CORONAVIRUS AND MENTAL HEALTH: 5 WAYS TO REDUCE YOUR STRESS
Prioritising good mental health is always important. But, when faced with an unprecedented situation like Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the sudden changes to our everyday routine, it’s essential.
While it’s natural to have feelings of stress and anxiety at this unpredictable time, there are things you can do to help reduce their impact. Here are some ways to look after your mental health and manage stress.
FOCUS ON THE BASICS
While the specifics are different for each person, the building blocks for good mental health are universal, says Karen Fletcher, clinical director at national mental health charity SANE Australia.
“We need structures and support. Structures – such as family, school, work, church and other communities – give us support through the relationships we create there. These are some of the people we can talk to when we’re not feeling okay, and who won’t make us feel judged or dismissed. This is all very protective to good mental health.”
Fear of the unknown can create anxiety and, while there are still a lot of ‘unknowns’ in our understanding of COVID-19, it’s important to avoid speculation and to stay well informed about the latest health advice.
As well as worrying about the virus itself, we’ll all acutely feel its broader impact on everyday life – from the social ramifications like social distancing and isolation, to financial concerns and long-term economic effects.
It’s a lot to think about, but there are some key ways to maintain a sense of control and stay positive.
Get the facts: If you want to know what’s happening with the virus both here and globally, access the most credible and reliable sources, such as the World Health Organization and the Australian Government Department of Health.
The term ‘social distancing’ may create problems for people in itself, says Karen. “At SANE we prefer the term ‘physical distancing with social connection’. While people are being asked to be physically distant from each other, it’s imperative that we still have social connection to maintain good mental health.”
So, how can we connect with people without being physically close?
Make a call: While you may usually prefer texting, now is a good time to pick up the phone. If a regular catch-up with a friend has had to be postponed, agree to call each other at that time instead. As well as maintaining the social connection, it will help you create a new routine.
Go online: Video chat options like FaceTime and Skype are a great way to see a friendly face during periods of isolation. But there are many other online portals we can use to connect socially. Head to web forums to meet new people with similar interests, like gardening, knitting or golf; or create a regular group link-up for your usual face-to-face activities – from book club to supper club – through a video conferencing program like Zoom.
Head outside: As long as you’re feeling well, try to get outside every day and if you can, do some physical activity. Taking a walk around your neighbourhood will give you a sense of being part of the world and help you stay connected.
CREATE A NEW NORMAL
If you’re working from home or isolated indoors due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s important to regularly check in with yourself – be aware of how you feel, and if that changes.
“If we’re isolated, we may start to withdraw from everyday things and ruminate on negative thoughts,” says Karen. She adds it can help to set a few ground rules to keep you feeling positive while in isolation like:
Limit your time on social media: Get the answers you want, from reliable sources, then log off.
Give your day structure: Get up at the normal time, have a shower and get dressed. Don’t sit around in your PJs or trackies. Work at a desk, not slumped on the couch. Take breaks for lunch and exercise. Have an end point so you don’t work into the night.
Find something that gives you pleasure: Gardening, knitting, watching an episode of your favourite series, dancing around the kitchen to your favourite playlist – whatever the activity, it helps to have a few sure-fire strategies to boost your mood.
As well as keeping you busy, Karen says these tactics will put you back in control, despite the physical boundaries of isolation.
It’s important to remember to check in on friends, loved ones and colleagues including young people during difficult times, especially those who don’t have a large support system or mental health support.
“Don’t put it off – pick up the phone and call people who you know live alone, or don’t have friends and family close by,” says Karen.
The elderly may find it particularly difficult to cope with the social restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Older generations may not be as comfortable using things like social media to connect, as they usually go places and see people,” says Karen, adding that an offer of assistance can go a long way.
“Helping an elderly person get to the shops, or donating excess essential goods is a nice thing to do, but it also helps us. Giving back is a huge part of staying mentally well, because it makes us feel good and gives us a sense of purpose.”
Also, be mindful of people you know who may be living with existing mental health conditions.
“People who have anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) will be finding this time more challenging. If you’re concerned about someone, be proactive and check in on them. Get creative in the ways you support someone who you can’t physically spend time with: FaceTime them, send them funny memes, text them at the same time every day, go for a walk together. Do what’s possible.”
REACH OUT IF YOU NEED HELP
If you notice you’re feeling sad or stressed, you can boost your mental health and wellbeing by:
- Getting regular sleep and eating healthy
- Avoiding alcohol
- Doing an activity that gives you pleasure
- Keeping active
- Trying a meditation app such as Headspace or Smiling Mind.
Talking to a doctor or a mental health expert can also help. You can skip the waiting room and have a video consultation with a GP in the comfort of your home, through our partnership with GP2U. All HCF members have access to online GP consultations through GP2U for free* for a limited time. See hcf.com.au/gp2u for offer end date.
Eligible HCF members also have access to a mental health professional with PSYCH2U^.
“It’s vital to reach out if you’re not feeling okay,” says Karen. “There are services that allow you to talk anonymously to people who can help, or post questions in peer-to-peer forums. Remember these services aren’t just for people struggling with existing mental health challenges – they’re for everyone.”
Some of these services include:
In an emergency, call 000.
If you are feeling depressed or anxious and need to talk to someone now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Words by Kerry McCarthy
First published in April 2020
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*Some members may be eligible for Medicare benefits for a telehealth consultation with GP2U, in which case GP2U will bulk-bill those members. For mental health services, you will need a mental healthcare plan from your GP to access support. For all other services, HCF will pay the GP2U consultation fee for a limited time. See hcf.com.au/gp2u.
^Must have HCF gold level hospital cover for at least 2 months. Other eligibility criteria apply.