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Missed our Facebook Live with psychiatrist Dr Steve Ellen? Here’s a recap

Missed our Facebook Live with psychiatrist Dr Steve Ellen? Here’s a recap

Dr Ellen chatted to editor in chief Michael McHugh on Facebook live about the mixed emotions we are experiencing as we start transitioning out of lockdown.

Missed our Facebook Live with psychiatrist Dr Steve Ellen? Here’s a recap

Dr Steve Ellen is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Melbourne and the Director of Psychosocial Oncology at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

From combatting boredom to dealing with mixed emotions, read up on Dr Ellen’s expert advice as we move out of life in lockdown.

Skills to relax, switch-off and deal with stress

Dr Ellen says that when trying to relax, it’s important to go back to the basics.

“I’m big on the basics: exercise basically every day, have good nutrition, limit alcohol and caffeine and sleep. If I don’t exercise more than 4 or 5 days in a row then I notice myself worrying more. Seek professional help when appropriate”.

Combatting boredom

With the pandemic disrupting our normal routine and limiting what we can’t and can’t do, many people have grappled with boredom.

Dr Ellen says the key to tackling boredom is to mix it up, professionally and personally. “I don’t like boredom at all, I move around a lot academically. I change the different areas of medicine I work in,” he says.

“I’m also a big believer in work/life balance so I work 3-4 days a week and then I have a range of hobbies I’m involved in. I have a podcast called “shrink the virus”. I’ve written a book. I do a whole lot of other things”.

Keeping the balance

It’s a stressful time for most people around the globe, and many people are dealing with life-changing challenges. Dr Ellen offers his insight for dealing with the rough times.

“Everything can get out control at times,” he admits. “My average would be 3 months a year when things out of control and I don’t sleep well, 3 months when things are going super smooth and 6 months that are in between.”

The trick, he says, is figuring out what works for you. “I’m 56 so I’m used to the ebb and flow now. I know emotions are temporary and to ride them out. I know during the stressful time and I need to pay more attention to my sleep, exercise and nutrition.”

Dealing with uncertainty

Coping with uncertainty and anxiety are common themes at the moment. Dr Steve acknowledges the strange mix of emotions the pandemic has given rise to.

“The sense of anxiety is extremely heightened at the moment because no-one knows what is going to happen,” he explains. “The overwhelming theme is uncertainty because we don’t know where we are heading.”

People are also feeling unsettled as they experience both positive and negatives out of the pandemic.

“There’s also a strange dichotomy of the fear we feel on one hand and the various silver linings on the other hand, like the opportunity to reconnect with family, isolate, think through different priorities in life, work from home and think about different careers.

“This incredible mix of emotions is a very strange experience and no one knows the answers.”

Re-evaluating life

The pandemic has afforded a few silver linings says Dr Ellen. “One of the big spin-offs (of social isolation) is the ability to sit back and reflect,” he says.

“There’s a type of psychological therapy called Existential psychotherapy that was developed by the psychiatrist Irvin Yalom who noticed that people who had cancer and faced death re-evaluated their life and relationships. He developed the therapy on the basis that we could re-evaluate our life without facing the horror of near death.”

This re-evaluation is what we are facing now, he explains. “We are all dealing with our own mortality and that of our loved ones and we are all reprioritising.”

Dr Ellen hopes some of these great parts coming out of this horrible experience will remain. “I think this will be one of the defining moments, how we dealt with it, how we managed, how we rearranged.

“I don’t think a lot of us were overly happy with the world 6 months ago. We were over-capitalistic, there was a skewing towards attributes we didn’t love. We were skewing away from community, we were getting the balance wrong.

“Once we get through the pandemic I don’t think we will go back to the same way, I think we will re-evaluate our priorities. I think the shake-up we are getting from this pandemic will be the biggest silver lining to offsite the tragedy.”

Watch the full interview below:


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