In the wake of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, the inter-webs have become a loud and shouty place, so I’ve not felt the impetus to contribute to the noise with blog posts. This is especially after getting frustrated and starting more than few potential posts in an irritated kind of way. So after taking a few deep breaths, I’m just going to keep writing about what I know best - Simple, creative living here in the country, as aspects of this lifestyle should seem to have some potential benefits in these rather crazy times. I’ve even seen many of the subjects I’ve been investigating for some time starting to resonate more with those who’ve never before been interested I’ve got a little series in mind.
BUT….. I want to start with Anxiety. It deserves the capital.
Here in Western Australia we have so far been fortunate to not have widespread community transmission and outbreak of Covid-19. However we have been suffering from a crippling and widespread outbreak of anxiety.
We are being fed a stifling diet of mixed information regarding the issue of our grocery supplies and the pandemic via the news media, inflamed further by rife speculation and one-million-and-one voices from both credible and incredible sources on social media. There is constant talk amongst the local community as well. Never have I seen such concentrated talk on one subject, as we have been united globally with common cause. With the internet being what it is, we have opened ourselves up to so much more information and misinformation from many more angles, and when it is about a subject that generates fear, it can simply be overwhelming.
This barrage of news also comes along with the confusion that is the response of governments and experts. We are not seeing a united front amongst our own medical experts, business experts and the government. They are not agreeing on the appropriate ways to deal with the pandemic. We are seeing different governments across Australia and around the world approaching things in different ways. It isn’t surprising. Nobody has had to deal with an issue exactly like this one before, but as our leaders grapple with their decisions (which I’m sure do not come lightly) the result is a community which are confused and anxious about what they should do.
If you are feeling anxious, be assured you are not alone. It is a natural response to threat, and there is a threat in existence. Often, the key to managing anxiety is honestly assessing the reality of the threat, which is something that has been very difficult to do in these unusual circumstances.
People can react very differently to stressful situations. This can be a result of their background, including previous personal experiences, their community and their basic personality. Stress and anxiety can also manifest in different ways including fear for yourself or others, mood swings, sleep or eating disturbance, flare ups of chronic illness and the increased use of (often unhealthy) coping mechanisms such as smoking, alcohol or other drugs and food. In our community we have seen a lot of panic-buying, first of toilet paper, then of food, food-related items and medication, where people have become fearful of scarcity. The stripped shelves in supermarkets have made life frustrating, complicated and often distressing for many people, increasing anxiety. People who already suffer from mental health issues can also experience a worsening of symptoms.
How we cope with stressful situations can make ourselves, our personal relationships and our community stronger or it can lead to behaviour that ultimately make things much worse. We need to take some responsibility for our mental health in these troubled times, knowing that the benefits are far reaching. Following my husband’s sudden, young, death I suffered from PTSD. I still have a certain amount of anxiety, largely related to health, and will be very conscious of how I react to the evolving situation. Through my subsequent treatment I have been taught and have learned on my own, assorted strategies for relieving anxiety and for me, living more simply really helps.
Let me preface this by saying that if you have pre-existing mental health conditions and feel you have increasing symptoms, contact your healthcare team immediately. Similarly, if you feel completely overwhelmed and feel you have lost control of negative thoughts and feelings contact an appropriate professional healthcare provider. In Australia you may start with your GP, and there are also a few resources listed at the bottom.
My tips to Keeping it Simple in the current world situation
Cut out Noise
Limit your time on social media, and Don’t Read the Comments (you know what I mean)
Choose your news carefully. You don’t need to listen to every news report. Stay away from commercial news networks, which offer too much personal and editorialised content. Choose a few sensible and credible news sources that post official announcements and stick to those.
Don’t panic about your groceries.
In Australia currently, there is no danger of running out of food and panic buying is not required. Grocery stores are open and will replenish stocks, although normality will take time, especially if we do not exercise some restraint. Whilst you may struggle to get some specific items, you will likely be fine. You may just need to a bit tolerant, patient and creative.
Follow the ever evolving guidelines regarding social distancing, but stay connected. Often isolation exacerbates anxiety. Don’t look to the news for company. You can make a phone call or even FaceTime/Skype friends and family. Some social groups are now “meeting” online. More and more opportunities are also emerging online daily for like-minded people to connect.
Look after your body
Eat well and regularly. Drink lots of water. These are the very basics of self-care. Even if you have been challenged by an incomplete grocery list, you can at least make sure you are not binging on junk food, drinking excess soft drinks or alcohol or eating erratically.
Exercise. I don’t even want to hear any kind of an excuse. There are exercise options for EVERY person in EVERY situation . Keeping your body moving will support your health and if vigorous enough will release positive endorphins.
Get plenty of sleep. If you are having issues sleeping, there are many suggestions out there on how to address it. Get on it.
Cut the non-essentials off your to-do list
If you are feeling overwhelmed because you have too much to do, trim the fat. A lot of people are finding that increased social distancing has already cut out a lot of non-essential errands and activities, but if you can make your list smaller, do it.
Don’t take on unnecessary extras
It should be obvious when trimming your to-do list that you don’t add to it, but I have seen it happening a lot recently. For instance, I’ve seen and read about people buying up vegetable seedlings and backyard chickens, asking about grinding grain and making bread and about how animal shelters are experiencing record numbers of adoptions.
Taking up new hobbies etc are fine (and even wonderful) if you already have the knowledge or the mental bandwidth, time and resources to support them. However, if you are anxious or overwhelmed and just see such things as a potential cure for an immediate problem (eg. no eggs, better buy chooks) you’re setting yourself up for mental exhaustion, unnecessary financial investment, waste and even worse consequences such as animal welfare issues.
Most things are not NEEDED. When you are already overly stressed or anxious, avoid knee-jerk “solutions” that create more work for you, even if it is potentially worthwhile education or has some benefits.
Battle plan for your essential tasks.
There will be some things that you have to do and maybe you are anxious about some of them. These might range from handling home tasks with young kids underfoot, to working in a frontline job, to doing the weekly grocery shop. Take a deep breath, sit down and make a (simple-as-possible) plan so that you can approach these tasks in the most effective and efficient way with the minimum risk to your mental or physical health.
Carve out some quiet time.
It doesn’t have to be long blocks of time if you struggle to find it, but strictly schedule yourself time to unplug and be silent. Literally unplug - no music, no nothing. Get outside if you have fresh air available to you. Have a warm drink. Just. Breathe. Practice mindfulness 101. Ground yourself. I have written about grounding exercises here.
If you have a little more time to spare, you can extend your relaxation to music, meditation, gratitude practices, yoga, stretching, reading or whatever you like to create an open, low-stimulus environment for yourself.
Consistency and routine are great antidotes to overwhelm. We know how amazing it can be for children but works for adults just as well. It can give a sense of normality in times where things are tough or different and can provide mental space by removing the need to make decisions.
These are unprecedented, confusing and strange times. There will be more uncertainty and change ahead. There will be stress, anxiety and even fear. If we do what we can as individuals and as a community to limit the spread of the virus and creative more positive experiences within our communities, we can get through to the other side in the best shape possible. Let’s do all we can to give ourselves the best goal of both mental and physical health.
These Australian sites will help direct you to information and resources to help support your mental health. The first is for all, the second for youth specifically. Both offer specific advice in relation to mental health issues arising as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic
The site Smiling Mind (there’s also a great app) provide amazing mindfulness tools to support mental health. Whilst they cater for all, they have some really great resources for children. My son enjoys listening to a sleep-related mindfulness meditation every night in bed before sleep on my iPad, something we started when he began having issues falling asleep a year ago, but he has happily maintained as a regular practice. He has also done some of the Smiling Mind mindfulness program at his school. There are many different kinds of mindfulness exercises and meditations and they have also specifically addressed issues arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.