Written by Patrick Wright, posted to ABC Everyday on 27 May 2021, updated 28 June 2021.
It’s understandable if you are feeling upset, anxious or frustrated by news of another lockdown.
Dr Zena Burgess, chief executive of the Australian Psychological Society, says people can expect to feel all these emotions, along with fatigue and exhaustion.
“You also might have a shorter fuse or feel more irritable,” she says.
As we prepare to retreat to our homes, it’s important to be mindful of the impacts of uncertainty and isolation.
Here are some strategies from psychologists to help you manage your mental health in lockdown.
Focus on what you can control
When it’s unclear what will happen tomorrow or the next day, and plans are thrown into chaos, it can be very unsettling.
Dori Kabillo, a psychologist and director of psychology clinics across Melbourne, says the uncertainty can have big impacts on our mental health.
“We talk about focusing on the things you can control, and not on the things you can’t,” she says.
“In your environment, you can find little things you can control. We talk about managing your hygiene, wearing masks, even reaching out and connecting to people.”
With her clients, she often discusses a framework called FACE, developed by medical practitioner and author Russ Harris.
It involves four practical steps that can help you manage uncertainty and anxiety during difficult times.
- F – Focus on what’s in your control.
- A – Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings.
- C – Come back into your body (exercise, stretches or breathing exercises can all help).
- E – Engage in what you’re doing.
One useful technique is box breathing, which involves taking slow, deep breaths. It can be done several times throughout the day and can help calm nerves and relieve stress.
Take breaks from news and technology
While it’s important to be aware of what’s going on, it helps to give yourself a break from distressing news and social media feeds.
“The problem is when you’re getting caught up in news or social media, and it’s eating up your time and it’s doing more harm than good,” says Dr James Collett, a lecturer in psychology at Melbourne’s RMIT University.
Dr Collett says it can help to focus on “conscious and active” use of social media and news, rather than using it as a distraction.
“If it’s not helping, think about times when you can switch off the phone, or when you can check in with the news rather than being constantly connected,” he says.
If you can, avoid screen time in the hours leading up to bedtime.
“It can really harm sleeping patterns, and disrupted sleep patterns have a massive flow-on effect for our overall wellbeing,” Dr Collett says.
“For some people, the bombardment of news reports may also be overwhelming or distressing,” Dr Burgess adds.
“If that’s the case, limit your media exposure and stick to trusted sources of information.”
Remember you’re not alone
One of the most important things for our mental health is to feel connected to those around us.
While lockdowns may add a physical barrier to our relationships, it’s important we keep reaching out to friends, family and other loved ones, Ms Kabillo says.
For those with loved ones in areas under lockdown, be considerate, offer support and most importantly listen.
Ms Kabillo says it’s helpful to think back to what worked — and what didn’t — in previous lockdowns.
“We’ve proved that we are highly adaptable. We managed to connect in different ways, and I think it’s about reminding ourselves of what we used to do,” she says.
If you’re struggling, support is available
If you are feeling stressed or anxious, there is support available.
“Don’t underestimate the impact on your mental health or try to soldier on if you’re struggling,” Dr Collett says.
“If anyone is finding their mental health to be affected by lockdown, they can get in touch with their local GP or a psychologist directly.
“Many psychologists are offering services through telehealth. They’re well-trained and willing to help. Don’t forget that support is out there.”
The Australian Psychological Society has also published information and guides for managing the mental health impacts of lockdowns.
If you or anyone you know needs help: