1 September, 2020
Anxiety Is High in the Bush
So far, 2020 has been a tumultuous year for country NSW and the world as a whole. We’ve had the best rainfall we’ve seen in three years and the harvest outlook is no longer so bleak. A pandemic swept the globe forced social isolation that hasn’t been seen since the 1920s with the outbreak of the Spanish Flu.
Now restrictions are relaxing and a lot of people might be feeling a bit mixed up by the whole affair. Add to that protests spreading across the world following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, you could be forgiven for feeling less than your usual self.
Rural health advisor with Rural Adversity Mental Health Program Camilla Herbig says that these constant changes and upheavals, such as going in and out of restrictions, can be the catalyst for a lot anxiety.
“Now that the restrictions are easing, we’re certainly seeing more people suffering with symptoms of anxiety,” said Mrs Herbig.
“A lot of it’s related to a loss of predictability and control and so their routines are starting to be impacted which is bringing uncertainty and that can be what displays anxious symptoms.”
Mrs Herbig said that despite restrictions easing, the threat of COVID-19 still looms which again compounds on this distress. The health advisor said that if these symptoms go unaddressed, people may lash out in an attempt to regain some semblance of control.
“People try to take back control, because we’ve lost so much control over our lives, people have started to look in other areas where they can control. There are some unhelpful behaviors like the stockpiling, ‘I can’t control what’s happening around me, but I can control what I stockpile in the cupboard.’”
Mrs Herbig suggests trying to take back that control with a collection of smaller, more incremental and helpful actions. Being aware of what might be causing you distress is also an important step towards readjustment and taking back control.
“I often say we need to break it into two elements which are self-awareness and self-care. Self-awareness is being able to recognise in ourselves what is going on, recognizing the feelings or the symptoms we’re experiencing and being able to manage those.
“Once we can actually name those symptoms like feeling overwhelmed in a crowd, we can stop them manifesting into something bigger. Self-care is doing all the things to look after or wellbeing and mental health, so it might be managing our diet, exercising, socialising whether it’s face to face or digitally.
“Really looking for the positives, practicing gratitude, all the things we encourage during normal times that are good for our mental health we are things we really need to focus on now.”
However, if it ever gets to the point where you might feel completely overwhelmed, Mrs Herbig suggests professional help.
For some of us, the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions means a lot more socialisation which in itself is a cause of distress. The introverts among us may have reveled in this new freedom from social obligations, but a return to normal doesn’t mean you need to dive right back into things if you don’t feel comfortable doing so.
“Rather than throwing yourself into that really confronting large situation, maybe try seeing one or two people to start with and then seeing a small group, working your way up into get back into regular social situations,” said Mrs Herbig.
However, for a large contingent of people in the country, social isolation is nothing new and that has given many the tools and resources to function in a distanced society better than our urban counterparts.
“Western NSW is actually really ahead of the curve, we’ve got a lot of these resources already in place and we’re used to being really socially isolated or having to work through these challenges in normal times. I think we’ve had a lot of skills in our back pocket to draw on in the situation that’s been presented to us.
“I think it’s been a big shock to the cities to look at telehealth and all these sorts of strategies whereas I think country people have really adopted it quite quickly and taken it all in their stride.”