How to maintain mental wellbeing during worldwide trauma

The announcement of COVID-19 as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) has changed the lives of people physically, mentally and socially. With ever changing updates and restrictions, it can be hard for people to remain calm in a time of global crisis.

Professor Mitch Byrne is an IHMRI affiliate from UOW’s School of Psychology, with research focuses including mental health, and trauma. He said the first step is to acknowledge what it is we are feeling, and why.

“There are two types of worry: productive worry and unproductive worry. The latter involves worry without problem solving or scenario mapping. The former acknowledges the validity of our concerns, but leads to a process of planning. Part of that planning in the current crisis is information gathering and enhancement of health literacy.”

Use your time at home wisely

There has been ample advice on how to maintain normality in the event of a lockdown. Professor Byrne said that creating distraction has historically been recommended in times of uncertainty, such as using the cinema as an entertainment source during World War II.

“In an age of COVID-19, we don’t have that external distraction and must create it. Stay connected with the outside world. Use the telephone to talk with friends and family. If you have the resources, Skype or use some other virtual medium. Have breaks from reading about COVID-19 and read for pleasure. Remember to take time to stretch and move about to maintain a level of fitness.”

New language could boost anxiety

The terms “isolation” and “social distancing” have been used a lot in recent weeks. Professor Byrne says that while we should be practicing social distancing to better our physical health in the time of coronavirus, the language could be detrimental.

“‘Social distancing’ has the potential to be interpreted as de-socialisation and for some, this may promote a more inward looking world view with less connection to others. We need to define actions or behaviours, so ‘physical distancing’ is better, as it has less psychological impact, but also because it defines the outcome sought.”

Additionally, he said that clearer and more consistent messaging from authorities could help alleviate these stresses.

How to we bounce back?

Professor Byrne said that uncertainties around the future adds stress to already vulnerable groups.

“Longer term effects are likely to leave some with a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness to shape their future. What we need to do is assist people to empower themselves by providing skills in problem solving and solution generation and we need governments to provide a sense of confidence that their efforts at solving problems will have impact.”

According to Professor Byrne, now could be a good time to connect with older family members to discuss how they dealt with global crises like wars and The Great Depression.

“Things do get better, and what we need to focus on is maintaining our psychological and physical strength so that we are ready to re-engage with prosperity when it will no doubt return.”

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