NZ Herald Column Kyle MacDonald

It’s the virus which has sparked fear and disruption around the world. And New Zealand is not immune from this, with a four-week lockdown beginning on March 26 to eliminate Covid-19, and later extended a further five days.

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 it to: before 9am tomorrow.

I think I’ve been through the five stages of grief with the lockdown, and the hardships and worry it brought with it. Denial, sadness, anger, bargaining and then, about three weeks in, acceptance. This is a really good place to be. Given there will be more challenges ahead, how do I stay here?

Deep, or radical acceptance is always a difficult approach to explain to people out of context. It’s like trying to explain what “being mindful” feels like without the experience of it.

The good news for you is, you can’t un-learn it.

Make sure you take note of what you are doing now that helps you feel accepting, what day-to-day practices leave you feeling connected to the moment and how you can keep consciously practising that.

Mostly – in my experience – it’s about being able to slow down enough to notice what is happening – and all that is happening – moment by moment, and to tolerate all the feelings that come with dealing with what’s in front of you, good, bad, or otherwise.

You’re right to feel that staying there is a good plan.

I’ve suffered financial hardship in the past. I’m okay at the moment and don’t have any immediate reason to worry but I’ve found myself making somewhat irrational decisions around money – cutting off “wants” I can still afford, and getting a bit paranoid about grocery, water and heating consumption. I can’t seem to stop myself worrying about money, even though I know my fears aren’t completely rational. What should I do? 

Anxiety does some strange things sometimes doesn’t it?

It’s not unusual for our “over-learned” survival mechanisms to kick in, especially when we’re triggered into feeling the same way we did back then – for you, financial stress.

The trauma and long term impact of poverty and financial stress is something we tend to under estimate – largely because it’s politically uncomfortable – but it’s very, very real.

With any trauma, we need to keep consciously and deliberately working to locate ourselves in the present, and noticing and accepting the current reality as it is.

For you this means both holding onto the reality of your current financial situation, as well as working against any feelings or discomfort you may have about allowing yourself things you want and value.

Keep looking after yourself positively, even if it feels uncomfortable. You deserve to be treated well, especially by yourself!

What are some practical examples of being kind to ourselves during lockdown, adults and teenagers? 

It can certainly be harder with a limited range of options.

For may of us “being kind to ourselves” means treating ourselves by spending money: going out for a nice meal, drinking, eating or buying ourselves things we desire. Of course, almost none of those things are available to us at the moment.

In some ways the decision as to what feels like kindness is personal. But it’s good idea to think about what is scarce at the moment – time to yourself, social connections, freedom from demands, being looked after.Brooke Fraser: Helping musicians harmed by COVID-19. Video / Newstalk ZB

But for most of us, it’s a pretty good – and kind – idea to ease up on our expectations.

Don’t expect the same of yourself, or your kids. Allow ourselves and those around us to be a bit more “slack” than usual, aim lower and allow yourself to feel a sense of achievement with what you have done, not what you think you “should” have achieved.

This applies to our expectations of ourselves as employees, parents, and homeschool “teachers”.

Our only goal is to survive this, there will be plenty of time to work hard again.

What’s your view on sleeping pills?

Used as prescribed, and carefully, they can be a very useful tool.

The main downside is that if used every night then we can become dependent on them to get to sleep, and it can take some time to be able to sleep naturally again.

With that in mind try not to use them every night – unless explicitly advised to by your psychiatrist or doctor.

On the nights that you don’t take them, practice “sleep hygiene” (Google for a ton of useful suggestions) which is a series of suggestions to best maximise our ability to sleep naturally.

Use the sleeping pills every second or third night, as a safety net to know that you can reset things if your sleep really falls apart.

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