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Mental Health Monday

If you know the New Zealand comedian Chris Parker you might have seen his Tik Toks that he post about lockdowns in Auckland. He posted a Tik Tok the other day comparing his reactions to the Level 4 Lockdown in 2020 compared to our current Level 4 Lockdown in 2021….

Lockdown 2020: “Another beautiful morning in lockdown!... Time for my morning walk!”

Lockdown 2021: “Omg… How is this still happening?!!”



https://www.tiktok.com/@chrisparkernz/video/7004587424282184965?is_copy_url=0&is_from_webapp=v1&sender_device=pc&sender_web_id=7007155128688772609

I don’t know about you, but I find Chris’s reactions to the different lockdowns super relatable… it’s almost as if he has a hidden camera in my house watching me wake up every morning…

What does this have to do with this blog post?

Well! If you don’t know me, my name is Lauren Meyer, I am a coach at Crossfit Kia Maia, and I am in my final year of completing a Bachelor of Health Science majoring in Psychology. I have been going a bit crazy this lockdown, study is overwhelming, training in the garage started off great but the novelty is slowly starting to wear off, the bin is slowly filling with empty cans of craft beer and creamy milk Whittaker’s chocolate, the dog is beginning to look at me funny, and I have kicked my little toe on the corner of a door 5 times in the last week with the expletives coming out of my mouth with each kick increasing ten-fold. Needless to say, this lockdown is becoming a struggle. So! I thought for my own sanity, and hopefully to help yours, I would start writing Mental Health Monday! blog posts which will include some tips found in research for coping with stress ☺

With the looming Alert Level decision due for 4pm today this could either be the only Mental Health Monday or it could be the first of a few! Either way, I hope that this information is either not required because you are having the absolute time of your life!... or it helps you survive the remainder of what is required for Auckland to once again be the protectors of Aotearoa New Zealand from the virus (thank you for your service).

It has been globally acknowledged by mental health professionals and researchers that COVID-19 lockdowns can take a significant toll on the mental health of those cooped up in their homes [1]. Lockdowns socially isolate us from our friends and family, they stop us from enjoying some of the coping activities we may use to maintain our mental health in normal circumstances (e.g. going to the gym), they take us away from our jobs that may contribute to our sense of identity and self-worth, and they can cause financial hardship and stress for a significant proportion of the population with the mandatory closure of businesses. These contributing factors can lead to boredom, loneliness, anger, fear, anxiety and in worst cases, depression [1]. Therefore, it makes sense if you are one of those people who are struggling! Not having control over the situation, the unknown waiting periods wondering, “Will the cases drop today?”, “There better not be any more mystery cases!”, and “When will we drop down an alert level?!” can be anxiety provoking and frustrating.

In acknowledgment of how lockdown can make us feel, I want to use these posts to provide you all with some tools to help combat these feelings. Some of you may already know all of this already, and that is amazing! But for those of you who either are new to the mental health space or need some reminding I am here to share ☺

Studies conducted since the initial lockdowns of the pandemic have shown that the best coping mechanisms for managing the negative psychological impacts of COVID-19 lockdowns are problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies [2] [3].

What is Problem-Focused Coping?

Problem focused coping is “a stress-management strategy in which a person directly confronts the stressor in an attempt to decrease or eliminate it” [4].

Problem focused coping involves facing the issue that is causing your stress head on, and treating the stressor as something within your ability to chance, resolving the underlying causes of your stress [4].

Now it may be hard to understand how problem focused coping can be put into practice in a government mandated COVID-19 lockdown when you feel like you may not have any control over your stressors?! However, there are so many things that are still within your control, just because you have no control over the broader decisions being made about your current situation (e.g. being stuck at home, not being able to work or go to the gym) does not mean you don’t have control over all of the other parts of your life.

To establish what you have control over and get into some problem-focused coping you may even want to try this exercise:

  1. Get yourself a piece of paper and if possible, some multi-coloured pens (always makes me way more excited to do this type of stuff when I have some pretty pens haha).

  2. Draw a picture of yourself in the middle of the page (in my case a stick figure because I have zero artistic talent…).

  3. Around the picture of yourself draw a big circle. Inside the circle is now your circle of influence and represents everything that you have some type of control over. Outside of the circle is outside of your circle of influence and represents all the things that you do not have control over in your current situation.

  4. Name your stressors (or things you know make life easier for you that you may not be doing). Write down all of the stressors you are experiencing that are within your circle of influence, or even just things you can control that you love! (things that are stressing you out or adding to any negative emotions you are experiencing).

  5. Solution time! Under each stressor within your circle of influence write down 1-2+ things that you can do to help relieve that stressor or goals you want to achieve in relation to each thing under your control.

Here is an example I have drawn ☺ (this is not completed, does not include everything… and yes I am the modern day Picasso, thank you).


Examples of things you can add to your days in lockdown that are within your control and have been associated with lower psychological distress include [1] [2] [3]:

  • Investing your time in leisure activities, such as doing a workout or playing some games/sports, making arts and crafts, reading, watching movies and TV,

  • Making the effort to socially connect through video calling,

  • Limiting exposure to social media, and

  • Ensuring that you only look for COVID-19 information from official sources.

What is Emotion-Focused Coping?

Emotion-focused coping is “a stress-management strategy in which a person focuses on regulating his or her negative emotional reactions to a stressor” [5].

Emotion-focused coping involves using a range of cognitive and behavioural tools in order to manage your feelings and emotional responses to stressors and is commonly used when you have no control over your stressors… so for all of the things outside of your circle of influence! [5] [6]

Emotion-focused coping includes using tools such as [5] [6]:

  • Relaxation techniques,

  • Positive reframing,

  • Wishful thinking,

  • Seeking social support,

  • Meditation,

  • Journaling,

  • Positive thinking, such as positive self-talk,

  • Practicing forgiveness, of yourself and others,

  • Reframing of the situation to look at it from a poor optimistic rather than pessimistic viewpoint,

  • Talking out issues with anyone involved, and

  • Talking with mental health care professionals.

Now that is A LOT to take in… In each blog post I will tackle some of the tools discussed above and how they can be applied, and hopefully you find this information relevant and useful ☺

Today I will leave you with a few optional challenges for you to tackle over the next week, including a few proven problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies.

  1. Find out what is in your circle of influence and make a commitment to focusing on what is within your control.

  2. Set yourself an achievable task to accomplish each day that is going to make you feel successful!

  3. Pick an emotion-focused coping tool and practice it every day for the next week! For example, start journaling for 5 minutes per day, or download the free trial for the Headspace app and do 5 to 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation per day.

Disclaimer:

It is important to acknowledge that this blog post is intended to provide information and is not professional advice. Information provided in this blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice from a qualified mental health professional. Please note that the information provided in this blog post is not intended to be therapy or psychological advice, not does it constitute a therapist/client relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified health provider with any questions you have regarding your mental health or physical well-being.

Where to get help:

References

[1] Rodríguez-Rey, R., Garrido-Hernansaiz, H., & Collado, S. (2020). Psychological impact and associated factors during the initial stage of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic among the general population in Spain. Frontiers in Psychology, 11(1540). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01540

[2] Agha, S. (2021). Mental well-being and association of the four factors coping structure model: A perspective of people living in lockdown during COVID-19. Ethics, Medicine and Public Health, 16(100605). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jemep.2020.100605

[3] Van Mulukom, V., Muzzulini, B., Rutjens, B. T., Van Lissa, C. J., & Farias, M. (2021). The psychological impact of threat and lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic: Exacerbating factors and mitigating action. Translational Behavioral Medicine.

[4] American Psychological Association, "Problem-focused coping," 2020. [Online]. Available: https://dictionary.apa.org/problem-focused-coping. [Accessed 13 August 2021].

[5] American Psychological Association, "Emotion-focused coping," 2020. [Online]. Available: https://dictionary.apa.org/emotion-focused-coping. [Accessed 13 August 2021].

[6] C. Raypole, "7 emotion-focused coping techniques for uncertain times," 21 April 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.healthline.com/health/emotion-focused-coping. [Accessed 13 August 2021].



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