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 – after an almost five-week alert level 4 lockdown to eliminate Covid-19 we are now in the slightly-less restrictive level 3.

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.

Our neighbour wants to expand their bubble with us as their children are struggling with isolation. But the children talk through the fence and they do FaceTime with them. We aren’t keen to expand our bubble as our children can get a viral-induced wheeze. They don’t have family here, what do I say and how else can we help them without expanding our bubble?

I certainly understand that saying “No” to people can be hard at the best of times, and even more so when you can see that you are their only social connection at the moment.

But it is important to be clear, this is about your kids’ health.

I would suggest a clear “no story”, and explain that your kids have an underlying vulnerability so all the best advice is to keep your bubble exclusive.

You may also want to add the very genuine offer you’ve just made, namely “is there anything else we can do to help?”

Personally, when it comes to these hard conversations don’t get too hung up on having to do it in (socially distant) person, the main thing is to get the message across clearly.

Text, email, call, whatever is most comfortable for you. You can then follow it up with a conversation. And make sure you explain it in a clear and age-appropriate way to the kids too.

After initially struggling with working from home, I’m now in a really good space with it. To be honest, I’m feeling a bit anxious about the eventual switch back. Why does “going back to normal” now feel weird and daunting?

It’s amazing how quickly we’ve found ourselves adjust to this “new normal” isn’t it?

Fear is one of the quickest (often too quick) ways to retrain our mind and behaviour. We avoid and hide from perceived threats for survival reasons and it’s hard wired into us.

So far with level 4 that has kept us safe, and so it can feel like we’re now working against instinct to move easily back out into the world.

The main thing is to listen to the feelings but gently challenge them. Take your time as much as possible with any change, and also consider exploring working from home more if it works for you.

I suspect more people working from home – at least some of the week – may be one of the positive changes of this experience. It’s good for traffic, emissions and even our mental health to not have to commute five days a week.

I know I should be happy about our progress in going to level 3. It’s really good news! So why don’t I feel happy?

There is no wrong way to feel about our current situation – or any situation for that matter.

It can be easy to buy into the media discussion about the relief, the celebration and the availability of takeaways and takeout coffee, but actually change is hard.

And we’ve been asked to make so many dramatic changes to our lifestyle in response to the pandemic that it can be hard to keep up.

For many people the change from level 4 to level 3 will make no difference, and simply means another two weeks of lockdown – which is hard.

Keep looking after yourself, sticking to a structure, eating and sleeping well, stay connected with others and walk or exercise every day.

And be gentle with yourself and your emotions. You’re allowed to feel however you feel about this: and while our responses may differ, we’re still all in this together.

Covid-19 has been dominating our lives for a long time now. And there’s still a lot going on. But, now we’re in level 3, should we put some boundaries in place for the amount of time we spend talking and consuming news re Covid-19 while in isolation, for mental health of adults and teenagers?

Yes, is the short answer!

I’ve been advocating for boundaries around the information overload from the beginning, it’s important that we recognise the value of having good information from reputable sources enables us to make informed decisions, but also balancing that with a break from the constant news flow.

It can even feel that we “have to” engage with the news, but actually that is our fear system highjacking our attention.

It makes sense at a survival level, but ultimately in our modern world is unhelpful as it can cause us to over-focus on the anxiety-provoking tidal wave of news and information about Covid-19.

Instead, as a family, engage in shared activities, exercise, board games, watch a show together or read – fiction offline.

If it is a real struggle, then you may even want to set a weekend day where all talk of the “virus” is banned to make the break really clear.

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