We can all agree that 2021 was a doozy. The second year of the COVID-19 pandemic brought us more lockdowns and border closures, resulting in family separations, cancelled plans and heartache for business owners trying to stay afloat.
Add to that the unprecedented stress of working from home and managing kids’ remote learning, many of us have been left depleted and burnt out, says Dr Grant Blashki, lead clinical adviser at Beyond Blue. “There’s no sugarcoating it – it’s been pretty hard.”
Swap your smartphone screen for a page-turning paperback.Credit:iStock
Robert Sams is executive director and volunteer crisis supporter at Lifeline Australia, where calls to the helpline peaked at 3600 a day. “In August and September this year, we broke records eight times in a row,” says Sams. “An ongoing thread was anxiety all the way through.”
So after an exhausting “two-year marathon” of upheaval, Blashki says the summer months offer a rare opportunity to take time off to refill our cup – Omicron outbreak notwithstanding. Three experts share their tips for making the most of a summer break to face 2022 as recharged and refreshed as possible.
Create a mental haven
You don’t need two weeks poolside at a resort to re-energise this summer. Whether you’re at home or on holiday, Blashki says you can create a “mental haven for yourself … through getting lost in a hobby or putting your phone on airplane mode for a couple of hours to have a break.”
Swap your smartphone screen for a page-turning paperback, go swimming in the ocean or tackle a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. “It sounds clichéd, but smell the roses,” says Blashki.
The Positivity Institute’s Dr Suzy Green is recharging with a camping trip.
Spending time in nature “restores your energy and capacity to refocus,” says Dr Suzy Green, founder of The Positivity Institute. Go for a bushwalk, book in a surfing lesson or simply lie back and watch the clouds glide past.
An off-grid camping trip – how Green is spending her post-Christmas break – ticks all the boxes. If you can’t go bush for an extended period, do the next best thing and explore the camping spots in your local area for a weekend getaway.
If you’ve never tried meditation, now is the time to start. “It’s as equally non-negotiable as exercise,” says Green. A regular mindfulness practice calms our sympathetic nervous system and allows us to better manage negative thoughts.
If you’re a newcomer to meditation, begin with an app like Smiling Mind. “Start small,” Green says. “You want to build a level of competence. You don’t want to think, ‘this is rubbish, and I can’t do it.’” After three or four weeks of daily practice, “you’ll start to notice within yourself the difference and want to keep going,” she says. “You’ll be much calmer and less reactive.”
Zoom out and log off
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the relentless COVID-19 news cycle. Limit your consumption of COVID-related news to the essential advice you need to know, advises Blashki, who also recommends deploying a “COVID tap-out” in social interactions. If the pandemic dominates dinner table discussions night after night, don’t be afraid to say: “That’s enough talk about COVID – let’s move on and talk about something else.”
Eat, sleep and exercise
The link between physical and mental health is well established. Plan healthy meals, exercise often and treat yourself to afternoon naps of 15 to 20 minutes. Any longer, warns Green, and “you’ll go into a deeper sleep cycle, and you’ll wake up groggy.”
And while unwinding with a cold beer on a warm summer evening is common practice, be mindful of your alcohol consumption. “In Australia, we drink more than the recommended amount,” notes Green, who suggests savouring a glass of wine rather than sharing a bottle. Aim for “quality over quantity,” she says.
If you rely on alcohol to relax – or other potentially harmful habits such as drugs, gambling, or compulsive shopping – Green suggests examining the emotions, experiences or events behind the behaviour. “If it’s all a bit scary, really consider seeking professional help in the new year,” she says.
Time off over summer is an opportunity to embed the good habits you want to take into 2022. “Identify people, places and activities that you know are going to give you a boost to your mood,” says Green, “and be much more intentional and conscious about incorporating those into your weekly schedule.”
Green practises what she preaches: “I’m pretty pedantic about my scheduling and making sure that I have not just my exercise in there, but my meditation, my time with my family and friends and my new grandchildren.”
Support is available from Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 and Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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