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Using mindfulness to keep covid concerns contained


Wairarapa counsellor Liz Dixon said mindfulness helps keep covid under control. She speaks to LUCY REVILL about creating calm spaces and the growing demand for mental health providers.
South Wairarapa-based counsellor Liz Dixon with dog Pablo. PHOTO/LUCY REVILL

In her warm Greytown home, surrounded by colourful art and antique furniture, counsellor Elizabeth [Liz] Dixon is drinking a cup of tea.

It’s a rare moment of peace during another busy day for the South Wairarapa-based mental health provider.

Dixon described mental health in New Zealand as in “crisis”. Wairarapa is no exception.

Resources are stretched and the demand for counsellors is rising. She said the problem in the region has been exacerbated by shifting demographics and the ongoing pandemic.

“A lot of mental health issues come from lack of connection,” said Dixon. “Often, it’s about the feeling of powerlessness and loss of control, uncertainty, and angst. Covid and omicron add to that.”

Dixon is a long-time local who has lived in Wairarapa for over 20 years.

She said South Wairarapa, where many of her clients are based, has changed in the two years since New Zealand’s first lockdown.

Many millennials with a greater focus on mental health than previous generations have started a new life here, Dixon said. More people are working from home meaning that they’re happy to visit her during the daytime.

Dixon started working from home full time after the first lockdown in 2020. Since then, her counselling practice had continued to grow. Dixon came to counselling later in life, with ample life experience.

“I was going through an existential crisis thinking about what I wanted after raising my kids,” she said. “I did a degree at Weltec, including 200 hours of practicum. Now I’ve been a full-time counsellor for ten years.”

On recommendation, Dixon began her career with an agency in Wellington.

“It was a good foundation,” she said. “But most of my work was over the hill in Wellington, even though I lived in Wairarapa. I was constantly travelling.” On average, Dixon would clock 600km a week.
Kempton St is now her office and her home.

“I love being self-employed because I don’t have to deal with any politics and I’m not using a lot of time simply travelling,” Dixon said. She credited having built a good client base.

“Personally, it’s been good for me to be working full time on this side of the hill.”

Financial pressure was a contributor to stress.

“Increased pressures with the cost of living and housing – people are feeling the pinch. There’s a growing gap between those who have enough and those who don’t.

“Household members are working more than one job, and then they’re less available for their children.”

She also said people with family overseas struggle, adding to isolation.

It’s not just the adults. “Children are feeling more anxious about going to school. Teenagers are facing a lot of existential issues” Dixon said. “Everybody across the board has been interrupted, and everyone needs to get used to a new normal over time. It’s created a lot more anxiousness and unpredictability.

“People are learning to adapt to constant change.”

Like many in the mental health profession, Dixon had had her own challenges with covid. Using Zoom has enabled her to see clients who are unwell or aren’t vaccinated.

“Luckily, over 90 per cent of people are vaccinated. With part of my client base being immunocompromised, I need to be mindful. This is where technology can be helpful.”

With increased demand, Dixon was conscious of maintaining her own well-being.

“Pacing myself and watching my process is a daily challenge,” she said. “But I prioritise that because I know that my wellness is critical also, and I can’t offer what I want to my clients if I’m not functioning effectively. At the moment, I’m counselling at least five days a week. Because of working from home, I can offer some flexibility with evening sessions or weekend sessions. I do need to do a daily check-in, managing things.”

For Dixon, that might mean diving into a new book by Gabor Mate or listening to a podcast. Mindfulness is essential.

“Checking in allows you to monitor your thinking so you can keep your thoughts healthy and you’re not overreacting to something during the day.”

Dixon suggested googling for a counsellor or using word-of-mouth recommendations for those on the hunt. You may have to go on a wait-list, but many will find a spot for those in need.

Dixon loved her life in Wairarapa, and valued contributing to the community.

“Assisting people on their journey to well-being is incredible” she said. “We may not have it all together but together we have it all”

Dixon’s strategies for coping with anxiety

  • Mindfulness has become huge, and it’s a powerful agent of change. Try to slow your process down through the day. Self-awareness is key.
  • Start with a good intention for the day. Having a belief that you can manage what comes up.
  • Slow down your breathing. Try breathing in for four counts, holding for four counts, and breathing out for five.

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