Why am I feeling anxious?
It’s normal and human to feel anxious right now. COVID-19 presents a risk to human health and the way we live – your brain and your body are responding to that risk like they’re supposed to! It’s what’s sometimes called the “fight-or-flight” response – your body knows you might not be safe and it’s gearing you up to respond.
Unfortunately, that ‘fight-or-flight’ response doesn’t have anywhere to go right now – we’re not yet able to fight the virus and we have to respond to it not by fleeing but by staying at home. That means your brain has geared you up for battle, filling your tank with energy and adrenaline, and you’ve got nowhere to put it. Not being able to control so many things all at once causes distress. It’s natural and understandable.
What can I do to feel less anxious right now?
These wellbeing tips will be really helpful. Connect with people who make you feel safe and loved, find things to do that help you feel in control, get some exercise, do some breathing exercises and be kind to yourself.
Call or text 1737 to talk with a trained counsellor, anytime.
And, if you need help with your anxiety, call or email your GP and find out how they can help you.
What can I do if I already experience compulsions or difficult feelings or behaviours about washing my hands?
If you live with OCD and/or anxiety, you may be feeling a huge sense of risk and responsibility – fearing that if you don’t wash their hands or clean you could spread the virus or become unwell. We also know the advice to increase hand-washing can be triggering for some people who are trying to manage their hand-washing compulsions.
While the wellbeing tips are great for everyone, here are some specific things that might help:
- Give yourself permission to follow the guidelines set by health professionals such as the Ministry of Health or the World Health Organisation. Remind yourself that these health professionals are qualified to make these recommendations and don’t exceed them.
- Set a timer for 20 seconds, wash your hands for 20 seconds and not one second longer. Check in with a whānau member or friend you trust about how often you should be washing your hands if you’re worried you might overdo it. Give yourself something to do immediately after the timer goes off that will distract you and give you something else to focus on.
- Find other ways to challenge your OCD. If you’re working with a mental health professional on managing your OCD, ask them for ways to manage that don’t involve hand-washing.
- Stick with your therapy if you’re currently in treatment – get in touch with your mental health supports now and find out how you can keep working with them – maybe over the phone? Via Skype?
- Make a list of what you can still do! This might include listening to your favourite music, watching a great series on Netflix, chatting with loved ones on the phone, practising hobbies, doing puzzles.
- Be kind to yourself – you’ve got the skills and tools you need to manage this and get through. Be compassionate and acknowledge it’s human to feel anxious about this.
- Let other people know this is hard for you. If you need support to get through and remember not to wash your hands when it’s not necessary, ask someone you trust to help.
Should I talk to my tamariki/children about COVID-19? How can I help my kids get through?
Yes, absolutely talk to them but don’t overdo it. Kids know there’s something big going on, and they’re likely to pick up on grown-up tensions, fear, stress and anxiety. That’s okay!
- Ask them what they know and if they have any worries. Some kids, for example, might have heard the virus affects older people more severely and may be worried about their grandparents. Don’t suggest this to them but let them bring it up if they’re concerned.
- Let them ask questions and answer what you can, but don’t give too much information. Don’t just have the kōrero once – keep checking in with them about how they’re feeling.
- Validate their feelings – it’s okay if they’re scared, angry, lonely or worried. Let them know these feelings are normal and thank them for chatting with you about their feelings.
- Work with your tamariki on solutions that will help them get through – what would make them feel safe and happy? What activities would they like to do at home with you or by themselves?
- Keep the news off the telly or the radio when they’re around.
- Make sure they know why changes are happening – why they need to wash their hands more often, why they might need to stay at home or not go to school – and point out to them that these are good things that keep them and everyone else safe and well.
- Reassure them the people they love are doing everything they can to stay safe and you’ll get through this as a whānau.
- Find activities you can do with them that support their wellbeing. Help them discover their strengths, do some tummy breathing or create a sensory kete/box.
How can I practise tikanga while following health advice during COVID-19?
That’s a great question! Connection to culture is one of the things that helps us build and sustain good mental health, but preventing the virus does mean some changes to how we practise tikanga for now.
The Māori Health Directorate at the Ministry of Health have the following advice:
The situation has changed, and our Prime Minister has asked all New Zealanders to play our part to refrain from physical contact to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Physical contact is a way that COVID-19 can spread from person to person. As well as the impact on New Zealanders generally, this will have an effect on particular areas of tikanga Māori (including kawa), as we move to protect our whānau, hapū and iwi (particularly those who are more vulnerable such as our kaumātua - our koroua and kuia).
In practice, this means suspending our customs of hongi and harirū, alongside stopping kissing, hugging and other forms of close physical contact. Alternatives include, waving, smiling, head nod, or other non-physical contact greetings.
We want to acknowledge there are some marae and iwi (such as Te Âtiawa and Ngāti Kahungunu) who have made adjustments to their usual tikanga and kawa practices in response to COVID-19. We know our people will do the right thing to protect our whānau, hapū and iwi, and to manaaki manuhiri.
Our key public health messages that can assist in preventing our whānau, hapū and iwi from contracting COVID-19, include:
- Mahia te hopi. Horoi ō ringa.
Wash your hands with soap and water often (for at least 20 seconds).
- Whakamātihetihe te ihu ki te tuke.
Cough or sneeze into your elbow or by covering your mouth and nose with tissues.
- Rauatu te aihika ki te ipupara.
Put used tissues in the bin or a bag immediately.
- Mēnā ka paru ō ringa, kaua e pā te kānohi.
Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.
- Whakapūputu ai te patuero i ngā mea katoa. Hei tauira: Ngā kakau, ngā papa, ngā taputapu.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs.
- Mēnā ka māuiui koe, herea ki te kainga.
Stay home if you feel unwell.