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How to deal with the return to lockdown, according to a psychiatrist

How to deal with the return to lockdown, according to a psychiatrist

With many of us returning to lockdown, we chat with psychiatrist Dr Steve Ellen about the impact this is having on our mental health.

How to deal with the return to lockdown, according to a psychiatrist

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.

Currently living in Melbourne, Dr Steve is one of the many people stuck in lockdown again, after a surge of new cases in the state of Victoria.

As other cities and countries around the world find themselves returning to lockdown, we chat with Dr Steve to find out how this affects people psychologically and learn how to cope with the stress and anxiety of it all.

You’re based in Melbourne, how are you coping with the return to lockdown?

It’s a little scary, facing more uncertainty, worrying about the impacts of the lockdown, and adapting to wearing masks when outside.

On the other hand, I feel confident that we’re getting the best advice available, and so I feel confident we’ll get through this as safely as possible.

For many people, the idea of going back into lockdown is incredibly difficult. Can you explain how this change affects people psychologically?

People are really stressed, probably more so this time. Last time people quickly got on board and started supporting each other.

This time it seems we are spending a bit more time questioning the advice, mistrusting our experts, and blaming each other.

I think that’s a pretty normal response to stress, but nevertheless it’s creating a more anxious mood.

What are some of the emotions people might be feeling right now?

Anxiety, sadness, fear… but others get energised by a crisis and feel motivated, start planning, and actually like the feelings a crisis brings.

It highlights that we are all different, and we all respond differently.

No approach is necessarily better, in fact variety is good for a society, but it’s important that we realise we are a diverse bunch and we need to tolerate each other’s responses and understand that we won’t all agree all of the time.

Do you think it’s going to be harder than the first time going into lockdown?

Yes and no. On the one hand, it feels very frustrating that we now know that this could go on for a long time, but on the other hand, we already know what to do, how to adapt, and we’ve all learnt a little about how to stay sane during lockdown.

For many people returning to New Zealand and Australia, quarantine means being stuck alone in a hotel room for two weeks with limited human interaction. How do you think this experience impacts people psychologically?

I think hotel quarantine is particularly stressful because you are out of your comfort zone, often alone, often bored, and often confused about rules and what you can and can’t do.

It’s a recipe for distress. To add salt to the wound, some people are jetlagged from their travel, and haven’t got their phones and internet going yet.

So I think you need to be super vigilant about preparing yourself emotionally:

  • First, get as much structure into your days as possible. Set times for things, and try to keep yourself occupied mentally.
  • Pay very close attention to your sleep.
  • Try to exercise in the hotel room using online apps (there are many, especially great yoga videos and apps). Be careful with your nutrition and don’t drink too much. If you can, keep contact with your friends and family using the various online resources.
  • And finally, if you feel you aren’t coping, get help and get it early.

What are some coping techniques that may be helpful for people stuck in lockdown?

As well as the stuff I’ve mentioned, like paying attention to sleep, exercise, nutrition, relationships and stress, try some new approaches.

Try a gratitude journal, or online volunteering to support others, or creative things like online writing courses or other courses, or even try learning an instrument if you can get hold of one.

Also, think about becoming an expert in self-relaxation – try meditation apps or the various things like progressive muscle relaxation on YouTube.

READ MORE: Dr Ellen’s 9 tips for surviving lockdown.

Resources if you need to speak with someone about your mental wellbeing:

In New Zealand, you can text 1737 to talk with a trained counsellor for free or contact the Depression and Anxiety Helpline on 0800 111 757 or free text 4202.

In Australia, you can call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or visit their website to chat over the web.

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