding a friend or colleague who can act as a coach and help you stay hopeful and committed to your goals.
Reducing anxiety about going back out into the world
If the crowds at shopping malls are anything to go by, there’s plenty of us happy to be out and about. But that’s not the case for everyone. After spending months in the relative safety of home, it’s expected there’ll be some anxiety about going out in public again.
Anxiety across Australia has increased during the coronavirus crisis, with helplines such as Lifeline2 expecting to receive an additional 25% more calls than usual. Whether it’s returning to your workplace or venturing out to a café or restaurant, there are ways you can make the transition less stressful.
Start with proactively preparing yourself and consider what a return to life outside your home will look like. Then take small steps towards it. “Years of research tells us that it’s far better to slowly desensitise ourselves to the things we fear, rather than throwing ourselves in the deep end,” says Dr Green.
Dealing with constant change
One thing that’s been constant throughout the coronavirus crisis is change. As the virus started to take hold, things changed daily; new restrictions or rules were put in place, and we all had to quickly adapt our behaviour to fall in line and stop the spread.
Rapid change is difficult for most people to deal with. We are creatures of habit, and it’s hard to maintain equilibrium when it feels like the ground is continually moving beneath your feet. As we head into winter, we’ll need to hone our adaptability skills even more. It’s likely that workplaces and schools will shut down abruptly for short periods as and when outbreaks crop up.
“Psychological flexibility is key here,” says Dr Green. Expecting circumstances to change, and suddenly, rather than thinking everything will go smoothly, can help you be more prepared. Learning to be an observer of your thoughts and emotions is one way to learn psychological flexibility. “Rather than trying to get rid of them, particularly the uncomfortable ones, invite them in to take a seat on your bus, but remind them you’re the driver!”
For sudden changes, she recommends the STOP technique:
- S – Stop
- T – Take a breath
- O – Observe (what’s happening in front of you and inside of you) and
- P – Proceed.
Motivation to keep working from home
If the words ‘Zoom fatigue’ ring a bell, you may be feeling exhausted at the thought of continuing to work from home. Of course, you’re grateful to have a job that you can do remotely, but for some, the shine is starting to wear off as the lines between work and home become even more blurred.
Dr Green says there are some things you can do to make the situation more pleasant than frustrating.
- Start by accepting that the situation is what it is.
- Recognise when you experience ANTs (automatic negative thoughts). These are, says Dr Green, “unhelpful and lead to a whole range of negative emotions which are bad for your health.” So next time you find yourself thinking ‘I can’t wait to get back to the office’, observe the thought, but don’t buy into it.
- Focus on the positives. Keep a list of the benefits and bear in mind it’s likely to be temporary. “Soon enough you’ll be looking back, perhaps wishing you’d allowed yourself to enjoy it more!”
Ultimately, riding out the COVID-19 wave is going to require inner strength and resolve to cope with the challenges we face. Flexing our resilience muscles can help us to deal with the ups and downs that come our way.
Dr Green says learning some basic thinking skills such as cognitive behavioural therapy can be life changing, “which is why many schools are teaching them now.”
Know when to ask for help
If you’re regularly feeling anxious, or struggling to cope, don’t wait to seek help. Many workplaces have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) you may be able to connect with. Speak to your HR department if you’re unsure. Alternatively, you can contact:
Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service - 1800 512 348
Lifeline - Phone: 13 11 14 (24 hours/7 days) or Text: 0477 13 11 14 (6pm – midnight AEDT, 7 nights)
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