COVID-19: A Melburnian’s Opinion and a Reality Check – Joe Losinno, National Psychology Manager

Things are not OK! 

Covid is not a mere pause in our lives or an inconvenience. It is a rupture; a forced transformation and assault where the taken-for-granted assumptions of our world have been shaken at their very roots. It is very difficult to normalize Covid; for most, it just cannot be done. It has disrupted, shocked, completely disturbed, and profoundly and irrevocably changed our lives; it has left no facet untouched.  

We have adopted a new language to reflect and understand our new way of being. In the blink of an eye, we became a world in ‘quarantine’, ‘isolation’, ‘self-isolation’ and everyone is ‘social distancing’, worried about ‘Community transmission’, and we all fear ending up in “ICU” and needing a ‘ventilator’.  

Covid has seen the collapse of our everyday life-ordering, we have become disengaged from our old and familiar everyday living. It has deprived us of our liberty and seen the forfeiture of assumed freedoms. Our proximity to other humans and the architecture of our relationships have changed forever. Covid has devoured time; destroyed the normal continuum of the fixidity of time: our time sense. We thus lived our time out of place; on Covid time. 

So, let’s be frank, COVID-19 is a Potentially Traumatic Global Event! A Global Natural Disaster! 

Calling on Resilience—too often and for too long 

Like most disasters and potentially traumatic events, we find that resilience has been the most common response to COVID-19. However, resilience can wane, fracture, and erode under the increasing weight of cumulative demands and impacts of the stress of Covid, especially given the uncertainty of a pathway out of this.  

Even before Covid, we were living in a world marked by chronic stress. Often without any respite or recovery. We were already tired, stressed and for many of us overwhelmed by our life circumstances. 

Now we share work settings, schooling and home life in a single space. With too much contact with some, particularly family members, overcommitment to work (for those who can work) and disconnection with friends and our broader communities. We are forced to continually accumulate and hastily assimilate new knowledge from the ongoing impact, new ways of being, fear new variants, and new…, new…, new…, too much new information and demands, some competing, some obsolete even before we are ready to comply. Our minds and body finding it difficult to shift and shape to keep up … making it difficult to adjust.  

This has opened the fault lines and cracks within our communities, society, and organizations – some along racial, economic, and religious lines. Cracks we thought would never reopen or open as deeply as they have. We are exposed to constant scapegoating, blaming, all the while losing faith in our social institutions, and we may even be defending positions we may not have held before the start of the pandemic. There is much mending and healing to be done to bring together our communities and society and to bring faith back to our institutions. We cannot wait to do this work. It must happen now, or the divides will deepen! And it is a responsibility that befalls on us all.  

We must refrain from the urge to inflict humiliation on those that hold opinions and world views different or abhorrent to ours. Humiliation can feel annihilating, and as such, people will resist, some intensely and with violence. We must stop this psychological fighting—to want to dominate and ‘win’ by making others feel powerless, shame, and by belittling and ridiculing them. We need to live together, so the ideological and political bridge needs to be made up of bricks made of curiosity and understanding, melded together by respect and dignity to ensure safe passage for all those who cross it.  

Resilience needs to be engaged and worked on to hold together scaffolding to our lives under constant and accumulating stress. It is very hard to find equilibrium and balance in these times or have ‘readymade’ solutions to all our problems, many we never confronted before.  

The science backs this up! 

Covid has had a serious impact on our mental health and our day-to-day lives. Recent research has shown that there has been a large increase in psychological distress including depression, anxiety (e.g., about getting ill, dying from Covid and family members or people we care about getting ill) panic disorder, anger, confusion, large increases in unhealthy use of drugs and alcohol and reduced quality of sleep (Antičević, Bubić and Britvić, 2021). There has been an increase in family, domestic and sexual violence with Victorian police call-out rates at the highest level ever and with people presenting at a much more critical stage with more severe injuries. Delays, likely due to the restrictions, are making it hard for our most vulnerable to leave dangerous situations.  

 As if that wasn’t enough, the science also shows that we are also preoccupied with our future, fear aroused through media coverage, insufficient guidelines about what to expect and concerns over inadequate supplies of food, water, clothing, and medical supplies.  

We are a society experiencing flash forwards with the projection of so many Covid affected future threats, intrudes on our present, rendering many of us hopeless. Especially children and young people who have not lived long enough to learn one of life’s most important lessons, that like most events in life – no matter how difficult or painful – will pass.  

It is not surprising that the research has also shown a profound increase in anxiety and psychological distress and an increasing loss of hope for our children and young people. This comes at a time in their life when they need that naïve confidence to launch them into the next stage of life, which may include adulthood. Our disconnected young people are calling crisis lines in record numbers.  

It’s not nothing! 

We are being asked to lock down and do nothing. This extraordinary measure constrains, demobilizes, and requires us to be still. For many, it may feel like being asked to put out a fire by doing nothing; or like an ambush that hasn’t been sprung. This is particularly difficult for a military person who is trained to act… do something… anything to rise and meet the challenge of extraordinary events. It is a reflex, one that has left many feeling confused, even demoralised regarding what to do and how to contribute. 

But the restrictive response to Covid-19 and the tasks we have been asked to do is not nothing. It is many things and many sacrifices. We are asked to be disciplined, shift habits and go cold turkey on our addiction to many of our assumed freedoms. The measure of success of this mission is ‘not doing’– the only action—get vaccinated. This is how we have been called upon to participate.  

But this is not nothing, it is many things – it takes many skills, many resources to do nothing, resist many urges and suffer many things: and it is the ultimate act of courage in this time of Covid—being still is not stillness.  

Remember, you have been asked to adopt many new routines, sometimes asked to reset them without notice at briefings at 11am. What is really being asked of you is to repurpose or adopt new skills, new attitudes, and ways of being. It may feel like you are being asked to be a different person or an unfamiliar version of yourself. And you may want to resist, seeking the safety of more familiar ways and to avoid the tension of being stretched too far. Against the backdrop of experiencing Pandemic Fatigue, our ability to bounce back is wearing thin with every new lockdown and restriction — with the increasing short fuses, feelings of disconnectedness and fatigued and the growing sense of the diminishing light at the end of the tunnel.   

 So please, during this time, be kind to yourself and those around you as they are being stretched too. My advice, try not to put too many demands on yourself. If we just manage to survive a bad day at home, then that is enough from humanity’s perspective.  

The current struggle  

Our Veteran community is telling the Psychology Services Team they are struggling. Those who were depressed, anxious and already carrying the burdens of trauma told us they have been surprised by the transition into Covid lockdown, finding life unexpectedly complex and destabilizing and further threatening their sense of self and self-worth. They said they were self-isolating prior to Covid and thought they were well placed to adjust to a Covid world of lockdowns. But choosing solitude and withdrawing, (even though for most depressed it may not feel like they had much choice) – is different to forced isolation, with its sense of feeling trapped.  

An exercise—where do you feel trapped  

To demonstrate this point, I would like you to do an exercise with me. Firstly, when you bring to mind the word trapped, where do you feel it in your body?  For some, they have said they feel a constriction in their chest and/or throat. Now, I will invite you to redirect your focus to your thoughts, after 10 seconds shift your focus to your emotions; then your urges.  Some have said they felt sadness, agitation, and helplessness. A Veteran said it was like “watching an internal CTV footage of my motivation being robbed”. Many said they felt the tension between the urge to want to fight or abscond, but only to feel stuck likened to being in quicksand, knowing the only way out is to accept what is happening, stop struggling, soften the body and float! Tough times indeed! 

Emotional Inflammation  

After listening to many stories of Veterans describing their experience of Covid, I have come to describe the emotional experience of living in a world marked by Covid as ‘emotional inflammation’. If we think of a physical inflammation, we know what that looks like. It is red, inflamed, it hurts when we move it or touch it, it stops us from doing things we would do naturally. If we take all these attributes and apply them to our current emotional life or psychological states, we are left with ‘emotional inflammation’. And just like physical inflammation, it hurts sometimes, sometimes it stops us from acting and sometimes it exhausts our consumption so much of our limited resources that we can’t do what we want to do. Just remember, this is not a normal state to be in, and it doesn’t feel good.  

Willpower and your resources will exhaust, so do what is necessary to fuel your willpower and conserve your resources the best way you can. Engage in things that nourish and restore you. This is not self-indulgence. This is how we show up for those we love and care for and for ourselves.  

Many may seek to get through the loneliness, boredom, and isolation by trying to forget, to numb by excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, gambling or other forms of distraction and addiction. It may feel like they work in the short term, but we all know these ways of getting by deplete your resources quicker, with less to manage in the long run, and ends up making you more and more dependent on these external agents to get by. Please reach out for support if this is applicable to you. 

Conclusion? 

There are no resolute strides towards a quick recovery from Covid. The prick of Vaccines will keep us beyond the sliding doors, wards, ICU’s and ventilators of hospitals. As a society, we must walk the line to long-term survivorship well into the future. What will the new SafeStable and Secure look like and what about the fate of the unvaccinated or more familiarly known as our Children under 12 years of age.  

Covid has been an excruciatingly painful and spectacularly wretched experience that continues to linger like an unwelcome guest. T. S. Elliot once wrote, “And at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. For all of us, the Covid journey has not yet ended. It is unfolding at this very moment; this story remains unfinished. And there seems to be a long way still to go.  

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Separate Tip Sheet.  

Tips 

  • Get Vaccinated 
  • One thing I can do now– Reach Out to Others–It is not only ok it is important to reach out for life. Covid has left many of us feeling scared, lonely, and isolated. Now is a good time to call friends or family, let them know you care about them and be there for one another.  
  • Acknowledge that living with Covid is psychologically taxing, and so we must not forget our and other’s emotional needs. Don’t try to eliminate fear, that only amplifies it and makes fear become fearsome.  
  • Sleep. If you can’t get to sleep, try the tips in the information sheet below. If that doesn’t work, get help.  
  • Don’t forget to get your other health care needs looked after—for those other symptoms that may not be indicative of COVID-19 
  • Consume less media. Recent studies have shown an association between media consumption levels and depression and anxiety. Chose a reliable resource of media for your information 
  • Seek mental health support as required 
  • Embed yourself amongst supportive people via social media, telephones, and video conferencing such as Zoom and Skype.  
  • Be there for yourself. Be there for each other. 

Resources 

https://www.phoenixaustralia.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/COVID-19-Lockdown-activities-for-children-and-adolescents.pdf
https://www.phoenixaustralia.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/COVID-19-Taking-care-of-yourself-and-your-family-during-the-COVID-19.pdf

Coronavirus (COVID-19) tip sheet – Supporting at-risk veterans impacted by COVID-19 

References  

Antičević, V., Bubić, A. and Britvić, D. (2021), Peritraumatic Distress and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms During the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Contributions of Psychosocial Factors and Pandemic-Related Stressors. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 34: 691-700. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.22701 

Morabito, D.M., Bedford, C.E., Woller, S. and Schmidt, N.B. (2021), Vulnerability to COVID-19–Related Disability: The Impact of Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms on Psychosocial Impairment During the Pandemic. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 34: 701-710. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.22717 

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