The good news is that as of today (29/08/2021) Dr Ashley Bloomfield has said our R0 number (the rate of infection spread) is now modelling as being under 1. [This means for each new infection, the amount of people that person passes it on to is less than 1 – meaning lockdown is working.]
Unfortunately I have seen an uptick in people talking about serious signs of mental distress in New Zealand at the moment, enough to be concerned that a lot of people might actually be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms as a result of the repeated stress of being in lockdown.
I have a lot of lived experience here. Managing my mental health is a daily affair (which is not to say you will have long term issues – most do not). I will give some tips that have worked for me, and ones I have seen others use. I am also not diagnosing anyone – that is up to a care physician.
Use your strengths to start each day!
The truth is a lot of the things that you need to do are going to be hard for you to do while feeling like this, I have chronic starting issues (because I am an ADHDer also) – the most important thing to help me was working out what my strengths were – using VIACharacter.org survey (which is free) and then doing stuff in line with my innate strengths – this has lots of research behind it as being motivating – and speaking from experience, I can confirm it works.
For example: My biggest strength is love of learning – each morning when I wake up – I read a new chapter of a new book and drink a glass of water. This helps me to start my day – even on days where I have had poor sleep. I document using my strength each day – there’s a lot of reinforcement in research for this helping people develop their character. Pick one of your signature strengths you most identify with and come up with a fun way to use it.
Tips for Rumination (Endless Negative Thinking)
If you find yourself trapped inside your head and bogged down in negativity there are a few methods I use to get out of it.
- Deep Breathing: When you enter a fight/flight mode your brain tries to conserve energy – doing so actually cuts off oxygen supply used for higher order functions in the brain which give us the ability to reason well. Below are a number of methods to help aid you in this – use whichever one works best for you. There are a number of free apps that do this on phones/tablets too.
4-7-8 Technique – lung capacity needs to be good here:
- Meditation [PLEASE NOTE IF SYMPTOMS GET WORSE STOP]: You’ve heard this from everyone, I know I have. Meditation isn’t about doing it right, it’s about bringing attention back kindly when you notice it slip. It can take a while to practice and it will not work for everyone – you don’t need to sit in a meditation pose – just somewhere nice. I use Balance App, but there are a number of free apps to guide you. As I said in the note – STOP if you feel like you are becoming more stressed. Sometimes it can be an adverse experience.
- Activate your vagus nerve: I have written about this as it’s one of the most promising new areas of mental health science in the last few years. The vagus nerve is located in your parasympathetic nervous system which modulates the flight/fight response. Here are some easy ways to activate it:
- Cold Water – run your hands under a cold tap, or fill a sink and run your hand through the water for about two minutes. Alternatively – take a 30 second cold shower if you can handle it (I make the last 30 seconds of my showers cold each time).
- Singing – either in the shower, or somewhere where you wont cause more stress by annoying lockdown bubble mates if you can. There’s a reason that a lot of us sing in the car alone or with people we trust – it’s actually incredibly good for us.
- Conversation with a friend – Yep, it can be as simple as talking to a friend – it does need to be vocal in order to activate the nerve – and I’d try and think of good non-stressful topics to talk about during the conversation if you can avoid it.
- Body Tapping on a Full Breath: Basically take a deep breath in – hold it and tap your body all over – the vagus nerve is attached to so many systems including our gut/kidneys/bladder – a video on how to do this is here:
- Listening to music – Music is incredible – there’s a significant amount of positive benefits to listening to music. Honestly throw on some music, listen to the lyrics, really focus on the different layers and how they are combined to enhance your focus. Try and identify each instrument alone through focus, and then think about how brilliant it is how these each combine.
- Exercise: Do High Intensity Workouts for around five minutes (after warming up with a slow walk) or just as long as you can manage. Ways to get heart rate up: Jumping jacks, a brisk walk or run, push ups, planks… – I am not going to tell you how to do it just try and get yourself to feel like you have exercised
- Write your thoughts down: The reason we have them rattle around in our heads so much is that we do not process them properly – one good method that has worked for me (and actually helps me get out of having Autistic meltdowns) is to write down the things that are upsetting you. There are a number of ways to do this – I just write down my chain of thoughts as they come – I always try and end my writing on a positive note for my private stuff. [Bonus points if you can use the character strengths you identified earlier, and figure out ways in which you were demonstrating them – this will help give you a more fixed sense of self].
- Limit Media Consumption: This goes for social media if you find yourself doomscrolling a lot as well as traditional forms of media. In lockdown – I have limited myself to checking the news once a day during the updates. It’s relentlessly negative and anxiety inducing (working on an opinion piece about this currently). I found even the 1pm press conferences were too much for me to process – so I ended up just reading @FallenRedNinja‘s summaries on Twitter which cover them really well without the live feeling which I found just makes it worse. @farmgeek also puts out a great graph each day with the cases – you can see our lockdown working on these.
- Be Kind To Yourself: YOUR FEELINGS AND MOOD ARE VALID. Don’t beat yourself up if you are struggling. It’s ok to not be ok during this. It’s an incredibly stressful life event. Don’t chastise yourself for not being able to just get through it without feeling negative. Self blame is a bad road to take – it can lead you to developing a negativity bias as your brain starts rewiring itself to live in constant fear. As someone who spent 36 years of their life in survival mode – the earlier you can get through this the better.
- Seek professional help: If things are not improving – these are the numbers to call or text in New Zealand – or get in touch with your GP.
- 1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor
- Kidsline 0800 54 37 54 for people up to 18 years old. Open 24/7
- Lifeline 0800 543 354
- Rural Support Trust 0800 787 254
- Samaritans 0800 726 666
- Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
- Youthline 0800 376 633, free text 234, email email@example.com, or find online chat and other support options here
- Anxiety New Zealand 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)
- If it is an emergency, click here to find the number for your local crisis assessment team.
- In a life-threatening situation, call 111.