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How mindfulness can help during Lockdown

In this article, provided by Smiling Mind, we look at how mindfulness can help during lockdown

We are living through an unprecedented and uncertain time, requiring each of us to navigate our way, as best we can, through a rapidly evolving global health crisis.

With things changing so quickly, such uncertainty and unpredictability can take a toll on our mental and physical health.

Managing our emotions and supporting each other can be challenging at the best of times. This is why, more than ever, we all need to be doing our best to regularly pause, take a breath and be proactive in looking after ourselves and others.

” Moment by moment we can make our way through”– Sharon Salzberg

We know that this isn’t always easy, and we want to support you. In this article, you will find different practical things you can do to take care of your own wellbeing, as well as support the children in your life, your colleagues, loved ones and friends.

This resource takes an evidence-based approach to offering you practical tools and techniques to help manage uncertainty, reduce anxiety and stay connected and grounded.

Mindfulness provides us with a means of cultivating greater and more objective awareness of our own emotional landscape, the emotions of others, and of external circumstance.

In doing so, it gives us more choice in how we respond to challenges we may face and the ability to more consciously choose where we place our attention.

Wherever you are in the world we sincerely hope that you and your loved ones remain safe and healthy. In the words of one of our favourite meditation teachers: “Moment by moment we can find our way though” – Sharon Salzberg.

Fear, anxiety & denial

Acknowledging that feeling fearful and anxious at a time such as this is not only normal but appropriate. Given the nature of the threat we are facing, fear and anxiety are adaptive responses as they alert us to the fact that we need to be taking appropriate action to keep ourselves and others as safe and healthy as possible.

It’s also important to recognise that fear and anxiety can quickly escalate and reach a tipping point beyond which they are no longer helpful and can affect us in negative ways. When the acute stress response, otherwise knowns as the ‘fight or flight’ response, kicks in we’re not as able to think clearly or make good decisions; we become more reactive and less responsive; and our thinking can quickly spiral, becoming increasingly negative and difficult to unhook from.

Warning signs

Mindfulness helps us get better at recognising and understanding our own personal signals that tell us we’re close to our tipping point. We can think of mindfulness as being like our own personal ‘fear and anxiety thermometer’ helping us get to know our own warning signs and recognise them as they’re kicking in.

Examples include:

  • irritability
  • losing patience
  • a sense of urgency
  • difficulty sleeping
  • inability to focus
  • catastrophic thinking
  • ruminating
  • eating or drinking more than usual.

In addition to knowing and recognising our warning signals, mindfulness gives us the opportunity to respond by taking steps to settle and soothe our nervous system, which in turn enables us to think more clearly, make better decisions and respond as opposed to react.

Beware denial

It can also be tempting to turn away from and deny the seriousness of what’s happening. Denial may be particularly appealing given the significant impact that this outbreak will have on so many people financially, emotionally or physically. While temporary distractions can be useful for giving our minds a break, on the whole denial is not a helpful approach. It can leave us vulnerable and exhausted as it may lead to not taking appropriate precautions and it’s difficult to sustain in the face of reality.

Mindfulness can help us see things more clearly, which in turn helps us strike a balance between staying informed and making sensible choices without becoming overwhelmed.

Healthy brain breaks

Giving your brain a break when you’re nearing your tipping point can be a helpful way of deactivating the acute stress (‘fight or flight’) response. Even short moments of reprieve are beneficial as they help reset enabling us to find the middle ground between overwhelm and denial. It’s in this place that we’re able to make better choices and are best placed to support ourselves and those around us.

We recommend trying out the following as often as you need to:

Move

Any kind of physical movement is a great way of releasing the build-up of excess energy that accompanies the acute stress (‘fight or flight’) response – take yourself for a walk or run outside; do some stretching, yoga or some other form of mindful movement; or crank some uplifting music and dance around the house for a few minutes.

Breathe

When you slow your breathing rate down the uncomfortable physical sensations of fear and anxiety start to subside. Try the following:

  • Stop what you’re doing, take three long, slow deep breaths.
  • Impose a rhythm on your breathing so that your out-breath becomes longer than your in-breath.
  • Try a 4-2-6 rhythm – e.g. breathe for 4 counts, hold your breath for 2 counts, and breathe out for 6 counts.
  • If that doesn’t feel comfortable, try imposing a 3-1-4 rhythm. The main thing is that your out-breath is slightly longer than your in-breath.

Ground

Connect to what is happening in this moment right now more consciously engaging your senses. Try the following:

  •  Splash cold water on your face
  • Take a hot (or cold) shower
  • Cuddle your pet
  • Smell and/or diffuse a relaxing essential oil (i.e. lavender, geranium, ylang ylang)
  • Take a moment to enjoy a cup of tea – really pay attention to the aroma and taste
  • Do one of the following short guided grounding exercises from the ‘Stress Management’ program in the Smiling Mind App.

“Staying connected to others is more important than ever”

Sleep

When we’re fearful and anxious it can be hard to sleep. Given the importance of sleep for our mental and physical wellbeing, including immunity, establishing good habits around sleep is particularly important at the moment.

Consider creating a pre-sleep routine by turning off news and screens at least an hour before going to bed. If you wake during the night and find you can’t sleep, rather than sit lay there and worry, try a meditation from the ‘Sleep’ program in the Smiling Mind App.

Connect

While social connection may be tricky during this time when many people are physical distancing, staying connected to others is more important than ever as we are wired to connect and seek comfort and care from others. We are fortunate to have so much technology at our fingertips enabling us to stay connected to family, friends and colleagues.

Try using video conferencing technology so that you can see each other, as we communicate best when we can see each other’s body language and facial expressions. Do your best to listen and interact as mindfully as you can with others – really pay attention to the people you’re interacting with.

Contribute

Contributing to the wellbeing of others helps shift our attention from ourselves onto what we can do for them. This helps us connect with others; gain a sense of agency, even if only in a small way; plus helping others also positively impacts our own wellbeing.

Consider how you might help others at this difficult time. For example, you could support a local business you value that is likely struggling at the moment or check up on an elderly friend or relative.

Create healthy habits

Mindfulness can help us create healthy habits to keep us and others as safe and healthy as possible. For example, washing your hands mindfully and taking care not to touch your face.

This article was originally published by Smiling Mind.

For general information about looking after yourself during the coronavirus outbreak, visit Beyond Blue’s dedicated page here.

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Doctors healthcare medicare Uncategorized

Social Prescribing the new prescription

A new report from the RACGP and the Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF). has found that the use of social prescribing is likely to counter rising chronic health problems.

RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said. ‘At the frontline of healthcare, GPs are best placed to employ social prescribing to help improve their patients’ health and wellbeing,’

The United Kingdom has used this apprach successfully as have other countries including promising trials in Canada and Singapore. It can help shift the balance to focusing on prevention and early intervention for patients.

We urgently need to consider our approach to healthcare in Australia, with huge challenges in rising chronic illness, mental health issues, isolation and loneliness plus the associated costs

‘Social prescribing offers an innovative solution.’

Social prescribing involves the referral of patients to non-medical activities, ranging from health and fitness programs to movie clubs and meditation.

This report follows a roundtable co-hosted by the RACGP and CHF in partnership with the National Health and Medical Research Council Partnership Centre for Health System Sustainability, and a consultation process. It recommends that social prescribing be incorporated into routine healthcare in Australia.

In a survey commissioned for the initiative, 70% of GPs said they believe referring patients to community activities, groups or services helps to improve health outcomes, but most do not have links with such services.

Some GPs are already employ social prescribing, but more resourcing and recognition is needed to implement it in a sustainable way said Dr Nespolon.

‘Social prescribing offers a huge opportunity to improve patient health and wellbeing and cut the costs of chronic disease, but it won’t happen unless everyone can access it,’ he said.

Leanne Wells, CHF Chief Executive Officer, describes social prescribing as a ‘vital development for patients’.

‘[It] can help to address the social determinants of health, such as low education and income, which can affect people’s health and wellbeing,’ she said.

‘It has become particularly important given rising rates of chronic illness, mental health issues, social isolation and loneliness, many of which cannot be treated effectively with a medical approach alone.

‘We need to find more effective ways to keep people out of hospital in order for our health system to remain stable.’

For future information please see RACGP

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Arthritis Australia Doctors healthcare medicare

Why we still need better health care in Australia

So for the record, I have psoriatic arthritis, Kyphoscoliosis, Asthma, something else I can’t spell let alone pronounce that basically means the bottom of both my lungs are permanently collapsed. There bent backward to be exact and as such the blood supply couldn’t reach them and they’ve died. I also live with C-PTSD and related PTS heart murmur that is managed monthly by an amazing psychiatrist that I would be lost without and a cardiologist as needed.But for 7 years I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and so for 7 years I was without appropriate medication or support, which brings me to, todays rant. I Live in a Lucky country and comparatively speaking, I live with A LOT of privilege, like universal health care and disability pensions. Because I was born in Australia, I have enjoyed access to almost freehealthcaree my whole life and because I live here and qualify for a pension, I receive little less than a minimum wage here in Australia from My government so that I may live a reasonable quality of life. So let me be the first to say THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU AUSTRALIA!!!! But despite all this privilege, I worry that it isn’t enough, that we as humans need to do more for each other, not financially but emotionally.For 7 years I was misdiagnosed not because there was a lack of evidence pointing to another cause but because of a refusal by public funded doctors to see past their own bias. For 7 years I was repeatedly shamed as a hypochondriac, despite medical evidence saying otherwise.  3 times I presented to emergency and was immediately sent for a psychiatric consult, all 3 times, there was something physically and seriously wrong with me. The first time It happened I was in Brisbane and was having a severe allergic reaction to over the counter medications interacting with my tramadol. The senior ambulance officer made the judgement call, that they would only take me to the hospital if I was willing to admit myself for a mental health evaluation. His reasoning, his mother has fibromyalgia and he knew the histrionics we played with and thus refused me any kind of medical care. Eventually, the psychiatrist did interview me and forced the hospital to treat me medically. After 32 hours in Emergency, vomiting uncontrollably, sobbing from abdominal cramps, a high temperature and shaking, the ER doc figured out, It was the over counter medication causing the issue. Not a Fibro induced histrionic episode. The next time it happened I was in Adelaide, and as it turned out, I had appendicitis but it took a forced psych evaluation and the treating psychiatrist to demand I be treated as a medical patient before the hospital ran any tests, again the Doctors on call in the ER that night, deemed my vomiting, sweating, shaking and pain to be nothing more than psychosomatic fibro related pain. The Last time it happened it was in Victoria, I was again suffering from a severe allergic reaction to medication and again they refused to treat me, they didn’t demand a psych eval this time though, they simply sent me home with an antihistamine and the advice I talk to my Psychiatrist about pain management. 24 hours later I was Back in the ER with my face closed up and my throat near closed, I had gone into a slow but potentially lethal anaphylactic shock, all of this combined with my treating Rheumatologists dismissal of my symptoms and bloodwork that forced me to go private. He repeatedly mocked and laughed at the concerned letters from my podiatrist, physiotherapist and myself that something more than fibromyalgia was going on. He told me my blood inflammation levels were so high because I was fat, he told me if I couldn’t handle the pain, then my psychiatrist wasn’t doing his job properly, and he lied blaming fibromyalgia on my rapid foot growth, and severe swelling in my neck, hands, and knees. Thankfully it was his complete disrespect of my treating psychiatrist that pushed me to my limit, I have an amazing relationship with my psychiatrist, so my rheumatologist, laughing at him, without bothering to learn who he is (my psych is literally one of the top treating psychs in VIC and an authority on psychiatry) was the end point for me. I went back to my Psychiatrist and asked him if he could refer me elsewhere, I figured birds of a feather flock together, so I knew it was a good chance that my psychiatrist’s peers would be at the top of their field too and I was right! But that costs $$$, it would cost and is still costing me a small fortune between 300 and 500 per medical visit to see my new Doctors and i would pay even more money to ensure my own going medical needs are met. Yes it means I have to drive 3 hours each way to see these specialists, but unlike my local government funded doctors, this Rheumatologist, takes my medical needs and test results seriously. Because of her, and the subsequent medication I am now on for psoriatic arthritis, my blood inflammation markers are under 50 for the first time in 7 years, I am exercising 4 times as much, I can toilet myself without medical aids, I can walk faster, I can bend again and I’m no longer sobbing in mind blowing pain every day. Because of her, I am trying to go back to school, just today I enrolled at Tafe to study online and because of this new found hope, I am actually planning a life that doesn’t revolve around disability or living on a pension. Because of her, I will one day pay taxes again, the very taxes that fund the inadequate public health system that shunned me.Why so many doctors from so many regions across Australia believe Fibromyalgia is a psychiatric condition despite being managed by Rheumatology, I will never know, I only know the public treating Rheumatologist I saw repeatedly used my exhaustion and nerve pain as a justification for his belief that all of my sufferings was psychosomatic and in my head. Why he and so many others felt compelled to give me an additional diagnosis of fibromyalgia when the existing diagnosis of C-PTSD already covers the reason for neuropathic pain and why they believe it’s ok to ignore blood tests, CT scans, xrays and reports from allied treating professional all pointing to something else in lieu of a convenient psychiatric justification.  And perhaps in that lays the answer, are our public treating doctors so overworked that they are constantly on the lookout for ways to handball patients, and it’s convenient to label someone a hypochondriac, because it means you don’t have to deal with them, at least until the treating psychiatrist demands you do that is.I don’t have any answers, sadly all I have is questions and sadness, I lost 7 years of my life, being treated like an attention seeking drama queen, all because Doctors here in Australia don’t want to deal with the diagnosis they don’t understand. Today I am rebuilding my life, but I have also lost a lot and sadly learnt that in Australia even the medical system thinks it’s ok to treat psych patients like second class citizens, time and time again I tried to help myself and repeatedly I was made to feel like I didn’t know my place. The medical doctors I saw treated me like I was worthless and didn’t matter, but it was my psychiatrist who stood by me and repeatedly told me “this pain is not in your head” it was my psychiatrist who kept me sane when the medical doctors made me feel like a hypochondriac. But that should never have had to happen in the first place, It shouldn’t be my Psychs job to ensure I get good medical care because the medical ‘system’ doesn’t believe in treating psych patients with dignity.  And this brings me to my next blog, why the relationship you have with your doctor is so important