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Source: Massey University

By Dr Kirsty Ross

As Aotearoa navigates another Covid outbreak, I am mindful of the value of taking time to pause and do a wellbeing check for ourselves, and those we love and care for. Wellbeing is something that is worthy of putting effort and time into each day, but events like Mental Health Awareness Week remind us of the importance of taking stock and asking ourselves and others “Are you ok?”

I have had many conversations recently about the impact of lockdown. One of the key things that I have reflected on is the mental load and fatigue that comes from being not just in a heightened state of alert and vigilance during a global pandemic, but experiencing those feelings at the same time as being in close proximity to others in our households.

Being in lockdown (or under restrictions) with others means we are acutely aware of how they are doing, their needs, and their emotional wellbeing – while trying to manage our own emotions. Under normal circumstances, when our housemates, partners, family members, children leave the house and attend school/work/activities, we get a break from each other, and can focus on our tasks at hand. Being in a household for an extended period of time – with the same people without a break – can be challenging. For people managing work and schooling for their children, there has been no break from the constancy of parenting, alongside the need to do the additional tasks of teaching whilst also working and doing other required duties.

The sheer increased sensory load of having people around each other 24/7 has led to frazzled nerves for people, and the need for silence and some quiet time has been quite urgent at times! The mental load of extra responsibilities and awareness of other’s emotions requires self-care and regular breaks to recharge to enable you to support those you care about.  

In contrast to those who have been in full households, for some people, the past few months have been really lonely. They have been on their own in restrictions and lockdowns – or with people they don’t feel strong connections with (people who are new to the country or to their area, or those living with people they don’t know well, such as flatmates, people in hostels). Loneliness is something that can occur when you are by yourself, but can also happen when you are with others. It is a sense of not feeling connected, understood or accepted by those around you and is different to sadness or anxiety, although can occur alongside those feelings too. Feeling connected to others – whether they are in the same house or even town – enables us to share our feelings and needs, and to access support when we need it. The need to be physically distanced over the past few months has meant some people have been quite isolated and lonely. We need to ensure we remain connected to people in other ways, and that isn’t always easy for people, especially those who may not have access to the digital resources to do so.

So, when we talk about wellbeing and mental health this week, it is important to recognise the additional load we have been under and the balance between time with others, and time to devote to our self-care. Wellbeing involves looking after our physical health (nutrition, hydration, physical activity, sleep), our emotional wellbeing, staying connected to people and remaining engaged in activities that lift our soul and fill our hearts – things that bring meaning and joy to our lives. When our usual ways of caring for ourselves and others around us are blocked, being creative about wellbeing and keeping this as a focus is vital. Being able to ride waves of distress and emotion and tolerate the uncertainty of current times requires putting time and attention into your wellbeing – not only for ourselves but also for our whānau and our communities.

Being resilient involves caring for yourself, but it is not just an individual responsibility or concept. Resiliency involves people caring for people, and supporting each other as we walk down paths never walked before.

So, during this week, take the time to think about balance. Balance between time with others and time for yourself, work-life balance, and making time to sit with and talk about emotions such as sadness, worry, anger with people you feel connected to – whilst taking time to do things that bring you happiness and joy. Put time into your connections and relationships. Share your emotions with others, and give others the gift of inviting them to share theirs, by opening up a conversation with the simple words “How are you doing?”

Dr Kirsty Ross is a Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, at Massey University’s School of Psychology.

MIL OSI