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A psychologist's guide to surviving lockdown

A few days ago psychologist Chris Cheers began sharing advice on social media about getting through lockdowns, as a way to support those in Sydney. His posts quickly went viral.

Chris Cheers is a psychologist who spent the long lockdown in Melbourne last year supporting people struggling with their mental health. 

A few days ago he began sharing advice on social media about getting through lockdowns, as a way to support those in Sydney. His posts went viral, encouraging other Melbournians to share their own tips.

Today, Chris Cheers on how those of us not in lockdown can support our friends and family who are, and why listening is one of the most helpful things we can do right now.


Guest: Psychologist Chris Cheers.

Show Transcript

Archival tape - [Phone rings]

 

KARISHMA:
Hi Beth!

 

BETH:
Hey how you going?

 

KARISHMA:
Good, how are you?

 

BETH:
I’m good, it’s so nice to see your face!

 

KARISHMA:
You too, uh, how are you doing? Uh, it's so good to see you, it’s been ages.

 

BETH:
Its so good to see you too, I really, yeah..

 

KARISHMA:
I'm in Sydney at the moment. Yeah, just in Redfern in a noisy apartment building. I think if I see any people, they're all wearing masks or they're all just carrying grocery bags, obviously everyone's doing all essential stuff as much as they can. 

 

I don't know how I'm feeling at the moment. Um, I think a part of me is really anxious because I don't know what's going to come in the next few weeks. And I genuinely don't know how Melbournians did it. I genuinely thought it wasn't going to last that long. and I just didn't think it would go on as long or with so much uncertainty as it is at the moment. yeah..

[Theme Music Starts]

BETH:
From Schwartz Media I’m Beth Atkinson-Quinton, this is 7am.

 

Australia’s major cities are continuing to bounce in and out of lockdown, adding to the stress and anxiety of millions of people wondering when, or even if, this pandemic might be over.

 

But on top of the pressure and uncertainty of lockdowns, there’s something else going on: parochialism.

 

What was once a friendly rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney has at times become more aggressive and even toxic. 

 

Using it to distract from other issues.

 

But most of us are just trying to figure out how to get through one of the most challenging moments in modern human history. We aren’t looking for division, we’re looking for community.

 

One person who has been trying to bridge the divide is Melbourne based psychologist Chris Cheers.

A few days ago he began sharing advice on social media about getting through lockdowns, as a way to support those in Sydney. His posts went viral, encouraging other Melbournians to share their own tips.

 

Today, Chris Cheers on how those of us not in lockdown can support our friends and family who are…  and why listening is one of the most helpful things we can do right now. 

[Theme Music Ends]

BETH:
Chris, you’re a psychologist who worked throughout the long lockdown in Melbourne last year. Can you tell me, what was that like? 

 

CHRIS:
It's interesting. Even as you ask that question, I sit, my mind kind of goes back there in my body starts to almost be triggered into remembering what it was like to be in the spare bedroom of my apartment on telehealth.

 

So my memories are really just of being burnt out myself, being isolated myself, being dealing with all that myself, but then having to sort of sit in front of a computer and give therapy to, I say I give therapy to a green light now because what I learnt with telehealth was if you look at them in the eyes, it doesn't feel like you're looking at them.

 

So, uh, as a therapist, it's very disconnected and takes a lot of energy and effort to, to try and support someone who's going through real a really tough time. Um, but you're doing it through a screen. It was really challenging. 

 

BETH:
It's interesting being here in Melbourne right now. For most of this year, we've been relatively lucky compared to the rest of the world, even what's happening in the rest of Australia, but, you know, in the past few weeks we've seen Sydney enter this lockdown and it's not clear when it might end. When you first saw Sydney go into this lockdown. What were you thinking and feeling watching it from here? 

 

CHRIS:
I think I, like many people in Melbourne, that a press conference is triggering now, uh, in the sense of the word lockdown and the idea of case numbers just brings us back to that trauma experience last year.

 

And so I think my initial reaction was one of worry for the people of Sydney and for my friends there. Thinking that it was going to be what we went through. But I'd be lying if I didn't say there was that sense of gratefulness that we weren't going through it. And that's very challenging to hold those two things together.

 

And I think I'm seeing a lot of fear that's being acted out through attacks and defensiveness and so some, you know, specific examples, I think I've seen that sense of, you know, you should have locked down earlier. You're not even having a real lockdown. If you'd locked down earlier, you wouldn't be in this place. 

 

And there's a lot of attacks that are directed almost to everyone in Sydney, what we're seeing are attacks that sort of aim at the personal rather than, I think aimed at the structures that have really make these decisions and also led to some of the errors or the problems that I think people have anger, quite legitimate anger about. 

 

And we know that within the trauma response, we tend to focus on safety and self-protection rather than connection. And when you're in that state of self-protection, that's when we see attacking and defensiveness. 


So I started to look for alternate ways to offer help and understanding and support to people during this time. And my way to do that is through my understanding of psychology. 

 

And, uh, so I started to turn to social media as a way to share ideas, to share strategies and the hope that it could offer something, even just something little.

 

BETH:
So you started sharing these posts on Instagram, based on your experience as a psychologist in Melbourne, can you tell me more about these posts, what did they say?

 

CHRIS:
Well the most recent one that really came from a place of wanting to offer support to Sydney, based on what I've learnt as a psychologist and also through supporting people, through the lockdowns in the last year, really focussed on some clear tips or strategies that people could use. And each of them really came from a place of trying to say, this may be what you're going through. This is why. And here's something practical you might be able to do to help. 

 

And I think the general statement that I think quite connected with people at the end of this post was an idea that during times of uncertainty, we can think of that as almost like a storm, that right now Covid and lockdown's, we're in this storm that is beyond our control. And when we were in a storm, we don't sort of tend to stand out and kind of try and attack the storm or wish it would go away or try and tell the storm we found it would be different. 

All we do in a storm itself or in a ship is to anchor ourselves and to wait for the storm to pass. 

 

BETH:
We’ll be right back.

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BETH:
Chris, the advice you shared on Instagram really seems to have resonated with a lot of people, I saw it all over my feed. How did it make you feel to see that kind of response?

 

CHRIS:
It's been amazing to see how much these ideas have been shared. I think that sense of community and care that I'm seeing. The most recent posts, with offering ideas from Melbourne to support Sydney, I think has given people in Melbourne something to do to show that they care because it's a really challenging time. It's really hard to think of how on earth do you support someone through this. 

 

Archival tape -- Unknown Person 1:
“My tip for anyone locked down in Sydney is to try to keep a regular sleep schedule, so go to bed at the same time every day, get up at the same time every morning that you normally would, and maybe go for a run…”

 

CHRIS:
I think what's really great is I'm also seeing, since this post, people sharing their own tips from Melbourne.

 

Archival tape -- Unknown Person 2:
“So many things in your life are going to be taken away from you that are not your choice, and a kind of natural inclination is to maybe cut out some other vices in your life…”

 

CHRIS:
And this gave a really simple way, I think, for people to try and express that. 

 

Archival tape -- Unknown Person 3:
“Another thing that was great was forming a whatsapp group to stay connected with close friends and colleagues to vent or even share funny stories…”

 

CHRIS:
This isn't just about a post. This is me communicating to you that I am here to support you and that these ideas might be helpful for you. 

 

Archival tape -- Unknown Person 4:
“Really feeling for you, Sydney folks and hoping you’re surviving ok in lockdown.”

 

BETH:
Ok, let’s talk about some of the specifics advice you shared. Can you give me some examples?

 

CHRIS:
Yeah, most of the posts I, there's a lot of, I guess, self care Instagram kind of posts out there that I would say more fit into sort of quotes and platitudes. And I wanted to offer something that was different to that. 

 

So when you're having an emotional reaction to something, try and let your first response be one of interest. One of saying, why does this motion make sense and why is it valid that I'm feeling like this rather than one of there's something wrong with this emotion? I need to get rid of it.

 

I tried to say self care is not just about bubbles baths self care is about boundaries. And that idea of it's uncomfortable sometimes to use self care because it is often about putting yourself first, which is challenging for people.

 

I also tried to validate people's sense of loss in this post and really validate that what you're going through is grief. And those stages of anger and denial are all normal parts of this grieving process as a way to understand what people are going through. But with Covid, there's a challenge here that the grief isn't specific, the loss isn't specific, it's very indefinite. And I think the more you can focus on a specific loss, the easier it will be to process this grief. 

 

In the end, you know, just reading a post is never going to change your life. But taking action based on what you've read is the thing that gets me really excited about the kind of change or support these things can do. 

 

So I think in the midst of maybe a social media that's based in sort of negativity or rivalry, it is offering a space of saying, well, how can we actually empathise and support here. 

 

BETH:
Mmm yeah, It's seemed to become this beautiful tool as a way of expressing that we're there for, for people, you know, because it has been quite strange being in Melbourne at the moment while we're watching what's happening in Sydney. You know, I've been chatting to friends in Sydney at the moment and I really want to know how best to support them. What advice do you have on how best to support people that are in Sydney right now going through this lockdown?

 

CHRIS:
I think I go back to the ideas of Carl Rogers, who was one of the pioneers within the counselling and therapy space, who used to say that listening done well is the single most important thing you can do for someone. 

 

And listening we do better over voice than I think we do online. You know, I often say that listening and empathy are two very difficult things to do on social media. Whereas if you can introduce the idea of voice back into this, I think that is a real sense of connection for people. 

 

BETH:
I watch Greys Anatomy, like 16 seasons of it, it was a lot.


Archival tape - [Karishma laughs]
 

KARISHMA:
When I feel particularly uneasy, I think I end up watching something like The Office and you know just escaping a little bit from the current situation. 

 

CHRIS:
So, yeah, I've been thinking a lot about returning to voice and thinking about when I was in high school and having those long, like three telephone conversations with people. And I think there's a nostalgia to that. But there's also, there is a real sense of evidence behind this. That voice is a way that we've been connecting to each other for four years and years and years. And our body is built to feel and understand emotion through voice. 

 

KARISHMA:
Sometimes my mind will just jump back to the current situation. I'll be like, whoa, like the way people are sitting in these TV shows close together. I don't think we can do that again for a bit.
 

BETH:
Yeah, I'm watching things where people are very close together and you're like, that is just not Covid safe. I hope that we can actually see each other IRL at some point in the future.

 

KARISHMA:
Yeah, that’d be really good, it was nice seeing you too.

 

CHRIS:
I would suggest trying to reach out through voice, through a phone call and coming from that intention to listen, as a way to support someone when you don't know how to support be led by them, because you never know what someone's experience of of a lockdown or Covid is, because we all have experience in such different ways. 

 

BETH:
Chris, thank you so much for your time today. 

 

CHRIS:
No worries. 

 

BETH:
To Karishma, thanks for letting me record our chat today, and thanks to everyone that sent through their advice and support to people who are currently in lockdown.

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[Theme Music Starts]

BETH:
Also in the news today...

 

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced yesterday that greater Sydney's lockdown would be extended for another two weeks.


The state recorded 97 Covid-19 cases yesterday.

 

Meanwhile Victoria recorded seven new locally acquired Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, with the MCG and Highpoint shopping centre listed as exposure sites. 

 

I’m Beth Atkinson-Quinton, this is 7am. I’ll see you tomorrow.

[Theme Music Ends]

 

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