“What we’re going through is unprecedented and so no one really knows what’s happening or what’s going to happen,” he says. “A degree of uncertainty, therefore, is perfectly understandable. Following on from uncertainty comes anxiety and worry. Will I get sick and if so, how bad will it be? What will happen to my job? Can I afford to survive for the next few months? Questions such as these are also understandable and no doubt, will be very common.”
Sharp says many people are also feeling a sense of loss in terms of their job, financial security, social life and the structure of their lives.
“There will even be some who lose loved ones to the virus,” he adds. “Loss and grief are hard to deal with any time but even more so at the moment while there are so many other challenges going on.
“Depression may well result from all of the above and from feeling overwhelmed and isolated. Not being able to do what one usually does, to work or exercise or see people will undoubtedly have an effect on many.”
Working through your emotions
Human beings have enormous capacity to handle change (even when it’s uncomfortable). Sharp suggests these strategies to help us deal with our emotions during the pandemic.
If you’re struggling with uncertainty: “Limit exposure to news and social media. Accept there are many unknowns but try to focus on what you can do to take care of yourself and your health.”
If you’re struggling with anxiety: “Practice mindfulness meditation and applied relaxation strategies,” he says. “Try to keep things in perspective – for example: most people will get through this OK and it won’t last forever. Take things one day, even one step at a time and focus on what you can control rather than on what’s outside your control.”
- If you’re struggling with loss: “Try to focus more on what you have and less on what you don’t have,” Sharp advises. “The practice of gratitude and appreciation, even or especially for the little things, is more important than ever at the moment.”
If you’re struggling with depression: “Do all you can to keep up any and all self-care strategies,” he advises. “Try to set and work towards meaningful goals. Do all you can to stay healthy and to keep exercising.” He also recommends seeking out positive news stories and focusing on the future. “Try to imagine what your life will be like in three, six or nine months when we can get back to normal,” he says. “Stay connected to others via phone or messaging or Skype or Zoom or social media or all of these! And try to find new ways to have fun at home. It might seem frivolous in a way but joy and laughter are still important.”
- If you’re struggling with hopelessness: “This won’t last forever and we’re already seeing signs of progress in some countries who’ve done the right things. There are also numerous stories of good people doing good things, so try to focus on the acts of kindness and generosity and courage and love which can restore one’s faith in humanity.”
The importance of joy
It might sound challenging, but it really is still possible to nd joy during dark times. Sharp advocates making joy a priority.
“Actively make time for and schedule in time during the day and week for anything and everything that might bring you joy,” he advises. The best ways to do this? He suggests learning something new, picking up an old hobby or watching funny videos.
“Play games with those you’re living with, or online with other family members and friends,” he adds. “Play music and dance around your house – if there was ever a time to practice that old saying ‘dance like no one’s watching’ then surely that time is now!”
Helping the older generation stay connected
Sharp says maintaining relationships with friends and family is particularly important for our more vulnerable communities including our parents and grandparents.
“Social interactions are probably the most important contributors to health and wellbeing, to happiness and even longevity for all of us, regardless of age,” Sharp explains. “But it’s especially important for those who are no longer working because they typically have fewer other interactions such as those many of us usually get via our work.”
In a time of social distancing, staying connected involves an entirely new approach.
“The most important thing to remember is that we need to physically distance ourselves from others but not necessarily socially distance,” says Sharp. “So we can, and should, still stay connected and keep in touch with others. We just might need to be a bit creative in how we do this.
“You can still, for example, pick up the phone or use video apps like Facetime or Skype. You can get more active in or join groups and communities online, for example Facebook. Plus there are many online options to play games such as Monopoly or bridge, or to learn – for example, through the University of the Third Age.”
Looking after yourself
Here are Sharp’s top tips for maintaining mental wellbeing.
Maintain good lifestyle habits. “Eat as well as you can, get good sleep and keep exercising,” he says.
Practise self-care. “Keep meditating and keep in touch with your psychologist, if you have one – even if you shift your sessions online,” he says. “Minimise the time you spend scrolling through negative news and even social media – but use social media to stay connected with friends or inspirational pages.”
Make use of free time. “Think about all those things you said you’d love to do if only you had more time,” he says. “Read that book or write that book, watch that movie, play those games, start that craft project and spend more time with your kids.”
- Establish a routine. “Most of us function and feel much better when we have a routine,” he says. “Keep getting up at roughly the same time and try to get to sleep at approximately the same time. Stick to regular times for co ee or tea and lunch and dinner. It’s helpful to have some separation between daytime and night-time activities.”
This article originally appeared in the Autumn issue of The Suite Life.
For help, contact: Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or beyondblue.org.au
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