As people bunker down in preparation for the long months ahead under quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic, the issue of good mental health and well-being has become as important as the need for physical exercise and nutrition.
So what can Port Stephens residents do to keep their minds engaged while dealing with the stresses of everyday life under COVID-19 restrictions?
Gill Fletcher, a clinical counsellor and accredited mental health practitioner with the Nelson Bay-based Yacaaba Centre, has been supporting people for many years to build resilience, confidence and self-esteem.
She believes that people in self-imposed quarantine need to take a holistic view of their mental, physical and spiritual health.
She has provided readers with a list of mental health wellness tips using the acronym SEEDS - Sleep, Exercise, Engagement (keeping our minds engaged), Diet (eating healthily), and Social connection.
SEEDS was first termed by best-selling author John Arden [Rewire your Brain, The Brain Bible].
"The acronym makes for a good memory jogger for people in quarantine," Ms Fletcher said.
Tips for mental health well-being:
1. Stick to a routine. Go to sleep and wake up at a reasonable time, write a schedule that is varied and includes time for work as well as self-care.
2. Dress for the social life you want. Get showered and dressed in comfortable clothes, wash your face, brush your teeth. Take a bath or a facial. Put on some bright colours.
3. Get out to exercise or find some time to move at least once a day, for at least 30 minutes. If you don't feel comfortable going outside, there are many YouTube videos that offer free movement classes, and if all else fails, turn on the music and dance.
4. Reach out to others once daily for 30 minutes. Try to do FaceTime, skype, phone calls, texting - connect with other people to seek and provide support. Don't forget to do this for your children as well.
5. Stay hydrated and eat well. Stress and eating often don't mix well, and we find ourselves over-indulging, forgetting to eat, and avoiding food. Drink plenty of water and eat nutritious foods.
6. Develop a self-care toolkit. This can involve a sensory component (seven senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell, vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (comforting pressure). Examples: a soft blanket or stuffed animal, a hot chocolate, photos of vacations, comforting music, lavender or eucalyptus oil, a small swing or rocking chair, a weighted blanket. A journal, an inspirational book, or a mandala coloring book are wonderful. For children,help them create a self-regulation comfort box (often a shoe-box) that they can use for first-aid when overwhelmed.
7. Spend extra time playing with children. Children will rarely communicate how they are feeling, but will often make a bid for attention and communication through play, which is how they process their world and problem solve.
8. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and a wide berth. A lot of cooped up time can bring out the worst in everyone. It is important to move with grace through blowups and to not hold grudges and continue disagreements.
9. Everyone find their own retreat space. For children, help them identify a place where they can go to retreat when stressed, such as blankets, pillows, cushions, scarves, beanbags, tents, and "forts".
10. Expect behavioral issues in children, and respond gently. Expect increased anxiety, worries and fears, nightmares, difficulty separating or sleeping, testing limits, and meltdowns. Do not introduce major behavioral plans or consequences at this time.
11. Focus on safety and attachment. We are going to be living for a bit with the unprecedented demand of meeting all work deadlines, homeschooling children, running a sterile household, and making a whole lot of entertainment in confinement. Focus on strengthening the connection through time spent following their lead, through physical touch, through play, through therapeutic books, and via verbal reassurances.
12. Lower expectations and practice radical self-acceptance. Give yourself what psychologists call "radical self acceptance": accepting everything about yourself, your current situation, and your life without question, blame, or pushback.
13. Limit social media and COVID conversation, especially around children. One can find tonnes of information on COVID-19 to consume, and it changes minute to minute. Find a few trusted sources that you can check in with consistently, limit it to a few times a day, and keep news and alarming conversations out of earshot from children.
14. Notice the good in the world, the helpers. There are many stories of people sacrificing, donating, and supporting one another in miraculous ways.
15. Help others. Find ways, big and small, to give back to others. Support restaurants, offer to grocery shop, check in with elderly neighbors, write psychological wellness tips for others-helping others gives us a sense of agency when things seem out of control.
16. Find something you can control: organise your bookshelf, purge your closet, put together that furniture, group your toys. Or find a long-term project to dive into. Learn how to play the keyboard, put together a huge jigsaw puzzle, paint a picture, read, binge watch an 8-season show, crochet a blanket, solve a Rubix cube, or develop a new town in Animal Crossing.
17. Engage in repetitive movements and left-right movements. Research has shown that knitting, coloring, painting, clay sculpting, jump roping, running, drumming, skating, hopping, etc. can be effective at self-soothing and maintaining self-regulation in moments of distress.
18. Find an expressive or creative art (sculpting, drawing, dancing, music, singing, playing) and give it your all. Find lightness and humor in each day: cat videos on YouTube, a stand-up show, a funny movie.
19. Reach out for help, your team is there for you. If you have a therapist or psychiatrist, they are available to you, keep up your medications and your therapy sessions the best you can. If you are having difficulty coping, seek out help for the first time. There are mental health people on the ready. Your children's teachers and related service providers will do anything within their power to help. Seek support groups of fellow home-schoolers, parents, and neighbors to feel connected.
20. "Chunk" your quarantine, take it moment by moment. We have no road map for this. Engage in a strategy called "chunking", focusing on whatever bite-sized piece of a challenge that feels manageable. Whether that be five minutes, a day, or a week at a time.
21. Remind yourself daily that this is temporary. It seems in the midst of this quarantine that it will never end. Take time to remind yourself that although this is very scary and difficult, and will go on for an undetermined amount of time, it is a season of life and it will pass. We will return to feeling free, safe, busy, and connected in the days ahead.
22. Find the lesson. This whole crisis can seem sad, senseless, and at times, avoidable. A key feature to helping someone work through trauma is to help them find their agency, the potential positive outcomes they can effect, the meaning and construction that can come out of destruction. What can each of us learn here, what needs to change in ourselves, our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world?