On Coronavirus (Covid-19) and maintaining mental wellness – A conversation with Clinical Psychologist, Christie Arbuckle

As the new human coronavirus Covid 19 spreads around the world, it can cause increased stress, anxiety and fear in all of us.

For people, like myself, already living with a mental illness, the impact of a pandemic such as this can be significant.  So, I thought it would be timely to share a conversation with a clinical psychologist about coronavirus and maintaining mental wellness.  Christie and I sat down last week and did a live insta covering all things mental health.  Here is a snippet:

Josie: Tell us about yourself – professional background and how the app came about?

Christie: My professional background:

  • Initially worked as psychologist in schools then moved into a more clinical role working with patients in mental health hospitals across numerous clinical areas including postnatal health, trauma recovery and eating disorders. 
  • Often held roles incorporating program development and coordination elements and was fortunate to progress into leadership and management roles such as Hospital General Manager and Director of Therapeutic Programs. 
  • In 2018, opened Growth Pursuit Consulting and now work clinically in areas such as individual therapy, with executive teams in leadership skill development and understanding mental health in the workplace.  

Josie: So how did the Compassionate Parent App come about?

Christie:  Over the past few years, people in my professional and personal circles were increasingly talking about how they were searching for evidence based and professionally written apps, blogs and social media pages.  In these instances, they were looking for something to assist them in building strategies and supports to get through life’s challenges, and many commented it was challenging to know both where to start and what was written by a professional in the health field.  The concept of building the app was on my mind for a while but if I’m honest I was so unsure of where to start initially I abandoned the idea a few times!  I then found myself thinking about the app development and writing content and realised it could be such a helpful support for so many people in ways I hadn’t originally considered such as those living rurally and needing support, for families and for parents who were looking for ways to focus on their own health and wellbeing as a new parent. 

The Compassionate Parent app uses strategies based upon principles of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Positive Psychology to assist parents in building strategies to help maintain perspective and manage expectations throughout their parenting journey. The app is broken into three key sections and allows parents to set reminders and link their favourite tools on the home page as we understand that at different stages in their parenting journey different tools are needed.   The three sections are:

Self-Help – With a focus on connectedness it identifies ways to strengthen the parent child connection through play and activity offering suggestions for newborns – 1 year old’s.    

Self-Reflection – Offering strategies for managing mood and acknowledges the mix of emotions parents can experience which may range from anxiety to tiredness while offering coping strategies for these if they are experienced. 

Personal Growth –  Offering strategies and exercises that are influenced by evidence-based therapies including Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Positive Psychology principles to offer manageable tools for busy parents across the domains of keeping positive, looking after myself, managing expectations and maintaining perspective.  

Josie:  So, what are your top tips for maintaining mental wellness during social isolation?

Christie:  Self-isolating doesn’t mean shutting ourselves off from the world.  In fact, it means the opposite.  Isolation can case emotional distress if social connection isn’t maintained in nonphysical ways, so it is important to have a coping plan in place.  The opportunity to find new ways to connect, to discover new interests and connect in different ways is now awaiting.  

Remember the three key areas though

  1. Stay connected – to work, to family and friends.  Connect with those you live with in pleasurable ways such as playing games, cooking together, and so on.  Set regular times to connect with those you care about.  
  2. Stay informed – avoid excessive media exposure and turn off social media if you need to. Remain balanced between fact seeking and being overloaded by information to allow you to remain calm and prepared. Know your signs of overload and turn off social media when you need.  Be aware of what children may see, or hear and that processing may be different to an adults.  They may need increased reassurance at this time.
  3. Stay mindful – practice self-care, be mindful of how you feel (seek help and support if needed), pay attention to your emotions and attentive to the tasks that fill your day. (these could include projects or creative tasks, journaling and so forth not just formal relaxation and mindfulness practices)

Josie:  How can a psychologist can help with mental health concerns?

Christie: Psychologists can help by offering practical support through supporting you to build coping tools to manage emotions, to offer talking based therapy to support processing of events, feelings and thoughts and to help people understand their experience in different ways. 

Josie:  How you can support your child through social isolation?

Christie: Talk about how they are feeling: Answer their questions in a calm manner, reflecting back their feelings and using age and understanding appropriate language. Ask them what they know and clarify any misunderstandings that may be causing confusion or anxiety.  Maintain a routine where possible, including children in the planning where possible.  Do things that make you feel safe, support wellbeing and allow you to reflect coping tools. Make a list of activities that can be done at home including ideas for creativity, activity, learning, gratitude, connection, pleasure and relaxing. Show compassion and kindness.  Acknowledge your own feelings and role model coping where appropriate.

Josie: How do you practice self care?

Christie: cup of coffee in the morning, exercise, have a routine so you know what is coming next, practice mindfulness. Knowing my signs of increased stress and typical coping when under pressure, the typical stressors that I find activating and so forth. Healthy boundaries, Keep connected

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