There is no doubt that the presence of the Coronavirus / COVID-19 is causing emotional distress in the community and amongst individuals. In this article I outline why this happens, how you can manage your anxiety, and why it is important that you prioritise your self-care now.
Some initial research into the first month of COVID-19 found mental health difficulties were at least twice as prevalent as in non-pandemic circumstances. For some people the restrictions around COVID-19 are a blip in their lives, for others the impact is significant and ongoing. And, as to be expected, the people most impacted are the most vulnerable in society.
The need for practical, positive, flexible self-care to manage this ongoing anxiety and stress is clear.
WHY DOES THE PRESENCE OF COVID-19 TRIGGER FEAR?
In many people the presence of COVID-19 and being in the midst of a panademic triggers fear (as well as anger and sadness). At its most basic a pandemic represents a threat to life. You are given daily updated global totals of how many people have died. Additionally, the presence of COVID-19 threatens your health, your liberty, your place in society, and exposes the divide between the haves and the have nots, both locally and globally.
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE FLIGHT, FIGHT AND FREEZE RESPONSE?
When fear is triggered your body responds on instinct. It sends you into an acute stress response. Without you thinking about it, physiological changes in the body happen that are designed to keep you safe. These instinctive and primitive reactions cannot tell the difference between threats – that happens next. So your body responds as if the threat is right there – like having a ferocious tiger appear in front of you.
Once your brain identifies something as a threat to your safety, it sends a message to your adrenal glands requesting energy to take action.
When your body responds a cocktail of biochemical survival hormones are released such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, norepinpephrine and ephinephrine. These hormones influence everything you do, from eating and running to feeling, thinking and behaving. Your heart will start beating quicker as it pumps blood to the areas that your brain believes are needed right now, like your muscles. A rush of adrenaline causes your lungs to take in more oxygen which the heart pushes to the rest of the body. Your breathing becomes more rapid and shallow as the airway between the nose and the lungs constricts.
Examples of how the fight, flight and freeze responses are appearing in the community follow:
Includes arguing with the government and authorities, defiance (eg breaking the law and community standards – think house parties, extended family gatherings, toilet paper hoarding, refusing to be tested), blame, deflect, disbelief (eg conspiracy theories) increase of domestic violence, ostracization, and abuse.
Includes people fleeing to their holiday homes. Other people may avoid all societal contact, not even going out for daily walks.
Think stuck brain. Inability to change routines or do anything proactive. For example – binge watching Netflix, losing track of the day, not being able to adjust to current reality.
THEN WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE FEAR RESPONSE?
Usually when the situation that triggers the fear response disappears, your body starts to return to normal. The fear response is an emergency response and is designed for short term work. However, when a threatening situation is ongoing, like the threat of COVID-19, you can start to experience chronic stress.
Without engaging in intervention, like good self-care, your feelings can start to overwhelm you.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I EXPERIENCE CHRONIC STRESS?
Some of the common effects of chronic stress can include:
You want to look after yourself more, but seriously, who has the time (or energy) for that.
And really, what difference would it make anyway?
I get it.
When my children were young and didn't sleep very much self-care seemed like a luxury that I would get to , one day. I so wish I'd realised then, how incorporating little things that fitted what I was going through (no time, money or energy!) could make a difference.
Did you know that every time you make a choice you lose something? It’s called opportunity cost. It’s unavoidable because you can’t be in two places at once, you can’t browse Facebook and get the dishes done, you can’t eat pizza and fish and chips and Chinese for dinner – you have to make a choice.
And choosing to engage in self-care, or not…..
…is no different.
But first let’s take a brief detour and let me dispel a myth for you. Self-care is not all about pedicures, massages and pampering. Sure, whilst there’s no doubt that some people love this and it helps them rejuvenate themselves; it’s only one, small, aspect of self-care.
Self-care is all about YOU looking after your physical and mental health. The action you take can be positive, practical and personalised. That’s the best type of self-care – finding out what you need and doing what works for you.
Back to the opportunity cost of NOT prioritising self-care.
Not being mindful (one of the key self-care tools) can lead to forgetfulness, missing non-verbal cues in conversations and harming connection, not being present for the best moments in the day, missing the everyday beauty around you.
Not doing something that brings you joy can lead to resentment and sadness.
Not practicing gratitude can lead to envy and jealousy.
Not exercising can lead to depressed mood.
Not reaching out to others when you are feeling lonely can lead to increased isolation and lack of connection..
Not practicing self-acceptance can lead to a feeling of not being worthy and not speaking up for yourself.
Not going to the doctor can lead to undiagnosed and untreated physical illness.
Not enforcing boundaries can lead to burnout and a deep sense of being taken for granted.
So, in answer to the question that was posed at the start – what difference does engaging in self-care make anyway?
Incorporating positive, practical, self-care strategies that reflect YOUR needs can make a world of difference to your health, your mood, your life.
Now, just because it’s self-care, I really, really want to stress one thing.
You don’t have to do it all by yourself. I am here to help you work out what you need, what strategies will work best for you and your circumstances, and to teach you positive, practical strategies that take very little time.
Just to show you that these strategies don’t have to take long, here’s a simple one for you to try.
Look up from reading this and find something that catches your eye and makes you smile. Allow yourself to focus on this feeling and the thoughts that go with it. Maybe it’s something your chid made, maybe you bought it for a special reason, or at a special place. Maybe it is just beautiful or was given to you by a special person. Then, if this thing is cluttered by other things, make space for it to shine by itself.
That’s it. You have just practiced self-care. You have touched on emotional self-care, connection and meaning. You have also practiced using you Awe and appreciation of beauty muscle.
If you feel inclined to send me a quick email, I would love to know how you went with this exercise.
Ever shut up instead of standing up? Ever allowed others to shine whist dimming our own light. The world needs you to be at your best.
I talk about this and what may be stopping you in the latest podcast. How to stand up instead of shutting up. What it takes to express your authentic self.
And remember, if you want to be a part of the exclusive subscribers podcast group – all you need to do is subscribe to Creating Connections that Matter, leave a review, and email me a screen shot at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For an update list on different ways I can help you click here. And of course, I am currently available for Telehealth Counselling or Telehealth self-care coaching - email for more details.
Until next time, take care xx
As you may already know, podcasts are my go to at the moment. Whether it be catching up with the latest in psychology, business or self-development, I have a range I can choose from according to the move. Some are great for listening to in the car, some when I’m lying down resting, some for when I can’t sleep in the middle of the night, and others when I’m really in the mood to learn something new.
In fact, they are a perfect way for mums to learn. Some podcasts are short, some are longer, so you can pick and choose.
Below is a list of my top 6 favourites at the moment, although they do change from time to time.
Private Practice with Soul by Dr Brooklyn Storme.
The Content 10x – Amy Woods
Brand You Personal Branding – Mike Kim
Marketing that Converts by Teresa Heath-Wareing
Potential Psychology – Ellen Jackson
Parental as Anything ABC radio.
And a special shout out to two really new podcasts
Phoenix Rising with Gallagher Psychology by Patricia Gallagher, and
Course Creation Bites by Sam Winch
And of course I love my own (because it would pretty terrible if I didn’t!)
Creating Connections that Matter by Kim Dunn.
Do you listen to podcasts? If you've listened to mine I would love to know what you think, and I am always interested in what you would like to hear more of, simply drop me a quick email.
Have you ever been taken advantage of, had your trust betrayed, or got stuck in an unequal power relationship?
Trust – it’s a slippery little sucker.
What causes us to trust someone?
Do you trust people implicitly or does it take a long time to build up and develop trust that is quickly destroyed?
What do you trust people with – your secrets, your money, your heart, your life?
Trust and vulnerability are a cornerstone of connection.
It starts at birth.
Babies trust their mothers to feed them, pick them up when they cry, cuddle them. Responsiveness and predictability are key to attachment and connection.
As a psychologist, the relationship between myself and my client is inherently trust based.
My clients trust that I will do the right thing by them. That I will listen and seek to understand without judgement. That I will value and respect their experiences, their goals, their vulnerabilities. Within the clinic space they can let down their guards and don’t need to be strong. They trust that I will guide them using proven methods and honour their journey. That I will work within my expertise and the ethical and legal boundaries of the profession.
Did you realise that 50% of ‘success’ in therapy is due to the relationship between therapist and client. And when you think about how important trust is, this totally makes sense.
Many years ago I sought out counselling through the services provided by my then work, and began seeing a therapist. This person crossed boundary lines. They crossed boundary lines in a number of ways. I followed their behaviour up with a complaint, but that too was unsatisfactory.
This incident totally derailed the therapeutic process for me. It destroyed the connection. It created a mistrust of the counselling profession which I maintained for many years, and, a mistrust of my own experiences.
Why am I telling you this?
I have described an unequal power relationship which was abused by one party. This wasn’t the first time I experienced this and it wasn’t the last. It’s also not uncommon.
You may have experienced something similar.
Here is what may help:
If you are specifically looking for a mental health professional and want more information on professional and ethical conduct.:
I hope this helps. If you want to find out more about my story go to the latest podcast episode https://anchor.fm/kim-dunn/episodes/How-a-therapist-broke-my-trust---and-how-you-can-protect-yourself-against-something-similar-happening-to-you-ear293.
As always you are welcome to email me or book an appointment on 0408533515.
Until next time, take care of yourself
There's one thing that's guaranteed to happen at Christmas...
And what can happen when you wait?
Frustration, impatience. There's so much to do, why can't everyone just hurry up or move quicker.
Well no matter how much you want that to happen, it's probably not going to.
So what can you do?
Believe it or not, this is a great time to practice tapping into your inner calm. Here's one way to practice self-care on the go.
Simply roll your shoulders up and back and take a deep breath, then repeat the breathing. Focus your attention inward to your breath instead of outwards towards what is going on around you.
Yep, that's it - simple, on the go self-care that works.
Until next time, keep it simple and...
Take care of yourself.
Creating connection involves stepping out of our comfort zone, making changes to how we think and what we do. But it is crucial if we are to combat this scourge of loneliness that surrounds us, that contributes to isolation, mental health difficulties and suicide.
So I'm stepping into this mission I have to help you create connections with yourself, others and the greater world. I can't sit by and just accept what is impacting on all of us.
It is through strengthening these connections that we raise the positive energy around us that we all need.
I welcome you to come along on this journey with me.
Today I'm sharing a little video that shows how we can all make a difference, straight away, today with not adding any extra time chores to our list...because we all have way too many as it is.
I really believe in self-care, but find I can get to the end of the day and realise I actually haven't done it. Running a small business and medium sized family looking after myself is really important, or I will get burnt out.
So, I thought this week I would schedule it in.
I sat down at the beginning of the week and thought Wednesday morning and Friday afternoon, they look like good times to have a few hours break to myself. Monday and Tuesday I will work on my business doing admin, marketing, exploring possible new sub contractors etc. Wednesday afternoon I have private clients, Thursday I need to work on assessments and client notes/plan, Friday assessment to do.
So welcome to Wednesday morning. My youngest has had ongoing minor medical health issues. These popped up again on Tuesday, so first priority this morning was to make an appointment for him and take him. Then my middle child informs me that they, and a number of other students, were excluded from important career sessions at school and they have not been informed of when they will be allowed to catch up. So, parenting task no.2.
Rang middle child's school. The person in charge of careers said they had nothing to do with the careers assessment and gave me a contact name. The person was unavailable. All possible avenues to speak to at the school were unavailable. At this point I have left phone messages with two different people and am waiting for a phone call.
When I dropped my youngest child back at school after their medical appointment I popped in to see the Special Needs Co-ordinator about some of the clients I have at school. Had a quick chat and picked up some paperwork that required action.
Okay, so I’m home now, just a couple of admin tasks to do before I could have a work free morning, or an hour or two.
Came home and called the parent of the child whose paperwork it was. Received permission to forward paperwork to another professional. Went to scan paperwork that I had picked up, and discovered the scanner on my printer wouldn’t work. I have never used it before. Looked up and tried to follow instructions on website, didn’t work. Contacted HP support. They explored and told me the driver hadn’t been installed properly in the first place. The support person was helpful, and proceeded to fix the problem, but there went more of the morning. When call had finished, scanned documents, sent email.
I quickly checked emails and had responded to latest email from potential sub-contractor. Organised information that needed to be dropped off to another allied health professional.
By then it was lunch time……
I am currently writing this whilst listening to a work related youtube video, as my first client for this afternoon cancelled. I have ten minutes before I need to go to work.
I’ll try again Friday…..
ps all was not lost. Wherever I am I can practice informal mindfulness. For example, when waiting in the medical appointment I practiced mindfulness in the chair. Grab it when you can....
Meet Wally. Wally is a Wok. It took me about 10 years to buy Wally. He cost all of $35.
About 10 years ago we had a new gas stove top put in. One of the burners is really hot and the sales person said it would be perfect for Wok cooking. I like to think of myself as a relatively healthy eater, although I know this is very close to being self-delusional. So, I thought great. I like stir fries we'll be a Wok and give it a go.
Except we didn't, buy a wok that is.
I don't know exactly why not. This is a wonderful example thought of putting off things that are good for us without any real reason what so ever. This includes getting a massage, going back to water aerobics or going to the movies with my husband.
I bought Wally today, 10 years later, to make a chicken and vegetable stir fry. I even bought the chicken. Then I got home and took the sticker off Wally and found some small scratches under the big label. He is a non-stick wok, and I hate shopping so I decided that was probably OK. Then I looked at all the steps I had to do to season my wok before first use.
I decided that my husband could make fried rice for tea in the frypan and I would write a new blog post.
Here's to our self-care journeys.
If you know other people who may struggle a little on their self care journeys, please share this blog and make them feel better :).
* My aim is for these posts is meant to useful, interesting and/or inspiring. They are not designed to be used for therapy..
Kim Dunn is a Child Psychologist and Founder of Positive Young Minds.