Worldwide, everyone is getting used to the change in routines and adjusting to the social isolation protocols brought about by the COVID-19, or coronavirus, issue. This is a challenging time for all concerned, particularly for individuals who already experience heightened anxiety. As an Autistic-led organisation, we truly understand how this feels. In this blog we share some of our self-care tips in the hopes of helping you during this difficult time.
1. Respect your own unique pace
As we are all unique, thankfully, every one of us may respond to this new situation differently. It is important to accept that it may take some of us more time than others to process the impacts, and even those who seem okay may not be. It may be frustrating that you or your children do not seem to be achieving much, but this is all a sign that you are still adjusting. When you are anxious, you are not as open to learning and being productive, anyway. Try to give yourself time to reflect. Do fun things with your children. Do something else to help you calm yourself. Some students in tertiary settings have chosen to withdraw this semester, and that's completely valid as well.
2. Find ways to keep in touch with friends and loved ones
Technology has worked wonders in keeping people in touch globally. There are many online platforms you can use to chat to your friends and family members via phone or video chat. Some popular platforms are Zoom, Skype, Discord, and Teams. If you are spending time in a group and do not want to upgrade to Zoom Pro, Google Hangouts may be a good app to use. It is free and allows unlimited time to talk to friends via video or just voice. If you enjoy gaming, consider connecting to your friends via online multiplayer games such as Minecraft, Tabletop Simulator, or, for the older ones, Elder Scrolls Online. If you are more of a traditional Role-Playing Game (RPG) player, why not start up a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) campaign and convince your friends to play with you?
3. Find calming activities to unwind
There are many things that parents and children can do together to de-stress. Something many people have been doing is taking a social media break. This can be helpful if you are finding all the news and negative commentary wearing. Colouring-in books can be a great way of doing something quiet that does not involve a lot of thinking; some people find it meditative and it could be a good alternative to traditional meditation if simply being 'quiet' is not your thing. There is a myriad of podcasts on various topics, from science to comedy, that can keep you entertained whilst you are doing house chores. Simply going out and playing with your pets can be a good way to chill out; and they will love you for it!
4. Reconnect to Nature
Visiting parks, reserves, and other natural settings can be great ways of getting out of the house if you are getting a bit stir crazy and in need of fresh air. There is nothing like being in the serenity of Nature; seeing wildlife, being around trees, and not having other usual interruptions. One of the best parts of dog training is that involves me de-hermiting and getting OUTSIDE. Our next training session is at a park, so it means that I will be around lots of trees and few distractions. I will be in tune with my dog as opposed to my phone. I consider this disconnecting to be extremely valuable ‘time-out’, and I really cherish these moments with my puppy. Connecting to calm and appreciating the simple details can be very healing, and a good way to escape the busy-ness that life throws at us. If you have a dog, they will love taking walks around the neighbourhood, and this can be a great way for you to get some daily exercise too!
5. Relax and take breaks
When you have a lot of time on your hands, it can be tempting to start filling it up with things to do, and build up stress again. This is a difficult time for many people. It's okay to take breaks and do nothing for a little while, if that is what you need to do to process and feel safe. Don't worry if you binge watch on Netflix for a while. Watching films and tv shows can be good ways to 'switch off' for a while and rejuvenate. We all need some TLC - it is easy to put pressure on ourselves to be productive, but it is also important to just 'be'.
6. Reconnect to your hobbies and interests
If you have wanted to revisit a hobby or learn something new but just didn't have the time, now is the time to do it! With more time at home during self-isolation, this can be a perfect excuse to immerse yourself in hobbies and interests. I am looking forward to having more time to draw, paint, play the piano, and read books. There are many activities and ideas online to help keep you entertained, and with the power of platforms like YouTube, there are many free tutorials at your fingertips to help you expand on your techniques in your given area.
7. Build life skills
If you are looking for things to learn that are not necessarily academic in nature, learning some essential life skills can be incredibly empowering and give you some routine. This could be as simple as tidying your living space, baking, cooking, or learning how to wash and iron. Obviously, independence looks different for every individual, but if there is something you would like to learn to feel better about yourself, this is the time to practice and explore while at home. There are some fun family activities you can do together, like gardening, making a veggie patch, or coming up with new recipes. Some of my fondest memories are of being at home with my mother baking Anzac biscuits and making cupcakes (and licking the mixture of the bowl, of course!) Sometimes I miss the days when I had more time with my family.
8. Nourish your body
One of the best things I have found so far is that I have more energy to devote time to physical exercise. I love to visit the horses nearby and go for long walks with my mother (and shorter ones with my growing puppy!) Getting exercise does not have to been a full blown workout - it can be as simple as a 20 minute walk up and down the road. Meditation can be a great way of switching your mind off and learning techniques to manage anxiety. Of course, meditation does not work for everyone, but I personally have found it a powerful way of reducing my stress levels. I experience meditation in multiple settings - spending time outdoors with the horses and matching my breathing to theirs, walking, patting my dog, or drawing. Exercises that strengthen core muscles like yoga can be calming and gentle methods of staying fit, healthy, and calm.
9. Research online events and community gatherings
Many businesses are transitioning their events to online platforms so people can keep connected and continue to do the things they love, including webinars, gaming events, workout routines, yoga, art classes, and more. Keep an eye out for updates and support small businesses when you can. We are going to be running some Autism-related webinars over the next few months, so watch this space!
10. Seek help if needed
Sometimes we need additional help to manage our mental health, and that's ok. Many allied health professionals are offering sessions via teleconference or phone. Don't hesitate to reach out to them and discuss options.
There are multiple online support services that can help you during this time if seeking an appointment with an allied health professional is not an option for you.
Beyond Blue have a 24/7 service where you can access support services. Call them on 1300 22 4636 or chat online from 3PM-12AM AEST at www.beyondblue.org.au/getsupport.
SANE Australia is a national mental health charity and provide support for individuals with mental health issues. Their counsellors are available via phone at 1800 18 7263, email or web chat from 10AM-10PM Monday-Friday AEST at: https://www.sane.org/services/help-centre
The Black Dog Institute is another mental health specific organisation and provide resources to help individuals with mental health issues. More information can be found here: https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/getting-help/seeking-help
The Butterfly Foundation provide support for people with eating disorders and body image issues, and are available for phone chat at 1800 33 4673, chat at https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/our-services/helpline/chat-online/, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. They are open 8am – midnight (AEST), seven days a week.
Qlife provide support via phone call at 1800 184 527 or webchat every day from 3PM-12AM for LGBTQIA+ individuals at https://www.qlife.org.au.
· If you require immediate support, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14
· If you are in an emergency dial 000.
Self-care during this stressful time is vital in keeping ourselves physically and mentally healthy. During self-isolation, you may not be as productive or as positive as usual, and that's okay. It is important that we are kind to ourselves and respect our processes, and help each other as a community. If you know someone who is Neurodivergent, has heightened anxiety or other mental health issues, please look out for them during this challenging time. We need each other's help and support more than ever. And, importantly, #StayAtHome to protect our vulnerable communities.