The holidays are over but everyone is out of their minds. The usual February chat has been replaced by sullen exhaustion. Never got a break. Car's stuffed. We had to stay inside the whole time. The kids are being driven mad.
Canberra is back at work without a cold minute to refresh. This matters. The run-up to Christmas is usually a madhouse in Australia, trying to get everything done before we all breathe a collective sigh of relief. Canberrans never had the chance to catch their breaths. The air is unbreathable.
And Lyndall Strazdins is concerned. Strazdins, the director of the Research School of Population Health at ANU and her team are working urgently on a way to take the health picture of Canberrans because there are so many factors which have affected locals over the past two months.
Physical health is impacted by the heat and the smoke - but it's more than that. Canberrans have had to cut back on all the activities they usually rely on to rest, all the exercise that is fundamental to keep us well. We all know physical activity keeps us well - but it also works to be restorative.
"That all changes when it comes in the context of facing potential trauma or actual trauma," she says.
It's normal for people to be worried in times like these and in some ways, it's adaptive. The heat, the smoke, the fires, the hail, these all posted threats. But the constant feeling of being under threat accelerates our anxieties.
Strazdins of ANU predicts there will be a whole group of Canberrans who've been tipped from the normal experience of concern right into anxiety.
"The whole population can be affected. They might have been coping OK with holding down jobs, family, volunteering. Now there are groups who are going to be at high risk for tipping into a high level of distress, even if only temporarily."
Strazdins and her ANU team - big emphasis on team - are already hearing from the field that there is a spike in hospital admissions - and even Canberra GPs in Palmerston and Tuggeranong say every single appointment for the foreseeable future is booked. There was just under a two per cent rise in presentations to Canberra Hospital Emergency Department - but it's too early to tell how many of those ended up being admitted to hospital.
But there's one group of Canberrans who've really been hit hard and that's our public servants (and remember about 40 per cent of them work in Canberra, we need them to make our nation function). They too usually get a break over Christmas - that all disappeared and folks in the Department of Human Services, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) and the ABC have pretty much worked non-stop.
Those who work in the DHS ditched their holidays to work in mobile service centres and on the phone to deal with serial mayhem. That's on top of dealing with the continuing fallout from robodebt as well as trying to administer the hopeless federal government response to drought and fire and every other catastrophe.
Melissa Donnelly, the CPSU National Secretary, tells me their members who work in BOM have quadrupled their workload through this time, all day and all night, to make sure that front-line responders were kept up to date.
"In a typical summer our members would receive an average two to four incident forecast requests per day, this summer it has been 14 to 19 a day, day after day after day."
I wonder if the government recognises now how foolish endless public service cuts are. Those workplaces were already struggling with workload, after years and years of a staffing cap and budget and staffing cuts. Donnelly says her members have been striving to fill the gaps the government won't.
Kids are very sensitive to their parents and it can be really hard to be perky when you feel like your life is falling apart.
Which might be fine in the short term but disastrous in the long term. Who'll run DHS when everyone falls over? And god forbid, the ABC has to run another summer of emergency broadcasts like this. They might run out of money to ever broadcast sport again. Which would be a shame for our Prime Minister, I know.
There's one other group of people we should be worried about and that's the one group which can't advocate for itself - the tiny tackers who've spent their one big school holiday with parents who are out of their minds with fear.
"Children are hearing their parents and other adults talking about it all the time," says Ruth Wallace from the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA).
Wallace, the co-convenor of PHAA's Child and Youth Special Interest Group, is keen to make sure we encourage kids to have feelings of hope as well, maybe to talk about the positives, what's being done, what could be done. Those conversations can be cathartic, says Wallace.
But kids are very sensitive to their parents and it can be really hard to be perky when you feel like your life is falling apart. So maybe take the advice of Strazdins' team. Take care of your body, sure, but also take of your mind. If you are feeling overwrought and secretly tearful or angry, ring the helplines. Visit a GP if you think you can get an appointment.
To those who complain about a Canberra bubble, be careful what you wish for. If this particular bubble pops, so will our nation.
- Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a regular columnist.