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DISCOVER Conference Review 2022: Pandemic Related Stress & How We Look at Sleep

At our recent Conference, we were treated with back to back sessions with Clinical Psychologist Dr Neralie Cain from NLC Psychology

Firstly, we heard about how after three years the pandemic is still heavily affecting our lives, often in ways we don’t even realise. Learning about the levels of chronic stress that has been with us for the three years was eye opening. 

Neralie then led a panel discussion consisting of Physiotherapist Marelle Wilson, Pain Specialist James Smith, and Podiatrist Andrea Castello about how each discipline looks at sleep with their clients which yielded some incredibly interesting and unexpected insights.

Pandemic Related Stress

As we reach the end of 2022, Covid-19 has been deeply entrenched in our lives for nearly three years. We often hear a lot of people describing ‘the new normal’ during the pandemic, and while that is predominantly used in an external context, it was eye-opening when Clinical Psychologist Dr. Neralie Cain from NLC Psychology presented about what our ‘new normal’ looks like internally, and how we are inadvertently experiencing the effects of pandemic fatigue. 

Over the past three years, life for everyone has been subject to significant change, but have we considered all of the effects these changes are really having on us? 

The Covid-19 pandemic has obviously had serious impacts on our health, businesses, finances, and overall welfare, but also led to countless changes in our personal lives. We have had far less social events, weddings, and travel, which even now when they do occur, we are anxious about them being altered or cancelled. We factor things into our planning and day to day decision making which we would have never before considered, and adapt to each and every crisis that is thrown our way. The emotional strain of constantly adapting to our new reality is becoming more and more evident. 

Dr. Cain described what we have been experiencing the past three years using Selye’s 1936 General Adaptation Syndrome model, that describes what you undergo when you are exposed to stress. This syndrome prescribes that you will experience the following stages:

  1. Alarm 
  2. Resistance
  3. Exhaustion 

Alarm is your initial reaction to stress, and while it is an important function of the human body, as it triggers our ‘fight of flight’ in dangerous situations, it cannot, and should not be sustained for too long. We underwent this at the beginning of the pandemic when our lives changed within the blink of an eye. 

As time progressed, we adapted to the constant stresses of the new world around us in the resistance phase as our ‘new normal’. 

However, this adaptation to our present and preparedness for future stresses led to the final stage of the model, exhaustion

As three years of this pandemic has elapsed, we have not been able to sustain the level of arousal and alertness that the world is demanding of us, but since we have become so acclimated to these changes, it is difficult to remember what our prior normal level of functionality actually felt like. The health effects of this are significant. After three years of being in a heightened level of stress, the body’s resources are depleted, which can lead to a compromised immune system, as well as potentially a compromised headspace. 

What can we do about chronic stress?

There are some general things we can do to help chronic stress, but first and foremost, it’s best to consult with a Psychologist or your GP if you need some help with stress levels. 

  1. Relax and recharge
  2. Deep breathing exercises
  3. Self compassion
  4. Spending time in nature
  5. Being present 
  6. Focus on controlling the controllables 

How we Look About Sleep

Following Dr. Cain’s presentation on stress, she then led a multi-disciplinary panel discussion with Physiotherapist Marelle Wilson, Pain Specialist James Smith, and Podiatrist Andrea Castello on sleep, which as one of the four pillars of health that you will often hear us advocating for.

The importance of sleep can never be overstated. It is the foremost biological function towards quality of life, as it affects areas such as mood, mental and physical recovery, metabolism, and overall functionality. So, it makes sense that all of our practitioners look at sleep, and some in ways that may surprise you. 

Our Psychologists look at sleep for a myriad of reasons, such as to understand general cognitive functionality, mood, behaviours, as well as to help those who suffer from chronic sleep issues. They also have extra training in treatment techniques that can improve sleep health in clients with insomnia.

Physiotherapists discuss sleep as part of their usual assessment, as it can provide clues as to the cause of the client’s symptoms. Some conditions have characteristic symptoms that wake people at night, or make them feel stiff and sore when they wake up. Physios also often make recommendations to clients to use pillows, mattress covers and posture changes to minimise symptoms worsening at night.

Exercise Physiologists will also look at sleep when discussing training loads and recovery from exercise, but did you know Podiatrists also look at sleep?

This is because there are clients who will experience night pain, or pain the following morning, due to a variety of conditions, such as restless leg syndrome, neuropathic pain, chilblains, or poor circulation. While hearing from every discipline was interesting, it was especially insightful to learn how Podiatrists look at sleep as you don’t often consider sleep and feet in the same thought! 

Gaining these types of insights are a key reason we run our annual conference, to help us gain a greater understanding of each discipline to provide the best level of overall care for our clients. 

To speak to our team about managing your sleep or stress levels, or to get some strategies to help you in busy times, give us a call on 8373 5655.


SA Health. (2022, April 3). Good Sleep = Good Health. Retrieved from www.sahealth.sa.gov.au: 



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