Two Whanganui District Health Board mental health professionals say the Covid-19 lockdown brought about resilience, coping mechanisms and change.

Olive Redfern and Ron Kinsey have been reflecting on how they got through the last few months and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead as people continue to work through the impact of Covid-19.

Redfern is Whanganui DHB's dementia educator but, due to Covid-19 restrictions, she was unable to offer any training so instead worked in the DHB's welfare team, walking through the hospital daily through alert level 4 to check in with staff.

"Every day I was reminded of the resilience of people. We had so many things put upon us and we were required to adapt immediately."

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She said huge changes were made that included clinics moving and people working from home.

"WDHB staff got on with it, cared for patients and were prepared to put themselves on the frontline. It was a gift for me to be part of it. I like supporting people and I felt very privileged to be asked."

She said to manage stress, whether in a crisis or in other situations, people should try to have positive thoughts by engaging the thinking part of the brain that helps with problem solving.

"Often when we get stressed we engage the amygdala, the 'fight or flight' part of the brain, and we forget to engage the thinking brain."

Negative thoughts take people down a pathway that activates cortisol production, Redfern said.

"If we have positive thoughts, including gratitude and kindness, we engage the dopamine pathway and exhibit more positive emotions and behaviours."

But there is no one way of dealing with responses to an event like a global pandemic as what stresses one person might be exciting for another, Redfern said.

"It's about perception and understanding we are all different and just because one person has a way of being and doing doesn't mean it's going to work for everybody."

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Consultant psychologist Ron Kinsey wants people to focus on coping with 'the now' when trying to manage the stresses of Covid-19. Photo / Supplied
Consultant psychologist Ron Kinsey wants people to focus on coping with 'the now' when trying to manage the stresses of Covid-19. Photo / Supplied

Although people may not be able to control situations, they can control how they react and manage themselves, she said.

"Check in with your thinking every now and then. Stop, pause, breathe and reflect. Will another way of thinking get you through differently? Instead of looking at the big picture, break down goals into small, achievable tasks. Every time we achieve a little task we activate dopamine which gives us a good feeling."

She said even with knowledge and experience in managing stress and building resilience, she had to check in with herself during lockdown.

Redfern said people can expect emotional and mental health responses to resurface in the coming months and Ron Kinsey, consultant psychologist in the DHB's community mental health team, agrees.

"A lot of the referrals we are getting are for people with alcohol or drug overuse," Kinsey said.

"Probably anxiety will come through later on when people start to relax and take a breath. It's usually a bit delayed. Regrettably, family violence went up too as people were living in a microcosm and irritation and frustrations came through.

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"We are getting back to readjusting to society as a result of a disaster. We are reshuffling and working out what works. We will build confidence again that the world is safe, or safer. A vaccine might turn up and then we will on to the next problem. There will always be something but it's about learning how to cope with what's happening now."

Kinsey said mental health professionals could help people prepare for change or through job losses.

"From a mental health perspective we can't create jobs but what I am getting people to do is think about how they are going to cope now and what they are going to do. Some people might be forced into retirement and haven't planned for it. I encourage them to think differently. Sometimes it's possible, sometimes it's not.

"Because the response to Covid-19 was a whole country thing we are all in the same boat so we all sharing similar stories so people are not left out of the disaster/survivor stuff. We've all been there, we've all got through it and we will all have stories to tell. That's a plus."