The COVID-19 pandemic has delivered yet another challenging year to say the least.
And with 2022 mere days away, now is as good a time as any to check in on ourselves and on others, and on whether our coping mechanisms are up to the year ahead.
If you’re not sure where to begin, here are four things to remember when it comes to maintaining healthy and sustainable coping strategies.
1. Take the time to reflect
As another year in a pandemic draws to a close, it’s easy for us to look back and think only negative thoughts.
But Dr Jo Lane, clinical psychologist and research fellow at the Australian National University, said it’s important that we reflect on every aspect – the positives, negatives and neutrals.
“So things like what did you learn about yourself? Did you learn a new skill? What’s important to you now? What are your priorities? How have you managed?” Dr Lane told The New Daily.
Recognise your resilience, too, and how it has enabled you to gain a new outlook on what matters.
It’s also important to give yourself the time to rest and recalibrate.
“Get that energy back for whatever might happen in 2022,” Dr Lane said.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, uncertain or anxious, it’s OK to reach out for support.
Lifeline and other 24-hour services are there to help.
2. Acknowledge your emotions
It’s normal to feel frustrated and sad when it feels like 99 percent of things aren’t going to plan. Some people try to avoid these feelings, while others sink into them and, for example, read sad stories or listen to sad music.
“It’s also normal to want to avoid those feelings, or ignore them,” Dr Lane explained.
In the short term, that can be helpful.
But in the long term, Dr Lane said it can have a very negative effect on our psychological and physical wellbeing.
“So notice your emotions, notice they’re there. Even name them, ‘I’m feeling sad. I feel it in my chest’, for example.”
Dr Terry Bowles is an honorary associate professor from the University of Melbourne who specialises in psychological change management and adaptive functioning.
He explained frustration, in particular, can be turned into positive actions.
“Frustration has utility, in that it prompts you to do something differently. You can link it to positive actions, good plans and achievable goals,” Professor Bowles told The New Daily.
Acknowledge your frustration and then ask yourself what you can do to alleviate the frustration in a positive way.
If you’re struggling to sleep, that might mean exercising so you become naturally tired.
“If you just stay frustrated, that will cycle back into inactive emotions and dejection-based emotions. You’ll withdraw, you’ll sit and ruminate,” Professor Bowles said.
3. Rethink and reset
The best thing you can do in the lead up to the new year is to rethink your coping strategies.
“Revise what you were doing that worked well when the pandemic started and during its middle period, and stop doing what wasn’t working well,” Professor Bowles said.
Some coping strategies may have worked in the past, but ask yourself if they’re helpful now.
This could mean avoiding alcohol and drugs, or even certain people or social media.
Ask yourself what you need to stop doing and if you need to find some different coping strategies to keep you moving in 2022.
Professor Bowles said eating, sleeping and exercising well is “as good as it gets” when it comes to healthy and sustainable coping mechanisms.
Others include keeping a routine, social connections, doing things you enjoy and maintaining perspectives.
4. Avoid the traps
Professor Bowles said the obvious trap is to not do anything, because that can easily lead to a bout of negative emotions.
“Prolonged everyday depression and anxiety – or if it’s linked to a life event that tips you over the edge, that can be enough to spiral you into some sort of deeper psychological issue,” he said.
Dr Lane advised people to manage their expectations.
Before COVID-19 hit, we could do X, Y and Z without many obstacles. Now it’s about seeing what happens and acting accordingly.
If you’re having a hard time, help is available:
If you or someone near you is in immediate danger, please call emergency services on 000