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Occupational Therapy during COVID Lockdown

by Jamileh Hargreaves about a year ago in humanity

How an occupational therapist can help you schedule your time during the pandemic

Occupational Therapy during COVID Lockdown
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

"In occupational therapy, occupations refer to the everyday activities that people do as individuals, in families and with communities to occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life. Occupations include things people need to, want to and are expected to do."- World Federation of Occupational Therapists.

In 2019 I started using the services of occupational therapy to help organise my mind and practical side of my life more. It wasn't straight up counselling, rather it was an embrace of one on one sessions with someone that would be approaching my lifestyle with 'practical' reflection and application of how I manage my time and how I am able to mentally cope with achieving particular goals. In 2020 I was granted another opportunity to be under the guidance of a new occupational therapist from 'Thrive' in Melbourne named Anita.

From the start, Anita has been a kind and compassionate element of my lifestyle in 2020 that has helped me overcome various anxieties in relation to career, hospital visits during COVID, applying for my drivers license and even simple tasks like recognising unproductive behaviour and habits.

Occupational therapy is basically 'how' we achieve our goals and what we do as 'occupations' during our day. It can be as basic as how someone relearns to use their hand after an accident or in my case, how I organise my own life as someone that experiences the ongoing realities of living with anxiety, PTSD and bipolar disorder. This means, the day to day 'occupation' of my time is a mix of work, rest and play not an overload of too much of any of them, but a balance of all three to improve my overall well being.

We all are facing the threat of COVID19 impacting on our everyday lifestyle. In that, people are becoming more depressed and mentally worn out. A lot of our workplaces are becoming points of great stress. If you are working with the public due to the collective anxiety and health risks we face now in the community. If not, many of us have losts hours and job security because of the recession that has occurred. People are becoming homebound, bored, restless and unsure of what is next. Which is why it is important to have self respect, routines, self care and focus on what you can control.

Our experiences in 2020 are marked with an increase in stressful environments and the realities of living day to day with an ongoing healthcare crisis that we have to work with mentally and physically to protect ourselves. The simple reality of having to spend more time washing our hands and cleaning is a form of 'occupation' that we all now have a responsibility for as a front line against the spread of COVID19.

We no longer have the easy fix of meeting up with friends for a dinner party in the city or going to the beach to unwind without fear of contracting or spreading COVID19. I believe the impact is as physical as it is mental for our communities and our strategy of dealing with this pandemic is as personal as it is global. That is why I feel so lucky to work regularly with an Occupational Therapist to help me understand the practical side of my life and how it impacts on the way that I think and feel, as well as the small and larger goals that I am achieving with my time.

As our houses are becoming both our sanctuaries and our cages (after all it is how we frame it). Our shopping trips are becoming more survivalist, do we embrace junk food or learning new recipes? Why not a bit of both. I personally embraced wine, which helps at certain points but like many fellow Australians realised how easy it is to drink frequently. When Anita would call me up and ask what I had been doing, I would feel reluctant to tell her about my ability to drink a bottle and a half of wine but I certainly noticed how it affected my physical and mental health.

I was able to tell her that I wanted to visit more wineries when lockdowns in Victoria began to ease and it it grew my appreciation for the 'local' in the face of a globalised crisis. I could now navigate my imagination to future parts of my life that I would look forward to and plan with interstate friends to visit a winery when we are next able to. Nothing short of, do not take what is simple and beautiful about you country for granted.

The mechanisms in which we utilise our time can shape so much of how we feel mentally, physically, emotionally and even spiritually. I start to think about how my space is made better with the presence of a bamboo plant, but am I returning it enough love to water it? Instead of just watering the plant. I am, like many people in western society, easily distracted by 'thinking' instead of simply 'being'. As such, occupational therapy has really helped apply a practical side of reflection and 'doing' in order to achieve a sense of productively, resilience and peace.

One of the first things I have learned from my OT was how we spend our time. Do you spend all day working? All day lounging around? All day socialising with friends online? Is there a point where you can switch one of these off and start with another smoothly? If you spend too much time doing only work, you crash. If you spend too much time laying bed, you don't feel too great either. If you spend all day distracting yourself with entertainment you become restless and things don't get done. If we slip off the mark too much we lose sight of how we are practically choosing to focus our energy and the results come back to us within a month.

What my Occupational Therapy sessions entail now are a Zoom meeting with a Melbourne based specialist in this field. Her kind words and friendly attitude helps spark a reflection into how I am doing - mentally, physically, emotionally and how I am coping with everything. From everything from - -

- What are you making for dinner tonight?

- Do you have friends you're going to have a walk with the next month scheduled into your routine?

- When is your next doctors appointment?

- How do you feel about going for that driving test?

- What is it like to work during COVID?

It sounds silly, but when we have another person come in and help us reflect on our life skills and management of our time, it can be an incredible form of therapy. It pulls you back into thinking the *not so obvious* reminders that can become neglected when we get too trapped in our heads or too habitual in our ways that are not helping us grow and transform into healthier and more mature versions of ourselves. Those often anxiety inducing tasks, for some, a simple visit to the market for groceries can be difficult, for others it is submitting many job applications in day or learning how to home school their kids.

I am able to discuss goals that I need to achieve in an environment that is free from judgement and fear which helps my anxiety and helps me recognise intrusive and negative thoughts that are truly unproductive for my health. I am able to reflect on what is going to best serve myself practically in the next day, week and month.

When we look to the narratives of self care there are many ways we can approach our well being and lifestyle. In the framework of having an occupational therapist, we are able to reflect on the practical ways in which we manage our work/life balance. Self care is also about taking care of your responsibilities and embracing what makes you feel resilient and motivated.

It is about the ability to acknowledge an achievement when one completes their daily tasks or monthly goal and thus stopping the 'hamster wheel' with a sense of resilience and peace for the next month ahead knowing we are doing our personal best.

It is important to acknowledge how we go about achieving our daily goals and then to reflect on our process, was it because we were angry that we cleaned up the kitchen for everyone? Or perhaps you can only truly begin to work when all the household tasks are done? It is how we embrace our routine in a practical way that we can mature into 'why' we do things the way we do them. Our mental and physical well being rests on the self awareness that comes with boundaries for our own minds to comprehend. My personal boundaries with cleaning and working have improved through the guidance of an occupational therapist.

During COVID19 I have had to ensure the reality of working with the public in a lockdown stage and being an authority to protect the community in public spaces at my local workplace and it is emotionally and physically exhausting. Being able to work with my occupational therapist, I am able to reflect on soft skills and the practical way we achieve daily tasks and how it makes us feel to do those tasks.

Self Respect starts with being kind to yourself in an uncertain world. If you are able to recognise intrusive, negative and toxic thoughts as unproductive that is a sign of self-respect. Thus in turn you are able to shift that energy into being productive and kind to yourself by making good, healthy food to enjoy or ensuring that you do schedule to meet up with a friend for some exercise. It is also how we are going to achieve even greater goals like volunteering with our community when it is in need or applying for that job in a time when jobs are becoming harder to come by with greater confidence.

I find my lived experience of working with occupational therapy has enabled a greater sense of self reflection and peace of mind. I no longer have the acute anxiety about learning to drive or applying for new kinds of work. I see it when I am actively participating in not being kind to myself through internal dialogue and neglect of tasks. It becomes easier to be proud of 'little victories' like restocking the groceries early in the morning as a start to the day.

When it comes to achieving our goals, occupational therapy has help keep the balance during COVID19 and the strict lockdown it has imposed in my part of the world.

*If you are living in Australia and currently have access to the National Disability Insurance Scheme you are able to access Occupational Therapy as a part of your plan to help people living with disability enrich their lives.


Jamileh Hargreaves

Masters of Strategic Comms MGMT at Monash Uni 2021

BA in Professional and Creative Writing at Deakin Uni 2013-2019

Diploma in Community Services at Open Colleges Australia.

Based between Melbourne and Vancouver.

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