For now, COVID-19 is sticking around, and with Australia “living with the virus” and re-emerging from lockdown, what implications are there for individuals transitioning back to work and school?
Due to reduced social interaction during COVID-19 lockdown – in person – for many, those skills need to be re-built. Human psychology needs regular social interactions and a variety of work and social environments to remain healthy. Think of an athlete who has not been able to train for a year and how hard those work-outs have to be to get back into top shape. Like an athlete, some people will need to draw on courage as they re-emerge from lockdown to manage diverse interactions and re-build their minds to cope with everyday life.
For children, re-emerging from lockdown can be especially challenging due to not fully understanding the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. Transitioning back to school, children may simply not want to leave their pets after enjoying months of companionship. For parents and carers, the next period of time will be one that requires extra vigilance about how children are coping, being there to listen to children’s concerns and knowing how to address them or where to seek help such as Parentline https://kidshelpline.com.au/parents/issues/how-parentline-can-help-you.
While the transition to “normal” life is unfolding, it is important to approach ourselves and others with a sense of calm. For many, transitioning back to the workplace is an exciting prospect, but for others it is already the cause of sleepless nights. What if you lose your job or are already unemployed? Rather than unhelpful self-talk, reassure yourself that the work challenge is a temporary state and that you will find new employment. You may even find a new job in a completely different area of work that offers training and challenges that are even more rewarding.
And, what about the speculation around what we would even look like after lockdown? “COVID haircuts”, weight gain and a wardrobe full of track pants and T-shirts. Of course, one or two “bad” habits may have been developed, but so what? Now is a perfect time to calm those negative thoughts, accept yourself and others, and start creating new, healthier habits. By writing down 2-3 new habits you would like to create, negative thinking is already being turned into positive action. Make sure the new habits are achievable and measurable, such as “I will exercise for 30 mins per day for the next 5 days”. If you exercise for 3 and not 5 days, calm your inner-critic, it is not a sign of failure, simply aim again for 5 days. Once a new habit is established, most often you will want to continue it.
If there was ever a time for people to be compassionate it is now! Ask yourself, how compassionate am I generally? How compassionate could I be? High stress levels are rife in Australian society, and re-emerging from lockdown may see them rise even higher. Rather than being part of the stress epidemic, choose to have compassion towards others as they jump the queue in the supermarket or cut in front of you on the roads. As adults and children act out stress transitioning back to work and school, plan to be compassionate. (Of course, if anyone’s safety is at risk then remove yourself from the situation and seek immediate assistance).
Importantly, have compassion for yourself as you navigate post-lockdown life. Look up resources, music or talks, such as Thich Nhat Hanh’s generous collection of resources that can be easily accessed via YouTube – ‘Self compassion’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cq8MePQ_uUk and keep building your toolkit to remain healthy.
Dr Julie is a Senior Psychologist with ORS with extensive experience in psychological practice and research. Julie has conducted psychological assessments and interventions with clients from diverse groups in various settings including in the areas of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, substance use disorders, complex trauma, interpersonal conflict and others. In her work, Julie also uses tools and strategies for quality improvement and evidence-based practice.
Julie has a PhD in Psychology and has over 25 years of experience as a university teacher and researcher. She is an internationally recognised researcher with over 100 publications, conference papers, book chapters and book in the field of health services research. Julie has published research in high quality journals on topics such as equity of access to health services, health governance, therapeutic approaches to eating disorders, and research methodology and ethics. She is passionate about training and mentoring practitioners and the design and delivery of optimal services for clients.