Exhausted Australia: Why we're finding it harder to regulate emotions and stress

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·Lifestyle Reporter
·5-min read
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Just like a good martini, it seems that Aussies have found themselves shaken up more than ever.

According to a new report, Australia’s national resilience has taken a big tumble over the past year, with Covid-19 and the legacy of bushfires and drought taking a battering ram to Aussies’ confidence.

exhausted woman
A new report has found that only 9 per cent of Aussies resilience levels are shockingly low. Photo: Getty

The national report was compiled by global resilience training group Hello Driven, who analysed the resilience levels of Australians over the past two years across a range of industries, exploring the impact of national events on Australia’s national mental health and wellbeing.

Some Australian industries have fared worse than others over the past two years, with the resilience of workers in finance, emergency services, and healthcare unsurprisingly taking the biggest hit.

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The effect of stress

The report, 'National Resilience Index Australia 2021', demonstrates the impact of national events on the national psyche.

Unsurprisingly, in June 2021, while much of Australia was in lockdown, national resilience was at its lowest level since the start of the pandemic. The nation’s collective resilience levels started to slowly climb since then.

Tired women doctors are sitting in masks in corridor. Burnout of healthcare workers concept
Some Australian industries, like healthcare, have fared worse than others over the past two years. Photo: Getty

However, a legacy of this period is that many Australians now report finding it harder to regulate and control their emotions and stress than in the pre-COVID and bushfire period.

The study found that only nine per cent of Australians have a level of resilience that’s considered to be “protective” against anxiety and depression.

The remaining 91 per cent of Australians in the study reported behaviours and characteristics synonymous with sub-optimal levels of resilience, placing them at increased risk of poorer mental health outcomes, including anxiety and depression.

Maria Ruberto, a consultant psychologist to Hello Driven whose clinic has been inundated with people needing additional support, says that building our mental resilience gives us the capacity to lead more functional and intentional lives.

“There has been so much focus on the “catastrophe” during 2021 that there's been very little clarity about where we are going,” she says.

“Building strong resilience is firstly about identifying our current capacity; what we do well, and then reset our vision toward moving forward. Most importantly, is our attention to our internal states by training ourselves to understand our emotions, allowing us to achieve our goals and live with intention.”

Portrait of relaxed young woman indoors at home, doing yoga exercise.
Find ways to de-stress. Photo: Getty

Find what works to de-stress

Lisa Hollinshead, a working mum from Manly Vale, Sydney, found that meditation, regular exercise and connecting with people helped her combat stress.

“When I heard about the Driven resilience app from a friend, I started resilience training exercises and it helped me learn more about myself. I scored well on the ‘health’ element, including diet, exercise and sleep, but my ‘composure’ is lacking.​​​​​​​​ This means I find it hard to regulate my emotions during stressful situations,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“I’ve started regularly meditating twice a day and I have learnt techniques for stress management. I still feel overwhelmed balancing work and mum-life sometimes, but I’m feeling more in control and grateful for the small things we took for granted before. I also started my own app and platform; 'One Another', so that we can connect with neighbours and the community in times of need. If I have too much on my plate, I can call out to the local community to lend a hand, and vice versa.”

Laughter-the best medicine

Maria says that Australians have come a long way over the last two years in adapting to a changing landscape of masks-on and masks-off.

“Some of the best coping has actually come out of very clever internet memes and TikToks or videos, which have kept us aware and invited alternative perspectives to challenging realities,” she says.

“Resilience First Aid training tells us that humour has a resounding role to play in our ability to manage stress. Humour that is respectful, contextual and safe not only brings people together, but plays an important role in our culture.”

Maria also explains that humour leads to the laughter reflex. This activates facial muscles for authentic smiles, resets breathing into calmer rhythms of oxygen flow, relieves stress levels, raises our immune system, shifts mood, lifts our psychological wellbeing, reduces pain sensitivity and acts as a supplement to cardiovascular health.”

Maria also warns that despite its effectiveness, humour should not be seen as a magic potion to cure all problems.

“When it is used to mask or dismiss, it still results in stress being held and preserved in the body. When humour is used in this way, it is not true resilience, but rather a suppression tactic. This actually elevates our stress levels instead of reducing them,” she explains.

Senior woman and adult daughter laughing on porch
Sometimes laughter is the best medicine. Photo: Getty

“Humour that is welcomed and kindled between people facilitates social bounce. This enables us to move into a space of wellbeing where we can develop our mental fitness and become strong enough to manage stress. Give space for humour this new year and allow the bounce of laughter to lead your festivities.”

Resilience expert and Driven CEO Jurie Rossouw also adds that while the hit to Australia’s national resilience is concerning, there are already signs of improvement.

"Now is the time for us to learn from this challenge we’ve faced and rebuild stronger,” he says.

“This means supporting each other to build the skills needed to advance despite adversity. Resilience training gives us the capacity to grow and become stronger through every challenge.”

Mental health support for yourself or a loved one can be found by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, Mensline on 1300 789 978, or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. Online support is available via Beyond Blue.

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