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Six tips on how to deal with the pandemic

Professor May Hauken at the Centre for Crisis Psychology believes that there has been too little focus on the psychosocial consequences of the pandemic. She has some advice on how to best deal with everyday life in the time of the coronavirus.

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In a crisis, we need to be together. But when the crisis is a pandemic, we have to keep to ourselves. This is a major psychosocial burden, says Professor May Hauken at the Centre for Crisis PsychologyThe Faculty of Psychology.

In the news, we are constantly fed with infection rates and warlike reporting about the situation abroad. Some may be afraid of getting sick themselves, or losing someone they love. Others may have lost their jobs due to the economic downturn resulting from the restrictions. The pandemic is a crisis that spares no one:

"A common reaction to being in a crisis is to flee or to seek safety with others. However, the virus is an invisible enemy, and all we can do to avoid it is to wash our hands and keep to ourselves. And we do not know when the threat will end," says Hauken, and sums up why the pandemic becomes a psychosocial challenge for many.

In the largest cities, the usual distractions - those that make us think of something else - are closed. This is true for concerts, choir rehearsals or fitness studios. On top of that, we could add the stigma of, for example, being a student, foreign worker, “snowbird”, infected or in quarantine. All this affects our mental health, says Hauken:

"Isolation means that we are alone, which can increase the risk of anxiety, depression and loneliness. We see this especially in the elderly, who have become lonelier, but young people also struggle when schools are closed or there are major restrictions on social gatherings. In general, people are tired," she says, putting into words what many feel.

Offering courses in crisis psychology and pandemic to laid-off workers

As a professor at the Centre for Crisis Psychology, Hauken is particularly aware of the psychosocial challenges of the pandemic. This autumn, the centre was encouraged to create a textbook on crisis psychology during the pandemic by Fagbokforlaget. As part of the Government's package of measures for those employees who became unemployed or laid-off due to the coronavirus pandemic, the centre also received funding to develop and carry out a course in pandemic and crisis psychology.

More than 100 people applied and around 50 were accepted and have completed the online course which lasted three days. The course gave up to 10 credits depending on which form of examination the students chose.

"The goal was to give the participants a basic introduction and practical useful knowledge in crisis and pandemic psychology, based on clinical experience and research," Hauken says.

The course was not primarily a "self-help course", but provides useful knowledge that can be used in a work situation:

"Many of the students gave feedback that the course had been useful both in a work context and personally, as a type of "self-help course" anyway," Hauken says.

The course was so popular that from the spring it will be introduced as a permanent continuing education course at the University of Bergen.

More research on the pandemic and mental health

Many people feel that the measures taken during the pandemic have become too intrusive. The feel that the lockdown poses a greater risk to public health, both mentally and physically, than the disease itself. Hauken thinks that there has been too little discussion of the psychosocial aspects of the pandemic, but that does not mean that she thinks it could have been carried out differently:

"It is the only way we could have handled it," she emphasizes.

The researcher also sees the emergence of more research that focuses on the psychosocial aspects of the pandemic. For example, she mentions her colleagues Atle Dyregrov and Anita Fjærestad who have conducted a study related to youth and the coronavirus, and also Jarle Eid, who together with two psychology students looks at how school leaders have experienced the pandemic.

A paradigm shift

Hauken believes that the pandemic may be a paradigm shift, and not just in a negative sense.

"For some, this period has been positive. They have experienced mastering unforeseen events, and many say they have had a calmer life and that they see the importance of their close family to a greater extent. Some find they have more peace and quiet to work and learn new things," says the professor.

What we are left with, after the pandemic, will depend on several factors:

"People talk about post-traumatic stress and post-traumatic stress. Some grow from a crisis, others get hurt. The outcome of this will strongly depend on external circumstances, whether you have a secure job, for example, but also the follow-up you receive, and how long the pandemic lasts," she says.

Hauken’s' tips for good mental health during the pandemic:

  • Surround yourself with you can talk to, your "cohort", and keep in touch with those outside, for example through social media. Make an effort to follow up on others who might be excluded.
  • Physical activity is important, both for mental and physical health.
  • Limit the amount of information to which you are exposed. Avoid checking online news sites all the time.
  • Keep to your routines as far as possible, even if you are working from a home office. Try to maintain a normal everyday life
  • Find some positive distractions: Watch a good movie, do some craftwork or carry out relaxation exercises (breathing techniques, yoga and meditation - there are many useful apps to help you with this). We can often be tensed up without realising it.
  • If you worry a lot, delay your worries to a certain time of day (but not just before bedtime) and set aside a limited time for such worrying. That way you can put off your concerns when they arrive: "I’ll put off thinking about this until xx p.m."
  • Get more good tips from the "Be good to yourself" campaign: https://www.vaergodmotdegselv.no/ (in Norwegian)