According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, it is estimated that almost half of the Australian population will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, with young adults most likely to experience mental health conditions in any one year.
These already staggering statistics are further exacerbated by the widespread impacts of COVID-19, including movement restrictions, physical distancing, isolation, and upmost uncertainty that is inviting stress, anger, and confusion to inhabit millions of people across the country, making it more important now than ever for us to prioritise mental health and continue leading conversations around meaningful connection and managing uncertainty.
We spoke with Anh Le Nguyet, a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) facilitator at the Zen Tea Lounge Foundation to gain a little more insight into the impacts of the pandemic on our mental health, and how we can navigate this uncertainty to return to a place of inner safety and comfort.
Anh Le Nguyet has been running MBSR programs in Western Sydney for the past 15 years and says she can only describe the past 18 months as a time of chronic anxiety, with many people suffering while also watching their family and friends navigate similar difficult situations.
Le Nguyet says that anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions are exacerbated by perceived uncertainty, with the unmet expectations of where we want to be in our lives in contrast with where we are now that are causing many of these negative experiences.
Le Nguyet understands that right now, what a lot of people are struggling with is a sense of loss; lost time with family and friends, lost experiences and very real financial loss in many cases. A study conducted by headspace in 2020 revealed that almost half of the young adults in Australia felt fearful for their future as a direct result of the uncertainty emanated from the pandemic.
So, how do we begin to manage feelings driven by uncertainty?
Le Nguyet suggests adopting mindfulness as a way to deal with some of this loss and uncertainty; and hear us out, mindfulness is powerful! Mindfulness is the mental practice of focusing your awareness on the present moment, and has been linked to reducing fear, anxiety and stress, enhancing concentration and memory, and growing the parts of the brain associated with learning, thinking, emotional regulation, empathy, compassion and taking perspective.
Using techniques to anchor us in the present helps us to tune out all the daily pressures and uncertainty in our lives and grounds us in perspective. Once you’re able to do this, Le Nguyet says you have the ability to let uncertainty wash over you and leave behind those feelings of disappointment and judgement.
Le Nguyet says she noticed how important it is for people to stay connected to their community during times of uncertainty, and in order to maintain these community connections, it’s critical to find innovative ways to bring back a sense of normality where we can and encourage our friends and family to keep up their routine as much as possible and stay connected with their social networks.
In times of physical distancing, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t have to be social distancing. Technology isn’t able to replace eye contact, or the intimacy of hugs and touch, but it still allows us to be heard, to practice creativity, and connect with like-minded people; things we must continue to nurture.
Above All, Be Kind To Yourself
It’s a challenging time for everyone. As we know, change and uncertainty can be taxing, and some days, we need a little extra more self-compassion. Practice mindfulness, prioritise your mental health, lead with empathy, spend time in nature, move your body, continue nurturing your connections and be mindful of what are you are consuming in the digital space. Release any pressure and self-expectations, honour your core values, and take a break. You deserve it. The world will still be here when you return.
Zen Tea Lounge Foundation was created as a safe space for people to come together as a group and share their stories and shared experiences around domestic violence.
Zen offers online MBSR workshops, as well as workshops that focus on building connection, confidence and self-worth as a way to fight fear. You can find free online resources to get you started here.
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Image Credit: Shingi Rice/Unsplash