Psychological tips to get through COVID-19

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During these unprecedented pandemic times, when many people are struggling to keep body and soul together, some psychological tips can do the world of good.

Swinburne University Professor of Psychology Greg Murray has a number “helicopter” approaches to maintain mental health and wellbeing.

To manage anxiety, which is hard hitting for many, Professor Murray points to the power of planning, of perspective and of being present.

When it comes to planning, he advises people to write a list of current concerns on a piece of paper and pick the most pressing one.

He says that all solutions, including the most “ridiculous” ones, should be written down, with one picked for resolution.

“Take action, and give yourself feedback about the outcome. What did you learn about the problem, the solution, and yourself? Repeat as necessary (see: A step-by-step guide to problem solving).”

Perspective refers to the way a situation is experienced being dependent on the view taken of it.

“You’ve probably heard of catastrophising or ‘what if …’ questions, but also be alert to black and white thinking, i.e. things are either normal or a disaster, and emotional reasoning based on it feels this way, so it is this way,” he says.

“Also, watch out for worry, which has two parts: ruminating about the worst possible outcome, and forgetting about the coping resources that would be used if things don’t turn out as desired. For more strategies see: Anxiety management strategies.”

Simple meditation and breathing exercises have helped millions of people across thousands of years get through challenging life events, he adds.

“One personal benefit of this challenging time could be that a person explores the great traditions of coping with challenges and leading a good life.

“Buddhism provides a roadmap for wellbeing, which many non-Buddhists have experienced through meditation and mindfulness practices (see: spiritualityandpractice.com/practices/features/view/28853/spiritual- practices-for-the-coronavirus-pandemic).

For a Buddhist approach to the current pandemic, see: tricycle.org/trikedaily/coronavirus-meditations.”

Buddhism is a process philosophy that emphasises impermanence, flow and the interconnectedness of living things.

The Stoic philosophers are also great comfort when life is really challenging, with Professor Murray advising lending an ear to a famous Stoic meditation at modernstoicism.com/wp- content/uploads/2016/09/View- from-Above-Download.mp3.

 “The storm does not interfere with the pilot’s work, but only with his success … It is indeed so far from hindering the pilot’s art that it even exhibits the art; for anyone, in the words of the proverb, is a pilot on a calm sea.” – Seneca

Professor Murray says that as it’s easy to become overwhelmed in the torrent of crisis discussions online, people should pick a quality source and only “check in” once a day.

On a more mundane level, he says routine is critical to wellbeing as well as pleasures, such our pets or a good movie.

Also very important is focusing on others because people feel less stressed when they have this orientation.

However, Professor Murray advises a person to seek help if negative emotions or thoughts are interfering with their everyday life.

“For an overview of mental health assistance in Australia, visit healthdirect.gov.au/mental-health-disorders.

“A GP is also a good starting point, and you can also make contact with professionals via the web, with phone-based options for a range of audiences found at beyondblue.org.au/get-support/national-help-lines-and-websites.”

Online psychological treatments can be accessed for free at mindspot.org.au and mentalhealthonline.org.au, at thiswayup.org.au for low cost, and local psychologists can be found at psychology.org.au/Find-a-Psychologist.