New Zealand is set to go into lockdown for at least four weeks starting midnight tomorrow. One mental health expert says the toll this is already taking on people's wellbeing is significant. Auckland clinical arts psychotherapist Ingrid Ying Wang offers 10 tips to help you manage your wellbeing.
1. Focus on what you can control and manage.
You cannot control the virus or what's happening outside. It might be hard for you to control your thoughts and emotions when you hear the upsetting developments of the outbreak but you can control how you respond. Go for a bath, give your pet a cuddle, read some positive books, play with your children, do some gardening, tidy up your room ... just focus on the present moments, here and now. You can control these little things but all little things contribute to the health of your mind and body.
2. Set up shared goals for the family.
Maybe you and your family all share the anxiety. You can set up small goals for the family. The goals don't need to be looking at what we will do after the outbreak or what financial goals you need to achieve for your family business. Set up goals you can manage now. For example, a shared goal for "getting through this challenging time together without losing any loved ones" and small goals such as getting the garden tidy, reorganising the bookshelf, teaching a family member a new skill, or developing a shared hobby.
3. Keep yourself active - physically and mentally.
Yes, lockdown means you cannot swim in a public swimming pool or go to the gym but, you can do push ups even you live in a small apartment. There are many YouTube teaching clips for yoga, dance, tai chi and other activities. Set up a regular exercise routine for yourself and choose one or two activities you like and which also suit your physical capabilities. Also, it is important to exercise your mind. For example, reading books. The library is closed but there are e-books and many of them are free. Watch intellectually stimulating movies and inspiring talks. If you have a musical instrument at home, try learning a few new songs. I have a ukulele and a guqin (a Chinese traditional instrument) to keep me busy and calm.
4. Recognise your feelings and thoughts.
It is okay to feel sad, angry and anxious. When you notice your emotional distress, you can try to summarise it into short statements. For example: I am angry because my partner does not understand my worries; I am anxious because of my job; I am sad because of the news. Sometimes acknowledging your feelings and emotions helps you to externalise the stress and anxiety into clearer thoughts rather than bottling up this emotional distress in your mind and storing it. While you recognise your feelings and thoughts, go back to your present moment. Go back to tip 1 - focus on what you can control and manage. Take a deep breath and go do something which can make you more relaxed.
5. Identify your triggers and signs for possible mental health issues.
It is important to identify signs. For example, noticing tightness in your chest, shortness of breath, being unable to sleep or sleeping too much, eating too little or eating too much, headaches, passing suicidal thoughts or impulses for hurting someone else. Also try to identify triggers. For example: too much negative news, children's noise, stressful emails from your employer or your partner's nagging.
6. Express your emotions in a healthy way.
Everyone has their own ways of coping with emotional distress. Some ways are more damaging than helpful - for example: drug use, turning to alcohol or online gambling. Arguing and violence also create more problems than solutions. You can think about what you enjoy the most and develop them into the coping methods. This could be keeping a daily diary, writing a poem or creating art - creativity is a powerful tool for building resilience.
7. Open up about your feelings and concerns to friends and family.
Setting up support systems for each other is beneficial to get through this time together. Talking to others might help you to understand your situation is common for everyone at this time. Talk to your friends and family if you do feel emotional distress. Again, sharing will help you externalise your emotions and feelings. If you feel you have suicidal thoughts or are at risk of harming others, please tell your friends or family. Working out a safety plan for yourself with family or by talking to professionals from a helpline. For example: what number or person can I call if I feel I am overwhelmed by negative thoughts? What positive thoughts can replace my dark thoughts? Who can help me to call an emergency number if I am really on edge? What can I do to reduce the risk? Remember, there are people who can help you.
8. Seek help through the helplines listed below.
9. Give others love and care.
Be kind and caring. Giving others help makes us feel happier too. Please call your neighbours or friends who need more social connections, especially vulnerable elderly or someone who lives alone. Sometimes a warm greeting like "how are you doing" is very helpful and powerful for people who need more social support.
10. Remember five key words: Connected, creative, giving, learning and active.
These five key factors contribute to wellbeing - both physical and mental health. All the tips above fit into these five key words. Most importantly, belief in ourselves. We need to remember New Zealanders have gone through World War I, World War II and the Great Depression in 1920s-30s. We can go through another great social trauma together again by caring for ourselves and each other.
*Wang is a clinical arts psychotherapist. She works privately with a group of psychotherapists in a medical centre. She is also contracted with ACC as a sensitive claim therapist and with Asian Family Services as a therapist and researcher. She's been working in the mental health sector since 2016 with clients from many backgrounds.
Where to get help?
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234
ASIAN HELPLINE: 0800 862 342 (they have language-appropriate support).
There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.