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19 March 2020

Isolated man

As the worst pandemic in more than 100 years unfolds around the world, many, many, people are feeling a range of emotions that are also unprecedented in their lifetime.

Top of the list, says UniSA academics Prof Nicholas Procter and Dr Miriam Posselt, are confusion and fear, and while they are a normal response to the situation, the feelings can be quite intense.

“Just like Henny Penny, people can feel intensely anxious, panicked, frightened and overwhelmed and that is all in the range of a ‘normal’ response to this unfolding pandemic and the way it is changing how we live,” Prof Procter says.

“It is also part of the human condition that we re-run what we see and hear over and over in our minds and that contributes to feeling uncertain about what the future may hold.

“We need to be really aware that, while these feelings are normal and adaptive, people we work with, family and friends, may all have moments of real vulnerability as the months of living with COVID-19 roll on.”

Prof Procter says when the nervous system is overwhelmed by stress, it sets off a range of powerful thoughts and emotions, and they can often come and go in waves.

“People who have already lived through traumatic circumstances such as war, detention, family violence or forms of restriction of movement, may find the progress of pandemic conditions triggers a re-experiencing of past traumas”. Dr Posselt says

“Stress is a funny beast,” Prof Procter says, “it can trigger all kinds of emotions from fear and helplessness, to anger, guilt and shame and moods can swing from edgy and cross to detached and numb – so we need to be self-aware and prepared to find these responses in ourselves, and in others.

“One of the most important things is to be aware of what you are feeling and don’t be afraid to discuss that with friends and family – often just naming your anxieties can help reduce them.

“Staying well-informed is also helpful because clear facts mean you can better manage anxieties.

“On the one hand in times like these you need accurate and timely information. However, a constant diet of Coronavirus news coverage will only exacerbate your fears – so calibrate your media exposure.

“Follow the government’s public health messages and a reputable media information touchpoint.  Don’t buy into hour by hour reports.

“Take breaks from social media and talk to friends and family, read a novel, do something for your mental health and wellbeing, do some gardening and if you are in a situation where you have had to self-isolate, keep active communications up with friends and people you trust by phone, Facetime, Skype or email.”

And Dr Posselt says when the world feels chaotic, routine and structure can play a really important role in helping people cope.

“Try to maintain some routine or structure in your day, particularly if you are in self-isolation,” she says.

 “Maintaining physical exercise and a healthy diet is also essential.”

Prof Procter says there are several online resources that provide good information about how to self-care and maintain a healthy headspace.

“Reaching out to others is a useful way to share insights and common concerns and online forums can also be helpful in making sense of what is happening,” he says.

“The important thing to remember is that together we will get through this. You are not alone in finding the situation challenging and a little scary, but by understanding yourself and asking for help and support when you need it, it will be easier to meet the challenges of this pandemic.”

Media contact: Michèle Nardelli phone: +61 418 823 673 or +61 8 8302 0966

email: michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au

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