Pandemics have a shape. At the beginning, everything is unknown and we often feel fearful and overwhelmed by the thought of what might unfold. Then we start to become familiar with the features of the beast, how it works, who is at risk, and we start to learn some strategies for staying out of its way. As time passes, however, and we continue to live under its shadow, we may start to feel the long-term effects of living with anxiety, stress and uncertainty.
It has been a long year, with no end in sight (a new year may or may not bring good news) and many of us are feeling tired. Bone tired.
If we live in a country like Australia that has managed to largely get the virus under control, we may even be feeling a bit guilty that we have escaped the worst of it.
The reality is, nearly everyone has had their life altered by what has happened this year. People have lost jobs, children have had their school year turned on its head—teachers are teaching remotely and parents are home schooling, every business has had to pivot at speed and almost every job has changed significantly. Many of us have been at home so it may have changed the nature of our relationships with family, for better or worse. We have been cut off from friends and other loved ones and we may not have been able to do many of the things that make our lives meaningful and rich.
We may also have lost people to this relentless virus (if this is you, our hearts go out to you).
Even if we live in a place that is in relatively good shape in terms of COVID-19, it is important to acknowledge that it has been a hugely difficult year. Of course, for lots of people, there have also been significant gifts and insights that have come out of this experience.
Taking the time to reflect on how you are travelling is really important. How are your family travelling? Your students or clients?
If you are not travelling so well, or you realise the people in your life are not traveling so well, just know that you are not alone. Nearly everyone’s mental health and wellbeing has been impacted—and there is a lot of support out there.
What can I do to support myself or others around mental health at the moment?
There are many tried and true things we can do to help us stay mentally healthy. These may include protective behaviours like being active, eating well, getting enough sleep, practising mindfulness or meditation, and staying connected to the people we care about. When things get too tough to handle on our own, seeing a counsellor, psychologist or doctor can also help.
After many months of lockdowns and uncertainty, even the most resilient and buoyant of us may be starting to feel a bit flat. If this is you, or you are supporting someone who is struggling right now, there are some great resources out there that can help. Australian organisations like Beyond Blue, The Black Dog Institute, Headspace (for teenagers aged 12-25) and Kids Helpline have loads of information and links. Apps like Smiling Mind can also be great for helping young people be mindful and track how they are feeling day to day. Beyond Blue even have a specific Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service.
Some other tools to stay connected and create conversations about mental wellbeing
One of the things that has been so difficult about this pandemic is being separated from the people we care about. We thought we would also share a few of the tools published by Innovative Resources that you might want to use to connect with others. These are conversation-building tools for creating meaningful, supportive conversations about mental health and wellbeing.
Nearly all of the card sets are available in hardcopy or digital formats. The digital cards and Apps are great for using remotely. You can write or draw on them, bookmark favourite cards, save and print them.
When it comes to looking after yourself, your family or your team, Self-Care for Home and Work is a great tool to get the ‘self-care’ conversation started. What helps you to look after yourself? What could you be doing more? What could you be doing less? This set of 50 cards uses the metaphor of birds and includes a single word on the front and two questions on the back of each card.
Next Steps and Anxiety Solutions are incredibly useful for supporting people to describe what is happening to them right now and what might help them to move forward. Next Steps is a set of images of everyday situations—having a cup of tea, making the bed, calling a friend, having a shower—and can be used to help people think about some really simple, practical things they can do to help them get unstuck. Anxiety Solutions includes a range of different strategies, one on each card, for managing anxiety.
The new Growing Well App is a great way for people to track their mental health over time. Arising out of evidence-based research, this set of simple scaling tools is built around five key indicators of mental health: Being Organised, Being Satisfied, Being Healthy, Being Connected and Being Active. As it is an App, it is easy to use and completely portable.
Teenagers may be reluctant to talk about how they are feeling. This is where a highly-visual conversation-starting tool can be really useful.
Reflexions includes 34 full-colour cards for talking to young people about feelings and identity. They include five ‘Able to…’ cards which are great for honing in on practical steps to create change.
PostCards: from me to you (only available in hardcopy) is a set of 20 soulful but edgy postcards with messages on them, like, Are you OK?, Believe, Best Wishes!, Can We Talk?, Can’t Stop Thinking About …, Feeling …, Celebrate! and Deadly. You (or the young person) can write your own message on the back of the card and then post it to them, leave the card in their letter box, slip it under the door or give it to them in person.
Teenagers can be pretty down on themselves at times, which can make it hard for them to notice their strengths and resources. Having the ability to notice your own strengths can help you stay motivated, lift mood, challenge distorted thinking patterns and create a positive future picture. Choosing Strengths is a fun, creative and highly visual tool that encourages young people to think about their own strengths, how they can cultivate new strengths or borrow strengths from others, or choose to focus on their strengths rather than their deficits.
If you are a teacher, parent, carer or grandparent, chances are you’ve been concerned about the impact that this virus, and all the worries and anxieties that come with it, is having on the children in your life. Often children internalise the stress of the adults and broader society in a generalised way so they may find it hard to put a finger on exactly what they are feeling and why. This may then come out in uncharacteristic behaviours, body signals or heightened feelings. These tools are great for helping children navigate their way through this sometimes challenging territory.
Anxiety Solutions for Kids is great set of cards to use with individual children or in a classroom setting. Each card includes a simple strategy children can do to help soothe worry and calm anxiety. You could choose a card each day, try a bunch and let the children pick their favourites (they include a range of different types of strategies including distraction, mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy, art, movement) or deliberately choose strategies for specific children.
The Bears, Body Signals and Tell A Trusted Adult cards are perfect for having conversations about feelings, emotions and body signals. These cards include a range of colourful characters that children love and are great for storytelling, externalising emotions, normalising children’s feelings and helping children to share what they are experiencing.
Tactile resources like the Koala Company Therapy Ball, Pocket of Stones or the weird and wonderful Mood Dudes can also be fun ways to encourage children to reflect on how they are feeling while they are playing (they won’t even know they are doing it)!
If you have some helpful tips or strategies for staying positive, we would love you to share them in the comments below.