Many breathed a sigh of relief the moment it was announced Australian social distancing restrictions are being eased due to success in ‘flattening the curve’ of new COVID-19 cases. However as families begin returning to school and work, for some, dread and anxiety are creeping in.
“We’ve had to adapt in a very short space of time. We had to very quickly adapt to not having a job or working from home or home-schooling kids, so that change in itself of our whole way of life and routine is very tiring,” HealthWISE mental health clinician Jenna Grills explained.
“It’s what’s referred to as change fatigue. A lot of people are thinking ‘Oh I don’t want to do this again, I’m only just starting to settle into a routine now‘.”
“It’s what’s referred to as change fatigue. A lot of people are thinking ‘Oh I don’t want to do this again, I’m only just starting to settle into a routine now.’”
Along with the stress of having to adapt to new situations is the valid fear of future outbreaks and the grief of losing loved ones, valuable employment or financial security to the virus.
“If there’s one lesson to be taken from it, everyone is experiencing some level of anxiety, some level of fear, and it’s nothing to be ashamed about,” Jenna said. She recommended getting back to the basics of self-care and ensuring you are eating well and getting enough sleep and exercise.
“If physically you’re not feeling 100 per cent, then mentally you’re not going to be feeling great either.”
Self-soothing techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises can help, and Jenna recommends making use of online resources to help yourself or your children understand the crisis. Acknowledge that you are doing your best, even if you can no longer achieve at the level you’re accustomed to. Be kind to one another and recognise that everyone’s lost something.
Talking about your struggles is essential. Don’t be afraid of reaching out and telling others when you’re not coping.
“That’s how we figure out how to adapt – when we work together and share those fears. You can share tools and coping strategies,” Jenna said. We tend to think that avoiding new situations or keeping quiet about our struggles will make us feel more comfortable and safe, but it actually erodes our confidence.
“You get less practice at embracing the challenges, the new situations and those conversations about what our new normal may look like, and you potentially miss out on opportunities for change,” Jenna said.
“Worries have a habit of chaining together and that just feeds your anxiety. If you’re able to talk about those anxieties you can lessen the load. I guess the old saying is true; ‘a problem shared is a problem halved.’”
Jenna noted that although the eased restrictions may resemble a more familiar society, there is no ‘getting back to normal’ following a pandemic, and some changes will be here to stay.
Everyone has different levels of tolerance for change, and it is normal for many to struggle adapting. Jenna says this is nothing to be ashamed of. If you are feeling highly stressed by the changes, or find the anxiety seems to be here to stay, visit your GP, who can refer you to a mental health professional.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
headspace: 1800 650 890
Mental Health Line: 1800 011511
National COVID-19 Helpline: 1800 020 080
OR Talk to your GP
If someone has attempted, or is at immediate risk of attempting to harm themselves or someone else, call
Triple Zero (000) immediately.
“Acceptance and embracing the uncertainty is really important, and rethinking the attitude towards uncertainty as well. For a lot of people this could be an opportunity for change toward something positive,” Jenna said.
Re-framing the changes from things you can’t control into opportunities for improvement can make a huge difference to your mental health. Maybe the social distancing has led to better hygiene practices, allowed a better work/life balance or helped your business create better digital communication.
“It could be an opportunity to embrace change and make things better, and live a life that you actually like living.”