I’ve just completed another day’s work in COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne, via telehealth sessions with patients. It’s our sixth lockdown in Melbourne Australia, just for the record, and it looks like we’re in it for another long haul on this one.
I’m a psychologist sitting with the pain and struggle of my clients, who are of many different backgrounds, ages, life stages and opinions. Yet what they all had in common today was a shared feeling of anger, disappointment, despondency…despondency I think that’s the best word for the over-arching mood of today. Yesterday brought news of super-spreader events from lockdown rebels and the Victorian government extended lockdown for Melbourne by two weeks and added a curfew.
In past lockdowns people have been distressed, but something has definitely changed this time, deep into this second year of pandemic living. The mood seems grimmer than before. I recognise bubbling anger beneath the despondency, rage against a rising feeling of helplessness and limitation is growing. It worries me greatly because it’s clear we are now dealing with a mental health crisis that is spiralling. It’s also clear that the supports people used to turn to for help are diminished by rolling shutdowns.
There is a growing tendency to withdraw now instead of reaching out. I’ve heard that some of the chats and groups people had going online for connection and support are not as lively now as they were last year. The fatigue is real.
What can I say to you, as a helper, to make it better?
I’ve never particularly been one for positive little platitudes, but now less than ever. There is nothing magical to say to this, but here’s what I can say in the hope it’s supportive.
Let’s acknowledge this pandemic-lockdown-world-crazy-time as being the pile of horrible mess it is; A horrible pile of troubles that we have to live through and come out the other side of…eventually. Our hospitals are not over-whelmed, our increasing vaccination rates promise hope for future freedoms. We can do this.
Resolve to keep getting up and moving through one tiny piece of the anger, despondency and resistance at a time, getting it out of your way, because there’s really no other choice. It’s like a big pile of firewood that needs shifting and you only have to move one log when you can, not the whole lot at once.
Rest, then get up and have another go at things, rinse, repeat.
Honour your need to hide sometimes, and acknowledge and accept your justified despondency and anger, if that’s what you feel, as real. Just don’t let it stop you taking little steps. Those uncomfortable feelings of anger and sadness, grief and resignation can be there and you can still keep moving through your day, one tiny bit at a time.
Plan only an hour or two ahead. Choose to do some things that support your sense of competency – even for one minute. Try things that give you a small burst of harmless enjoyment too. Layer them. Add each tiny thing, one upon the next, until you have made an hour of not-so-bad.
Avoid setting high expectations and consider setting goals for your days that you know you can achieve so you can have easy wins. We all need easy wins right now.
Try this basic template to focus yourself:
1. Stuff I Enjoy and
2. Stuff I feel good at.
Use 3 basic categories to order your ideas of what to do to help you cope with weird days:
1. Make connections with others, remotely of course, if necessary;
2. Find things that give you a sense of flow and dive into them to just be for a while, to not think about anything else;
3. Consciously develop a friendly, supportive inner dialogue in your own head. i.e. Listen to yourself and be kind to yourself. Don’t be hard on yourself for lacking motivation, keep going but go slower, easier.
If you generally lack motivation because you’re tired, angry, despondent, downgrade all your expectations temporarily, consciously, to make them more manageable.
Be moderate – take a day off something, but don’t then take multiple days off it, if it’s something you value.
Just show up for things you want to do. Take all the emotion out of things you want to achieve and just turn up at your keyboard, treadmill, bike, whatever…. If you turn up you will likely do something. Consistency trumps perfection.
Celebrate every single tiny win you have. If it’s a choice between doing nothing and doing a little bit, then most of the time choose to do a little bit. No need to wait for a big chunk of time to start a task – instead, use little pockets of time to make positive, small steps as often as you can.
Gather and peruse every potentially helpful resource on offer. It’s OK to just pull one good tip or two from a source and add it to what works for you, hand-pick your own individual collection of supports from the plethora of stuff out there.
Cheer-lead yourself. Tell yourself you’ve got this and lockdowns will be over in time. This is not forever.
I’ve got a whole big book full of tips and support for self-care and it’s on a free-to-download offer on Amazon currently. Here’s the link. Check it out.
Love to you. You can do this.