NZ Herald Column Kyle MacDonald

It’s the virus that has sparked fear and disruption around the world. And New Zealand is not immune from this – we are now in a four-week lockdown to eliminate Covid-19.

So, how do we get through the coronavirus pandemic?

Kyle MacDonald is a psychotherapist and mental-health advocate and will answer your questions in a twice-weekly column.

If you have a question for MacDonald, please send to: before 9am tomorrow.

My 21-year-old son and his girlfriend are spending a lot of time “playing the stock market” with a small amount of money via the Sharsies app. How can you have a conversation re behaviours that may start off as harmless time-wasting but could turn into addictive/destructive behaviours?

It’s okay to be concerned, and it’s certainly true that to some extent we need to keep an eye out for behaviours that can spiral out of control as we all figure out how to deal with the emotional side of the lockdown experience.

It is important, though, to define what we mean by addictive, and yes, “playing” the stocks can be a form of gambling addiction for some.Focus: Spark Arena has been transformed by Auckland Council into a food distribution centre for Aucklanders in need due to job losses and financial hardship as a result of Covid-19. Video / RNZ

But just like gambling, it can also be harmless fun. It largely comes down to two things: is the person compelled to do the behaviour, and as result feels out of control, and secondly are they gambling more than they can afford?

If your son and his partner are sticking to a budget and feel like they can take it or leave it, then they’re okay. And we can all do with a distraction at present.

If they do have concerns that their trading it getting out of control they can call 1737 and talk to an experienced counsellor.

Why has time slowed down? I was shocked to discover that today was only Thursday

It’s interesting isn’t it, I’ve had the same experience. I think it’s to do with how we’re forced to pay attention to things in a different way. For most of us our day to day life is almost completely different.

That means we’re less often on “auto pilot”, where we can go about aspects of our day-to-day routine without much conscious effort, and time just tends to slide by.

In some ways the lockdown causes a more mindful type of attention because we’re having to pay attention more: on the other hand it can also leave us feeling more tired as a result of having to think more about almost everything.

My 12-year-old daughter suffers hugely from anxiety among other things; she has largely done really well through the lockdown and we keep her as entertained as possible while both still working from home (both of us are essential workers) but she is picking at her skin a lot. She has always done this to her fingers when anxious but has moved onto her lips. She can’t eat properly because of it and cries because it looks bad. Any tips on how to stop this? 

Picking at the skin is generally a sign of anxiety, and so as you suggest it’s no surprise that it has increased at the moment.

It’s a type of compulsive behaviour, in that anxiety builds around the urge to do the behaviour, and then relief is experienced once it’s done – quickly followed by shame and distress, which then starts the cycle all over again.

Two strategies to focus on. Firstly work on giving her hands a distraction for the fiddling/ anxious behaviour. A stress ball, blue tack, fidget spinner -something to “do”.

And encourage her to work on resisting or, at worst, delaying, the behaviour.

Second, and perhaps most importantly work on relaxation – focus on bringing her overall level of anxiety down. Google relaxation exercises and encourage her to practice.

Validate her fears, and reassure that for you as a “bubble” things are going to be fine.

It’s all very well young people (and workers) who know how to use social media, computers, face-time on phones etc but what about old people? They don’t have grandkids/tech support able to visit them if something happens to their phone settings or email or whatever; there is nobody to help them. Fine if you’re in a retirement community (my oldies’ villages, as well as food deliveries, are also offering tech support) but if you’re old and living on your own what does Kyle suggest when you can’t connect in person or digitally?

Good old fashioned telephone, radio and even talkback – you might even want to make your first call to a talkback station if you haven’t before.

Also, St John’s operate a “Caring Caller” service, where a person calls someone who requires some company or connection regularly to check in for a simple conversation. (See:

Keep the radio on in the background, or the television. Focus on just getting through the days until we are out of lockdown: this isn’t forever.

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