Podcast: The Detail

The fear in going backwards

Ambiguity, uncertainty and unpredictability are three key indicators for stress, and Aucklanders in particular are going through all of those right now

The late-night announcement by the Prime Minister was a blow to the pit of the stomach of many.

We thought we had this, and maybe some of us had become a little bit smug. To hear that the country was going back into Level 2, and Auckland to Level 3, sparked something akin to despair for many. Anxiety, depression and uncertainty struck.

“This is normal,” says Victoria University of Wellington clinical psychologist Dr Dougal Sutherland.

“We experience these emotions when we are under threat. And we are under threat again.”

Today on The Detail, Sutherland talks us through the issues likely to arise from this glitch in our battle against Covid-19.

“I think they’re likely to feel a bunch of emotions. Anxiety about their health; anger, frustration, disappointment. And I think all those are pretty realistic given the circumstances. Particularly going back, I think.”

Sutherland says it’s also normal to start second-guessing what’s going to happen next, but that’s not a particularly useful thing to do.

“What your brain’s probably trying to do there … is get you to be active in coping. And the most active thing you can do in coping is actually focus on the things that are controllable for you. Things that you can do … what appointments can you cancel? What’s going to happen with the kids?”

One of the practical things to do is think about what you can do for other people now – your neighbours, the elderly, someone who may be immune compromised.

“We know that generally there’s a boost in positive emotions when you do something positive for somebody else,” he says.

It’s also really good to be mindful of the way we think about it and the language we use around it.

“If we think of things as being ‘devastating’ and ‘ripped apart’ and ‘horrendous’ and ‘all backwards’ then unsurprisingly we might feel quite anxious and upset about that. If we think about things and use language and wording like, ‘It’s a disappointment, it’s frustrating, it’s annoying’, and ‘We’ve done it before and we can do it again’, that’s a much more balanced way of thinking about it.

“It really pinpoints the importance of being aware of what words you’re saying to yourself in your head, and the conversations that you’re having with other people because we tend to get into a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy really.”

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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