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Work to Wellbeing: Part 2 - Wellbeing and Resilience with Daniel Ford, The Blues Mental Skills Coach

25 May 2020

Matt Duffie


In these uncertain times, it’s never been more important to take good care of our health and wellbeing – but doing so as New Zealand continues to work, play, exercise and relax from inside our bubbles (as much as possible), can sometimes be a challenge.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with our friends at The Blues to create Work to Wellbeing.

Over this four-part series we’ll cover fitness, stretching, nutrition and wellbeing – bringing to life tips and tricks from some of our favourite players (and their team of experts), for a holistic routine to help us take care of our minds and bodies under this new normal.

Blues: Tips to help support your wellbeing and build resilience

For our second instalment, we’ve turned to the expertise of Mental Skills Coach at The Blues, Daniel Ford, to share some of his top tips to help manage wellbeing and build resilience through these turbulent times. These strategies are backed by science and are used by The Blues players, so they can stay mentally healthy and be ready to jump back on the field.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of unease and uncertainty for all of us. It’s stripped us of life as we know it and created many challenges, impacting all aspects of our lives. Below are some tips to help you take care of your mental health and wellbeing, so you can set yourself up to operate at peak performance.

1. Be mindful of your focus

Humans aren’t wired to like uncertainty. For many of us, the unknown causes stress and anxiety which can be overwhelming. And in an unprecedented event like this, that’s often exacerbated, as there are just too many factors out of our control.

Many of you might be eager to seek answers, but be careful to not get caught up in the media doom and gloom or with misleading information on social media. While it’s good to stay across key updates, consider limiting your intake to reliable government websites and only checking once or twice a day.

A simple rule of the brain is that what you focus on, you notice more of - so, use this to your advantage. Instead of focusing on your worries, concentrate on what you do have an influence over and put energy into things that bring you joy or are important to you.

Be deliberate about hunting out the good things that are happening around you. Focus on staying connected with loved ones. Explore some hobbies. Take some time each day to show gratitude to the things that make you smile. Try to focus on the present – it’s a good time to slow down and get grounded.

2. Take it day by day

Sometimes, it can be easier to focus on the end-goal - in this case, the return to ‘normal’ – but, research shows that this mentality can often be a recipe for disappointment and reduces resilience.

Learnings from successful survivors of captivity have taught us that the best tactic for coping with isolation and building resilience is to exercise “realistic optimism”. This means accepting the situation for as long as it takes (with no timeframes of “getting out”), while upholding the belief that you’ll prevail and come out the other side.

It sounds extreme, but what we can take from this is to live each day as it comes and to acknowledge that the new ‘normal’ might be unfamiliar to us. At each Alert Level, listen to the explanation provided by the Government and follow the advice given to us by health professionals. Keep in mind that we’re all working towards a common goal – to create a safer environment for us all to return to.

3. Create healthy routines

Routines create predictability, which reduces uncertainty and therefore stress. If your standard routine no longer works for you, create a new one. Be sure to schedule in some deliberate stress-reducing activities - things that make you feel good or productive - to build helpful habits.

As part of your routine, make sure you’re also getting enough sleep, exercise and a balanced diet. These are the building blocks of wellbeing and can influence our immunity, mood and energy, so ensure it’s a key focus for your household. With exercise, remember it isn’t just about fitness. Brain scans show that low intensity exercise improves cognitive ability and attention control, while high intensity exercise improves energy levels and emotional control. All you need is 30 minutes a day, so get moving!

4. Embrace your feelings

While we’re all dealing with the same social limitations, our individual circumstances and the way we feel and cope with the situation will vary. It’s a cliché, but there really isn’t a right way to feel. I spent three years as the New Zealand Defence Force’s expert on the psychology of survival, and in the military we’d say “whatever you’re experiencing is a normal response to an abnormal event” or put another way, “an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour” - so go easy on yourself. It’s okay to be worried, upset, or unnerved by the current situation. Many people in your own network may also be struggling, so reach out and be there for each other. Other people are a key source of resilience, so turn to those you trust and confide in them. A strong social support system allows you to talk things through, feel emotionally supported and makes it easier to deal with future issues. If you aren’t much of a talker, try journaling instead. Psychologist James Pennebaker has uncovered that writing about a problem or experience for just 15 minutes, three times a week, can have significant wellbeing benefits for up to a year. The pen is indeed mighty!

5. Be kind

It’s a message that’s been pushed far and wide throughout this pandemic, but it’s one I’d like to reinforce. We can often get stuck in our own self-absorbed bubble when things aren’t going well, but spreading kindness and being understanding are simple things we can all do to support one another.

Observations from other emergency situations suggest that human behaviour fall into one of three general categories: those that proactively manage the situation well (10%); those that go docile and wait for someone to take the lead (80%) and those that panic and get emotional (10%). If you see someone acting in a way that angers or worries you, just remember to be kind, as they may be struggling and unable to think clearly at this time.
Reacting emotionally will only help spread negativity, so remember to be supportive and see how you can help instead. Experience from disaster situations also indicates that helping others provides us with a sense of control over the situation, which in turn, helps build resilience. Helping others can take attention off our own issues, make us feel good in supporting others, and make someone else feel good about being helped. So, reach out - to family, neighbours, colleagues, friends, strangers, the elderly, and frontline workers - in any way you can.
Choosing how you respond during this time, including the emphasis you put on maintaining positive mental health and looking after your wellbeing, is critical. Even if you aren’t conscious of it, you’ll be building resilience, becoming stronger and being empowered to deal with more adversity in the long-term.

Let’s continue to support each other and come out of this a more caring, kind and compassionate nation.

Daniel Ford is the Mental Skills Coach for The Blues.

If you’re seeking professional support, there are a number of free, dedicated helplines available 24/7: • 1737 – Free call or text 1737 to talk with a trained counsellor. This is New Zealand’s national mental health and addictions helpline number.
• Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or free text 4357 (HELP) • Samaritans – 0800 726 666 • Anxiety NZ – 0800 ANXIETY / 0800 269 4389