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Life During and After a Pandemic

The word "unprecedented" has been used a lot recently. This word has been specifically used in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic and whilst it fits the situation in some aspects, it seems to miss a few marks for me. The definition of the word is "never done or known before.", which is somewhat accurate but not correct. We cannot pinpoint how every individual will be impacted, however we have research and experience in other, generalisable experiences that can help us to predict some aspects of the future.


The word "unprecedented" has been used a lot recently. This word has been specifically used in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic and whilst it fits the situation in some aspects, it seems to miss a few marks for me. The definition of the word is "never done or known before.", which is somewhat accurate but not correct. We cannot pinpoint how every individual will be impacted, however we have research and experience in other, generalisable experiences that can help us to predict some aspects of the future.


So, what do we know? What can we do?


What do we know? We can look to research completed in places such as Israel and Iraq that have experienced consistent conflict and unrest to understand population responses to stress. I would like to note there are limitations to this, as cultures can be very different between countries, however we are all human and we can understand some basic human instincts from this style of research.

As noted in the research by Hoffman, Y. (2017), higher rates of anxiety are found to correlate with lower socioeconomic status members during times of population wide stress. This means, as we have seen in America, lower income families will suffer more from mental and physical health concerns. One could argue that the Black Lives Matter movement, in part, came about due to this phenomenon. As stress levels increase in lower socioeconomic areas, due to pressure from the global pandemic, people became more acutely aware of injustices that have existed for a long time. In turn, the population has hit their threshold of the level of stress they can endure and they reach out for change.


We also know that when we are under prolonged stress, our bodies move into a stress response that can harm our health in a range of ways. One such response can be via our immune system. Back when our ancestors had to run from lions, we used the sympathetic nervous system, which would trigger which would triggerThis response increased heart rate and blood flow very quickly, to help us get away from predators.


However, this was only intended for short spurts of stress. As we move toward a lifestyle of ongoing stress, we are seeing that our sympathetic nervous system becomes taxed. Meaning, living in a heightened state of stress such as a pandemic can lead to people being more immune compromised and increased risk of infection.


So, what can we do about what we know?


This information can help us put into place helpful, effective tools that allow us to live better lives. Therefore, there are three things I would like you to do.

  1. Be aware of your community. If you are fortunate enough to be in a medium or high SES area ie. you do not live pay check to pay check, keep an eye out for your fellow Australians. Consider the elderly lady down the road, she may need her groceries collected as she cannot afford delivery, or she may need some toilet paper! Any amount of support that lowers our level of stress, whether directly related to the pandemic or not, will benefit us.

  2. Do something that makes you happy. I regularly discuss with my clients the difference between "feeling good" and "being happy". Alcohol, video games, spending large amounts of money, all may make you "feel good" but they don't make you "happy". To live a life that brings long term happiness and contentedness we have to do the things that make us happy, like following our values, spending time with family, being kind to others. You may not "feel good" like you do after a few beers at the pub or some online shopping, but you will feel fulfilled and a sense of happiness longer term.

  3. Seek support. People regularly do not know whether they need professional support or not. What I tell these people is that you can see your GP and be referred to a psychologist for an initial session and go from there; you are not signing up for years of weekly therapy by seeing a psychologist for an assessment. Go into the session with an open mind and an explanation of your goal. If this feels uncomfortable or is not possible, seek support from someone you trust to listen and provide feedback that will be helpful for you, not just telling you what you want to hear or being unkindly honest, someone that will be helpful.

The note I would like to finish on circles back to my original point. The word "unprecedented" implies many unknowns. This is a breeding ground for stress and anxiety.Know that it is ok to not know all of the answers, it's about looking to find the people and behaviours that may bring about the answers. Answers are out there, we just have to continue looking.

 
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