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Psychologist Dr Zac Seidler on supporting loved ones during tough times

Friends staying connected

It’s no surprise that the worldwide pandemic is having a negative effect on our mental health. The crisis has caused our stress levels to soar, potentially triggered underlying mental health issues and made many of us feel more alone.  

With some of us self-isolating solo or worried about others struggling, we sat down with Dr Zac Seidler, a clinical psychologist and Movember’s Director of Mental Health Training for our latest episode of Contiki’s bonus podcast season Unusual Circumstances. Tune in for his advice on protecting our mental health, while Movember ambassador Andrew Newman opens up about the true value of social connection. 

Here, Dr Zac answers the questions you submitted to us via our Instagram live Q&A around supporting loved ones, during the global pandemic and beyond…

How can I help family members or friends feel less alone if they’re living solo?

I know so many people who are worried about sorting their loved ones, with heaps of people in my office also living alone. Some people who are introverts are really loving that but I know that the majority are finding it pretty difficult because that physical distancing is so hard. My tip would be to drop off little gifts if you can get out to see them, or maybe even send a hand-written letter.

I got some letters yesterday, which was really exciting. Maybe craft or create something and send it over to make it even more personal. This will remind them that they’re not alone. Just shooting through something that lets them know that you’re thinking of them is really powerful. 

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My friend has gone quiet on messages and social media and I’m worried – what can I do to help?

This is a tell-tale sign that things may have gone a bit awry with your friend. I think that we need to remember that mental health is really precarious; we all sit on a spectrum and the way we feel moves all the time – even during the day we might go from feeling really anxious and down to feeling on top of the world. 

So I think we need to pay attention to who might be slipping through the cracks or not reaching out when they need it. There’s no better time than now to check in. Don’t worry about any awkwardness, just give them a call and you’ll have all that shared experience of lockdown or staying home to connect over. Even if you just ask what’s been going on with them and really listening, not jumping in with lots of solutions necessarily. If it makes sense and they need to seek help, then you can encourage action here. 

Before you go, arrange a check in – not just saying, ‘yeah, we’ll speak soon’ – but setting a specific time to chat again. That’s really important. We need to schedule this stuff or it just slips by! 

I miss my workout buddy. How can we stay motivated to keep active without seeing each other?

This one has been hitting me too. I’m a runner and I love running with my mates. What I’ve been doing is setting challenges with my friends and so we’ve been doing push up or running challenges on our own, but competing through that! Depending on what the exercise is, you can also set up video chats while you’re exercising, like doing a HIIT video or yoga session maybe.

Man exercising solo

Image source:Hunter Bryant / Unsplash

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Jessica Alexander
by Jessica Alexander May 08, 2020

How can I support my parents who aren’t allowed to go out right now?

That’s really tough. My grandparents are in an aged care facility and I can’t see them so that’s difficult. Just telling them that you love them and that you’re thinking of them is the most important thing. Checking in regularly, not just on and off chance, I think is really important. This will help parents and grandparents feel needed and also heard during this time.

I’m struggling to come to terms with the fact that there’s no end date, how can I feel more hopeful?

Depending on where you are in the world, we’re all experiencing different things. There’s so much uncertainty on when we might get to travel again and I think lots of us are battling with this at the moment. We’re all just trying to work out our future plans and what things are going to look like! 

My advice is, this isn’t something you can overcome overnight but try sitting with that uncertainty and thinking about what you do have control over, not what you don’t. Paying attention to this can be very helpful. You could break those up into a list and work on the things you can control and leave the things you don’t.

I’d also suggest making a bucket list. Plan your dreams now. We’ve got time so that when the time comes and the borders open again, you know where you want to go and you can do it because it’s been visualised.

I can’t stick to a routine and I’m feeling really unmotivated, any tips?

As a psychologist, the fastest tricks to motivating ourselves are exercise and diet, getting those down. Nailing your sleep cycle is a great way to boost your mental health and wake up feeling refreshed. But really, little challenges are a way of staying motivated and congratulating yourself as you go. For instance, I set myself the challenge of writing a paragraph for an article within an hour, I completed that and rewarded myself with an ice cream. Simple, but effective!

Be kind to yourself, don’t set yourself too high expectations right now. Remember that there’s always a silver lining and that’s what I think we’re learning in this Covid-19 situation. There’s been a lot of death and a lot of destruction, but there are still so many beautiful things coming out of this time, and there are so many opportunities for people to refresh and reboot.

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Tina Burke
by Tina Burke Apr 17, 2020

My friends and I want to go travelling again, but we’re scared that so much is going to change – should we keep dreaming and making plans?

As a psychologist, the best thing for your mental health is dreaming and making plans! It’s working out how you’re going to go about that. Sooner rather than later, we’re going to be able to travel. Let’s not pretend that this is an easy situation but really think through what you want your travels to look like and your finance options to get ready for next year, because things are going to go pretty quickly once the world starts opening up again!

Two friends on holiday together

Image source:Tyler Nix / Unsplash

I’m having really vivid dreams and I’m not sleeping well, what’s your advice?

Work on your sleep hygiene, this is key for your mental health. Beds are for S’s – sleeping, snoozing and sex (if that’s happening for you right now!). They’re not for work or scrolling social media. Some great sleep hygiene tips include:

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What are your tips for finding the right balance between looking after yourself and others?

It’s difficult to know when you might be putting yourself last, but when you’re feeling low or exhausted, it’s time to start looking inwardly. You can’t help people if you’re not looking after yourself. So I’d suggest setting up your own self-care routine and working on those day to day, whether that’s focusing on a hobby you love or dedicating time to relax and chill.

To everyone out here – look after yourselves and hopefully we’ll all be going on a Contiki tour sooner rather than later!

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