Listen: Collett Smart explains the CARE approach to help you and your loved ones maintain good mental health
By Collett SmartWednesday 8 Apr 2020Mental Fitness With Psychologist Collett Smart
This episode of Mental Fitness particularly looks at what to do if you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety.
It’s normal to have days when you feel overwhelmed or anxious about what has changed. We are collectively grieving what was familiar and what we had planned — weddings, jobs, school events, sharing the joy of a new baby with grandparents.
Perhaps you are someone with, or have a loved one with, an existing mental health challenge. Or perhaps you have recently lost your job and this has brought about anxiety that you haven’t experienced before.
“Concern for the unknown or some new disease is a perfectly normal reaction.”
Not all anxiety is bad. It is our brain’s brilliant way of keeping us safe from and alert to danger. Anxiety works like an alarm system, which prompts us to think of ways to look after ourselves. It’s just that an oversensitive alarm system can lead us to irrational thoughts and fears, which affect our healthy daily functioning.
So, how do we keep this alarm system in check, during this unusual season of isolation?
I always like to start with the foundations. That is, it’s important to eat well, drink water, exercise, and stay connected. My Pilates teacher, like many others, is now offering online Zoom classes and I am thrilled about it. It forces me to look after my physical health which I know is good for mental health. Exercise is a scientifically-proven mood booster, decreasing symptoms of both depression and anxiety.
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A study about empowering families during a healthcare crisis recommends the C.A.R.E. approach: an acronym for Choices, Agenda, Resilience and Emotional Support.
Offer power in a powerless environment
This might look like:
- Channeling a person’s anxiety into useful action. For example, everyone can do something to help slow the spread of disease – using hand sanitiser, coughing into your elbow, and washing your hands regularly.
- Distraction. When we fixate on negative information our anxiety grows. Yet, if we turn our attention to healthy activities, it shrinks.
- Limiting negative input. Take a break from, or at least limit exposure to, news and social media reports on the virus.
Let them know what to expect, and what is expected
Set your own routine. If you have children, try explaining the school’s plan for learning. Final year students might be especially anxious about this. Think about and plan daily academic and relaxing activities they could do during this time. If your child or teen is disappointed that a scheduled event has been cancelled, just listen. Let them vent. Explain to children what ‘physical distancing’ (social distancing) means, and why ‘flattening the curve‘ is an important part of the government’s decisions.
Highlight strengths and reframe negatives
Research suggests that people feel better when they turn their attention to supporting others during difficulty. There is great power in volunteering.
Talk about what ‘love in action’ looks like in a time like this. Think about what you could do to support grandparents, family members or neighbours, who are vulnerable or have a disability – such as collecting and dropping off food parcels, toiletries and medicines.
For people of faith, this is a time when their faith will bring them great comfort, and spirituality is, in fact, recognised as a factor which develops resilience.
Recognise and normalise common fears and responses
Keep providing daily ’emotional first aid’. Check in on how others are feeling. Remind them you are there to listen to any questions or concerns. You might like to help your teen or tween begin a daily, short-term journal or worry box, where they can write down their fears. Then be sure to balance this with something from the other three principles above.
Engaging the CARE principles helps young people and families feel empowered. It reduces, and may even improve, the risk of anxiety and trauma responses.
? Check out the next episode — Being Housebound
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