Not everyone will struggle with their mental health during COVID-related lockdowns.
But many of us will experience lockdowns as distressing or even traumatic, according to Melbourne-based psychotherapist and counsellor George Gintilas.
That's especially likely for those with a history of trauma — for whom the feeling of being confined or restricted may trigger feelings of being held powerless against their will, explains Mr Gintilas.
"The biggest issue really is that each lockdown compounds on the previous one," he says.
"So if people haven't released the trauma of a previous lockdown, the next one can feel much worse."
His advice? Focus on releasing stress from your 'COVID trauma' by actively working through the below lists of 40 practical activities.
Three practical lists to print out and pin somewhere prominent
The activities on the lists can help release the body's stress responses — the 'fight or flight' response, as well as the 'freeze' response — activated in the nervous system when we perceive danger, Mr Gintilas says.
If these systems in the nervous systems aren't released, the adrenal glands keep pumping adrenaline into the bloodstream, bringing about physiological changes such as increased heart rate and blood pressure.
If you stay in a state of chronic stress, your body and brain can become focused only on survival — and you might revert back to more primitive behaviours, such as anger, fear and aggression, as ABC Health has previously reported
To counter that, Mr Gintilas recommends "printing them out and ticking off a few each day to help discharge the stress fully".
(Keeping the list somewhere you can easily see is important "because stress and trauma affects your memory and you can easily forget to do them", he explains.)
Not sure which list or activity to start with?
"Look at the lists, and find the one that feels right — that your body says, 'I'm craving that, I want to do that right now,'" says Mr Gintilas.
You may find that you're drawn more to one or two of the lists in particular — for example, because your fight response is stronger than your freeze response. It's fine to focus on one list or activity more than others, he says.
For your 'fight' response
Your 'fight' response can feel like anger or blame. The below list includes activities that can help you constructively express angry impulses.
The list also includes martial arts, which combine fluid movements with deep breathing and mental focus, all of which can induce calm.
- Using a boxing bag or sparring
- Hitting into a mattress
- Lifting weights or doing resistance training
- Working out in a home gym
- Using straps or resistance bands at home
- Using the treadmill on an incline
- Riding a stationary bike on strong resistance
- Doing martial arts/tai chi
- Playful wrestling
- Having pillow fights
- Playing competitive sport
- Having an adult 'tantrum': kicking while laying down on a mat or bed
For your 'flight' response
Your 'flight' response can feel like fear and a need to escape. The below list includes activities that can help, including physical exercise, which deepens breathing and relieves muscle tension.
- Doing sprints (high-intensity interval training)
- Jumping on a rebounder trampoline
- Running or walking up and down stairs
- Swimming, if you have a pool
- Riding a push bike
- Riding an exercise Bike
For your 'freeze' response
The 'freeze' response differs from the fight or flight responses, because rather than spurring you into action, it can feel like apathy, depression, hiding or giving up.
"Like there's no energy whatsoever, no way to cope," Mr Gintilas says.
The list below includes some activities related to social connection. These can help because when we're socialising with someone we like, our brain releases hormones and neurotransmitters — which helps us feel happier and closer to that person, and reduces the levels of stress hormones in our body.
- Taking a bubble bath
- Taking a long shower
- Relationship contact, including ringing a friend, or sex
- Spending time with animals
- Hugging or cuddling
- Having or giving a massage
- Playing games
- Doing art, such as drawing or painting
- Dancing alone or with a partner
- Playing music
- Reading or listening to books
- Being in nature
- Being in direct sunshine
Ticking off a few items from the lists each day can help you release the stress of lockdowns, says Mr Gintilas.
"This way, you can emerge from this traumatic period unscathed and healthy."
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