health

Hugh is a resilience expert. These are 6 strategies he uses to get through lockdown.

Hugh van Cuylenburg knows a thing or two about resilience. 

As the co-founder of a company called The Resilience Project, his job involves teaching resilience to everyone from children to CEOs. He's written a best-selling book, hosts a podcast, and has spoken at hundreds of schools, clubs, organisations and conferences sharing positive, evidence-based mental health strategies to help people build resilience and happiness.

Side note: Have a watch of this Mamamia video about resilience in the Kimberley. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

But as Melbourne plunged into a strict, 112-day public health lockdown last year, Hugh found himself struggling, relying not only on the very principles he teaches but the support of a psychologist and loved ones.

He's now back "in the trenches" again as the southeastern corner of the country battles against the more virulent Delta strain of COVID-19. 

Speaking to Mamamia's No Filter podcast (and the more than 11 million Australians currently in lockdown) Hugh shared what he's learned about how to get through it. 

1. Swap expectations for hope.

In a world of snap lockdowns and slamming state borders, having expectations can be "dangerous", argued Hugh. When the future is this unpredictable, plans can become a source of anxiety and stress.

"You cannot really have expectations on anything — you can hope to do things," he said. "It's kind of like becoming a parent for the first time... you can hope to do things, but the second you expect them to happen, you're going to be disappointed."

2. Create things to look forward to.

"One of the important things you need to do right now if you're in lockdown is to plan something," Hugh said.

"When you go to bed at night, think to yourself, 'What am I looking forward to most tomorrow?' And if you can't think of anything, then organise something in that moment."

It could be a call with a friend, an hour to read your favourite book, a walk with your kids; whatever gives you a sense of anticipation.

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"Scheduling something you're looking forward to the next day, I think, is really important because optimism is a big part of being happy," he added.

3. Limit TV news.

In the first few weeks of Melbourne's 120-day lockdown in 2020, Hugh found himself glued to the television news for updates. He'd spend at least two hours watching every day. 

And now, he'd advise against others doing the same.

"It's an incredibly negative, demoralising place to be right now, the news," he said.

"I'm not saying switch off completely. But maybe you need to know how many cases are out that day, maybe you need to know what the restrictions are, and that's it — then turn it off."

4. Be selective about who you engage with.

We're only having conversations with a limited number of people, so choose ones that exude positivity. It can have a remarkable impact on your mood and outlook.

"I think it's a good lesson in life for all of us to hang around the people that make us feel good. But I think particularly right now," he said.

"I know some people might be locked in a house of people who are quite negative, and that does make it quite tough. But who do you know that's positive? Schedule time to chat to them."

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Similarly...

5. Be selective about who you follow on social media.

It's little wonder that the average time people spent on social media climbed to record levels in 2020. We've been seeking connection (and distraction) like never before.

So, Hugh argued, as long as we're going to find ourselves stuck passively scrolling out feeds, we may as well curate them to our benefit. That means unfollowing any people or pages that bring out negative emotions.

Hugh and his colleagues have shared strategies for practising mindfulness, gratitude, empathy and emotional literacy to thousands of Australians. Image: Supplied.

"Don't spend an hour having this negative emotion coming up, because it's gonna be heightened: you'll be more jealous than usual; you'll be more angry than usual; you'll be more sensitive than usual; you'll be more easily offended than usual. We're just so on edge at the moment," he said. "So make smart decisions about saying, 'You know what? For this little bit of time — and maybe forever — I'm not gonna follow this person."

6. Do something that's good for you.

This is not another recommendation to try baking your own sourdough bread (although, go wild if that's your thing). It's about steering your life in a positive direction.

"Have something that you look back on and say, 'If it wasn't for COVID, I wouldn't have done this. And it's a really good thing.' So, for example, if it wasn't for COVID last year, if it wasn't for lockdown last year, I wouldn't have started seeing a psychologist," he said. "And seeing a psychologist is one of the best things I've ever done in my entire life."

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It could be taking half an hour to yourself at night to do something beneficial for your physical health, your mental health, or even your financial health.

Hugh, as well as seeing a psychologist, started doing at-home leg exercises in the evenings and swapping his nightly red wines for green tea. He shares this purely as an example, and not to be prescriptive.

"Some people might be going, 'I hate this advice. I just want to drink and that's what makes me happy at the moment so you can get stuffed'. I'm not saying be like me; I'm just saying I developed a routine in my day, which I wouldn't have developed it wasn't for COVID and it really worked for me made me feel a lot better," he said.

"In a year's time when you look back on this time in your life, have something where you go, 'That bit — not the whole thing — but that little bit there, that was good for me."

To hear the rest of Hugh's chat with No Filter, including the story of the 11-year-old boy who changed his life, listen below or via your favourite podcast app.


If you are feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty coping or staying safe, immediate support is available. Please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or  Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature image: Supplied/Mamamia.

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