Why you may be feeling anxious exiting lockdown
After months of being in lockdown, it’s very normal to feel overwhelmed when reconnecting with society.
As we begin to gradually reopen in New South Wales after more than 100 days in lockdown, friends and family joke about bringing notes with talking points when reconnecting – as we’re all potentially feeling a little rusty in the socialising department. But jokes aside, there are also those who have expressed feelings of anxiety and mixed emotions as we start to return to some form of normality.
Is it normal to feel this way? And how can we best manage our feelings of anxiety?
“It’s very normal to feel anxious about socialising after being in lockdown for so many months,” said Dr Suraj Samtani, clinical psychologist at UNSW Medicine & Health and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA). “Studies from other countries have found that a lot of people felt this way during the first few months of reopening after lockdown. Remember that you are not alone in feeling this way.”
Dr Samtani said there are a number of factors that may cause individuals to feel anxious as they re-enter society. “First, it’s important to remember that COVID infections are a health condition, so it’s human to feel anxious about getting sick. It may be that friends or family have had COVID and we saw what it did to them.
“It may be that we’re worried about our loved ones getting COVID if we start to socialise again. We may also feel this way because we have not been socialising for a long time so it’s easy to lose confidence.”
Allow yourself time to readjust
If you are feeling anxious, Dr Samtani said it’s important to go at your own pace and allow yourself time to readjust.
“We know from other countries that people felt anxious about reopening for a few months and then their anxiety decreased naturally over time. If you are feeling anxious, start with small steps – like meeting one or two people outdoors – and repeat the steps until you feel more confident before moving on to medium steps.”
Simply strategies such as setting time boundaries may also help you get back into the social groove. Rather than accepting open-ended social interactions, you may feel more comfortable meeting up over a coffee for an hour or so. It’s important to articulate what you’re comfortable and not comfortable doing when it comes to socialising.
Dr Samtani also suggests trusting and following the government’s health advice instead of looking at other unofficial sources of information. “Don’t binge watch COVID news and don’t avoid situations if you know they are safe, but take things step by step.
“Avoidance leads to anxiety, but experience leads to confidence.” Those who are most likely to feel anxious
Those who are most likely to feel anxious
Individuals in particular pockets of society are more likely to feel anxious about reopening, such as those suffering from financial stress. Dr Samtani said research showed people living alone, who lost income or had economic worries felt more anxious during lockdown.
“Often these are young adults working in gig economies who don’t have savings, migrants or people living with health conditions. People with pre-existing mental health conditions are more at risk of feeling anxious due to changes in restrictions. As children go back to school, parents and teachers may also feel anxious about re-opening.”
The effects of reduced social connection on individuals as a result of the pandemic may depend on an individual’s personality. Interestingly, research from Kingston University in the UK revealed extroverts experienced less anxiety during lockdown.
However, despite individual characteristics, socialising is potentially going to feel more exhausting for some of us compared to pre-pandemic times as more thought needs to go into socialising safely. As we navigate public health orders that are constantly being updated, as well as ongoing public health measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and entry into venues based on vaccination status, there are additional factors we now need to consider before stepping out the door. And that’s okay. Just remember, it’s perfectly normal to feel stressed as we begin to reconnect with society. Sharing your feelings with a close friend or relative will help overcome these feelings.
“It’s important to have someone – like a friend, family member or health professional – you can confide in about your feelings and the changes that are happening. Set up a routine with getting outdoors, exercising and doing activities you enjoy. Helping others can also help us to reduce our anxiety. Reach out to a friend or family member who has been isolated,” said Dr Samtani.
While there may be ongoing anxiety-related conditions as we gradually reopen, the good news is a study on resilience suggested that we can build resilience during the pandemic by actively seeking social support, finding meaning in our experiences, and helping others.
Born in a sulkie 105 years ago
Born in a sulkie 105 years ago
By Samantha Elley
He hasn’t quite gained the title of oldest man on the Northern Rivers, but Norm Anderson is certainly in the running, as he celebrated his 105th birthday last Monday in his home at Ballina.
Born on 29th November, 1916 Norm’s mother was rushing to the hospital in a sulkie when Norm decided to make an appearance.
“She never made it to the hospital,” Norm laughed, “I was born in the sulkie in North Lismore.”
The world was in the middle of World War One, with Germany initiating the first attack on London only the day before Norm came into the world. Peace was still two years away.
Growing up in Nimbin, Norm became a dairy farmer and banana grower.
He married his first wife Lila in 1940 and they had three children: George, Lionel and Denise.
Norm loved his life on the farm, but when Lila got sick they left it for Ballina, where they built a house to live in and units to rent out.
“He never would have left the farm except that Lila got sick,” said Phyllis, Norm’s second wife.
From there Norm worked as a surveyor’s assistant on the roads until he retired at 65 years old.
When Norm turned 100, family and friends celebrated with a big party at the local club.
“The celebrating went on for three weeks,” laughed Phyllis.
Norm has insisted on a quieter celebration this year with Phyllis by his side and sitting in his favourite spot on their enclosed verandah.
“He doesn’t like cake but I will probably get him some prawns to celebrate,” said Phyllis.
The couple, who affectionately call each other ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ met at the local bowls club and married in 1998.
Phyllis only turned 87 last week and they laugh at the reference that Norm is a cradle-snatcher.
Their marriage brought together two families that currently add up to more than 70 descendants, including 5 great-great-grandchildren.
Norm marvels at the evolution of technology in his life time, describing his reaction when aeroplanes first took to the skies.
“The most amazing thing was to see an aeroplane fly over,” he said.
“We would stop what we were doing and chase it .”
Computers are a mystery to him.
“I wouldn’t know how to turn one on,” he said.
“I am content to get Mum to ask Mr Google about anything.”
In earlier days, trips to Sydney to sell his beans at the markets took over a week on dirty, dusty roads in an old truck.
“When he handed his licence in at 99, he was upset that he wouldn’t be able to drive on the new bypass,” said Phyllis.
“I have since taken him on it.”
Television came later in Norm’s life than for most people living today, but he now has a 65 inch flat screen in his loungeroom, so he can see the ball and the seam when he is watching the cricket.
Phyllis and Norm giggle and cuddle as we set up for a photo and there is no doubt, the Northern Rivers Times will be back next year to celebrate Norm’s 106th birthday as he feels blessed with his long life.
And his secret to his many years on the planet?
“Hard bloody work.”
“Unreasonable complainant” vindicated
“Unreasonable complainant” vindicated
By Tim Howard
A Yamba woman Clarence Valley Council branded an “unreasonable complainant” has been vindicated in the findings of independent regulator the Information Privacy Commission.
In a report released last month, the commission found the council erred in refusing a GIPA request from Lynne Cairns for documents linked to a controversial development application for a property on the Yamba canals.
On November 5, council general manager Ashley Lindsay emailed an apology to Mrs Cairns for refusing her request.
“We got it wrong,” Mr Lindsay said. “I’ve apologised to Mrs Cairns and I have staff working on getting the documents she has asked for.”
He was reluctant to discuss how the council failed to correctly apply the GIPA (Government Information (Public Access) Act) legislation.
Although Mr Lindsay advised Mrs Cairns to make a GIPA application, by the time the request came in June, he was on sick leave and the decision to refuse was made by the acting general manager, Laura Black.
Also in April Mrs Cairns made a formal complaint to Mayor Jim Simmons, informing him she thought the council was failing its GIPA requirements.
Cr Simmons replied to Mrs Cairns in May, saying redacted copies of the documents would be sent to her within three days. That didn’t happen.
Mr Lindsay was at a loss to explain the handling of the GIPA request.
“We should have assessed the GIPA request in accordance with the legislation,” Mr Lindsay said.
“This is no excuse, but I wasn’t at work at the time, I wasn’t aware of the GIPA application until … we got that letter from IPC.
“So I can’t really comment on why we didn’t deal with it properly.”
Mr Lindsay agreed the acting general manager, Ms Black, during the period, was “well qualified”.
“I can’t really comment further,” he said. “My response to Mrs Cairns is that I’ve apologised and staff are working on getting the information she requested in line with the GIPA legislation.”
Council took another look at the development early in the year.
It inspected the works in February 2021 and ordered modification request and a fresh DA for works completed, under construction or to be built.
Mr Lindsay said council had provided some of the information she requested, which was included when the modification request and the new DA were submitted earlier in the year, hinting staff frustration with her persistent requests might have been behind the GIPA request refusal.
There are hints council staff viewed the residents’ objections as unimportant.
In reports to the May meeting about the new DA and the request for modification it noted the original DA approach “was not well received” and result in a “high level of scrutiny during the construction phase”.
Mrs Cairns said she and her husband were not the only ones concerned as council had removed the as built non-complying, unlawful structures into a new DA in order that these structures complied.
Council removed Point 14 of Conditions of Consent from the new DA “All structures located within the 7.5 metre rear building alignment shall not exceed 1.2 metres in height from existing ground level.”
Submissions against the DA included 40 signatures in a petition as residents knew this would set a precedent which could potentially impact their views, sun, breeze and devalue their properties.
But neighbours were not happy as the as built development differed from the original DA, did not comply with regulations and were not included in the original plans including a retractable privacy screen, a water tank and a 4m high privacy screen, from ground level, just behind the revetment wall.
Council’s May reports said “council progress inspections did not occur during construction works”.
“Residents in the canal have just watched the unlawful, non-complying development being constructed, emailed the general manager and he took five months until he finally had a staff member telephone the builder to stop working on the development,” she said.
Mrs Cairns emailed in May 2021 asking why council hadn’t acted in accordance with its planning acts, regulations and enforcement policy. No response was provided.
Mr Lindsay also noted the council was not the only organisation providing information for Mrs Cairns.
“It’s not just staff here that are running around after her,” he said. “She’s got people at the IPC, NSW Ombudsman and the Office of Local Government chasing up information for her.”
The dispute over the 19 Gumnut Rd DA goes back more than two years.
Mrs Cairns, and other residents who live near the property accused the council of mismanaging a development application the owners had lodged for a deck, studio, carport and awning council staff approved under delegated authority in 2019.
Council had ignored photos and wording in Mr and Mrs Cairns submissions in November 2019 prior to original DA approval.
These photos showed the development had been partially constructed prior to DA approval and asked whether a survey was done.
Council ignored this for nearly 18 months. Mrs Cairns received a copy of a basic survey, for the first time, on May 12, dated March 26 after the development had been constructed.
The constructed building is within the required setback and it did not meet the required floor height as required on flood liable land according to council flood mapping.
Between March and June 2021, she was in regular contact with the council, through Ms Black, seeking the documents.
On June 28 Ms Black advised Mrs Cairns that month’s council meeting had resolved the matter and the council would no longer provide her with information about the developments.
On June 30 Mrs Cairns lodged a GIPA request, which the council rejected a week later, based on Section 51 of the GIPA Act, which allow requests to be rejected if they cause “an unreasonable diversion of the agency’s (CVC) resources.”
A week later Mrs Cairns lodged a request with the IPC for a review of the council’s decision.
The council went a step further, late in July, when Ms Black informed Mrs Cairns council staff would no longer interact with her, unless it was regarded as an emergency or an electoral matter and that she had become an “unreasonable customer complainant” – a declaration that would stay in force for six months.
Mrs Cairns said her status as an unreasonable customer complainant had not been resolved.
She knows of two men who have been in almost constant email communication with the council since 2017 and the result was the governance office made an appointment to speak with them. Both men provided email confirmation of this.
“The governance officer stayed there for three hours discussing their issues,” she said.
“Neither of these fellows have been claimed as unreasonable complainants, so it’s inconsistently applied policy.”
In August Mrs Cairns lodged a formal complaint about Ms Black with Mr Lindsay, who had returned to work after a lengthy illness break.
At the same time she informed Mr Lindsay of her GIPA request, which he claimed to know nothing about until after the IPC findings were released.
Mr Lindsay said while the GIPA request was not handled well, the substantive matters behind it were not in question.
“We had three independent assessments of the work done at 19 Gumnut Rd and all agreed the variations were of a minor nature and the as built items were compliant,” he said.
“They had gone above and beyond the original DA approvals, but that’s why we required a modification request and a new DA.”
Mr Lindsay said the property owner’s decision to begin works before getting consent had put council in a difficult position.
“We have a policy of retrospective approval in these situations, if the work is assessed as complying with our planning codes,” he said.
“We can’t just refuse something because work began before consent was given. There are State laws which say if work is compliant, then it’s legal.
“We would be in real trouble if we refused it or ordered it to be taken down if a court found the work complied with the rules.”
Mrs Cairn said the variations were not “minor” as confirmed in the DA Lodgement Checklist Modification of Development Consent with s4.55(2) ticked.
She said council reports were not accurate.
Mrs Cairns said the reports mentioned a portion of the decking was exempt under the State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP) (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008.
“The area that exceeds the SEPP is conservatively calculated at less than 11sqm and is considered a minor variation.”
Mrs Cairns obtained assistance from a building surveyor to calculate the decking exempt under SEPP and this is 25sqm.
The amount of decking constructed as described on the new plans was 122.6sqm.
Upon inquiry to council’s planning section email replied “the codes SEPP does not permit variations and neither of the current applications before council are exempt/complying so the Codes SEPP is not applicable.”
She said there were 10 variations to council’s development control plan not two as claimed in the council reports.
Mrs Cairns wondered why Clarence Valley Council was so far out of step with other regional councils in providing information on its website.
“I’ve done research on Ballina, Armidale, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour,” she said.
“All of those councils have the majority of those DA documents available on their websites.
“Probably the most user friendly one is Ballina. It just brings up the documents and you can look at it. No redactions whatsoever.
“If our council would follow that, it would save them a lot of time and resources.”
Mr Lindsay said the council’s website was a work in progress.
“We’ve just made some changes to it and I know there are more changes to come,” he said.
“I’m not aware of what other councils are doing, but I agree in principle that easier access to documents is the best way to go.”
Mrs Cairns said she has been advised the outcome of NSW Ombudsman’s inquiry in relation to 19 Gumnut Rd states.
It said “the Ombudsman’s office cannot replace council’s discretion to make planning decisions.”
In relation to being branded an “unreasonable complainant” Mrs Cairns is awaiting a further response, however the Ombudsman’s office found “council had departed from its unreasonable complainant procedure.”
Ashley’s retirement a decision of the heart
Ashley’s retirement a decision of the heart
By Tim Howard
Four years of leading from the front for Clarence Valley Council general manager has taken its toll on the 22-year veteran of local government Ashley Lindsay.
Mr Lindsay, who came to the Clarence Valley from Sydney’s Northern Beaches to take up the finance manager’s role at Maclean Shire Council in 1999, retired last Friday after four of the toughest years in the region’s history.
Pitched into the role after the sudden departure of his predecessor Scott Greensill in March 2017, he found himself leading his council through crisis after crisis.
Some were self inflicted, like dealing with the asbestos uncovered on the site of the council’s controversial South Grafton depot build.
Others, like imposing a three-year rate hike through a special rates variation and meeting the State Government’s Fit for the Future requirements, were imposed from outside.
And the triple whammy of drought, fire and floods which devastated the Valley in quick succession between 2018 and 2020, was definitely a force of nature.
And as he considered his exit strategy to retirement, Mr Lindsay has found himself leading the council through a once-in-a-century pandemic, which has turned this term of council into a five-and-a-quarter-year marathon.
“I originally intended to work with the new council for the first few months after the election in September and then go about now,” he said.
That time frame went out the window when the election, originally postponed for 12 months from September last year, was put off until December 4.
Mr Lindsay contemplated altering his plans until a “health scare” in mid May reframed his view of the job.
“The health scare that I had, that certainly gave me some direction on what I should do and that was get out of a stressful environment,” he said.
Typically Mr Lindsay downplayed the “scare”.
It was actually a potentially lethal brush with ventricular tachycardia, which in his case was the bottom chambers of his heart beating out of synch with the top chambers.
The result was lack of oxygen reaching the brain and his decision to go to hospital rather than go home for a lie down, saved his life.
“I was lucky, my heart rate was 217 when I got on the table,” he said.
“They hit me with the paddles. I was wide awake. I jumped. I felt like I hit the roof
“It whacked my heart back into rhythm. Then I went off to Lismore and Gold Coast and had the pacemaker put in. If I’d gone home, I would have laid down. It would have been it.”
Council amalgamation is another issue that has played out during his time in Clarence Valley councils and he has changed his views on it over time.
But he also believed the State Government could have handled the 2004 version in a more financially responsible fashion.
“I marched up the main street of Maclean with all the other staff, opposing the amalgamation when it was being considered,” he said.
Mr Lindsay found himself right at the coal face when the call to amalgamate came.
“I took the call from the Minister for Local Government (Tony Kelly),” he said. “Ross Bryant was the general manager of the day and he was away at the time.
“So I took the call, that said ‘your council’s been sacked’.”
But unlike the 2016 round of council amalgamations, where councils received between $10 million and $15 million from the government to smooth the process, the new Clarence Valley Council was left to fend for itself.
Accompanying the amalgamations were regulations forbidding forced staff redundancies for three years, but there was an even bigger and more costly challenge that soaked up any savings amalgamation might have meant for the new council.
“It was significant for us to get all the offices networked up for IT purposes,” he said.
“We had to go to tender for a new corporate finance system.
“Initially the councils operated from the amalgamation date through to July 1 2005 we were using the former councils’ accounting systems.
“So Grafton, Copmanhurst, Maclean and Pristine Waters. We were all paying the staff with the former council’s accounting systems, then consolidating those to create the first set of accounts for Clarence Valley Council.”
He said the inability of the council to exploit the efficiencies of amalgamation allied to the failure of state government to subsidise the costs, contributed to the need for the Special Rates Variation which jacked up rates by 8% a year from 2018-19 to 2020-21.
The amalgamation also turned a lot of the public against the council and more than 17 years later many in the community would like to see the decision reversed.
But Mr Lindsay is not one of them.
He described the merger of the four general purpose and two county councils as “the best outcome for local government in the Clarence Valley”.
“The organisation now has the capacity to meet the various challenges that face local government,” he said.
“We’ve got greater capacity. The replacement of the timber bridges is a great example.
“The organisation has a greater capacity to manage. We’ve got $31 million in grant money to replace 31 timber bridges.
“Some of those we’re doing ourselves, through us managing the project. Others we’re working with Transport for NSW and Kyogle Shire Council through a joint tender process.”
Working at this scale both allowed the council to fix a problem that’s been building in the region for decades and create some real cost savings.
“Long term that’s a significant operating cost reduction for us, because those bridges should last 100 years,” he said.
He also said the council’s decision to stop borrowing and reduce its debt will pay dividends.
“I think the general fund should be debt free by 2027-28 – and that’s not far away – that will be an annual saving of between $3 million and $4 million a year that can be allocated to other infrastructure.”
While Mr Lindsay was confident he was handing over the council in a better state than when he took control, there was still a major financial issue to work on.
“On the downside of things, we still don’t meet out infrastructure benchmarks,” he said.
“Asset management and identifying and putting together everything we look after has been a real challenge.
“We’ve discovered in the last 12 months a number of assets that flood plain and water assets that we didn’t have on our books.
“What that’s done, it’s increased our depreciation which has impacted on our operating performance ratio.
“I believe council’s in a sound financial position, but it’s still got some way to go to address the infrastructure renewal that’s required and do it at the right time.”
Mr Lindsay also has some thoughts on his replacement.
There was some controversy about the council appointing governance director Laura Black as acting general manager when Mr Lindsay stepped down.
Council voted 5-4 in favour of Ms Black, but the five supporting votes came from councillors not contesting Saturday’s poll.
Mr Lindsay was concerned the new council might overturn that decision.
“That would be disappointing,” he said. “I don’t think the council had a good experience when Stuart McPherson left, they appointed an acting general manager from outside the organisation.
“I feel the councillors of the day found it was not a good experience for them.
He said in discussions with the mayor and senior staff decided to seek stability in the team.
“We’ve only just appointed a new director of environment and planning and the director of works and civil, Jamie Fleeting only been here 18 months,” Mr Lindsay said.
“We’ve embarked on significant change in the organisation. Were still trying to put together the new organisational structure.
“Laura is very much aware of the direction we’re taking and what we need to achieve.
“She has a very good understanding of the new integrated planning and reporting requirements for the council.”
While the council has been a part of for more than two decades begins to reshape itself, Mr Lindsay was looking forward to getting away from it all and returning to his home town of Warialda to spend time with his parents.
“I haven’t been able to get home for more than six months, so that’s one of the first things on my agenda,” he said.
But the council staff hasn’t seen the last of him as he plans to continue his fortnightly Brekky with the Boss sessions he started when he came to the job.
“I cook a barbecue breakfast and staff have a chance to talk with me about issues at work,” he said.
It’s also a chance for us to recognise staff achievements and hand out awards to recognise milestones in careers and other achievements.”
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