Remaining Positive and Looking After Your Mental Health
Victoria has declared a State of Emergency. We are experiencing a very challenging time with the health crisis and Coronavirus (COVID-19). People have lost their jobs and businesses have been forced to close. Everyone is restricted to their home with specific exceptions, and are unable to meet or see family and friends. There is uncertainty about the future - both the short and longer term.
Common experiences include grief and loss - of close contact with family and friends, employment, school and involvement in usual activities, anxiety and worry about health, loneliness and isolation, low mood and depression. There is stigma about contracting the virus and fear of transmitting the virus to family and friends. Healthcare workers in particular are concerned about exposure to the virus and transmission. It is quite possible at these feelings and experiences will intensify the longer that the crisis goes on. Calls to helplines have increased and the government has implemented a range of mental health initiatives so that people can receive increased support. The importance of psychological support cannot be overstated.
Drawing on the global experience of the SARS pandemic in 2003, mental health difficulties were high both during and after the crisis. In the current times of COVID-19, early mental health intervention is needed to manage current distress as well as to prevent future difficulties. Telehealth or video and telephone counselling sessions, as well as online resources and supports can be very beneficial. There are also a range of things that people can do to manage the day-to-day situation and stressors.
Here is a list of things that may help you to get through the health crisis and physical restrictions:-
Establish a routine. It is important for wellbeing to keep a regular routine and try to keep it as ‘normal’ as possible. For example, get up at a regular time, eat at regular times, work at regular times, and sleep at regular times. Also make time for relaxation, exercise and social contact – aim for a balance of these activities throughout the day. For children, make time for play, exercise and learning. Home learning will commence soon which will mean developing a new routine.
Get dressed and show up. This sets the tone for the day. Even if you don’t feel up to it, it is important to get dressed because it can be a slippery slope to feeling unmotivated or depressed. And when you are feeling depressed, staying in bed and in pyjamas can make the feelings worse. So get up, shower and put on some comfortable clothes.
Exercise. Physical activity is great for improving mood and maintaining fitness. Go for a walk, bike ride or run, kick a footy or shoot some hoops, create an obstacle course, or do an online exercise, dance or yoga session.
Spend time outdoors. When you are restricted to home - whether that is working, supporting your children with remote learning or taking care of your younger children or other family members, changing the environment and taking a break is also important.
Connect with others. Remaining connected to other people is essential at this time of physical distancing. Telephone loved ones and friends, use Skype or FaceTime, text or connect via social media. Children will miss playing and talking with their friends, so organising times to chat and ‘see’ them is really important too. Exchange pictures or letters with loved ones and friends - leave them in their letterbox the next time you do your shopping.
Eat well. Try to maintain a healthy diet and keep hydrated. There will be times though that you might overeat or have unhealthy foods, particularly if you’re in the habit of eating when you feel stressed. Try not to beat yourself up about it - it doesn’t help. Just get back on track and eat some nutritious food the next day.
Ensure that you’re getting a good night’s rest. When you feel rested, you’re more likely to feel better in yourself and be ready to deal with the tasks, activities or challenges of the day. Check out the blog about sleep.
Have a pyjama day. From time to time, relax, take it easy and put the usual routine on hold.
Play. Children and adults benefit from playing. Get out a board game, a pack of cards or spend time on the PlayStation, XBox or Switch. Playing can be a boredom buster but it is also a way of connecting and relaxing.
Tune out and tune in. Put your feet up and watch your favourite movie or series on Netflix or Stan.
Cut everyone some slack. Remaining indoors for much of the time can give rise to tension and conflict.
Anticipate power struggles. Children can have difficulty articulating feelings and so often act them out. Feelings of fear, loneliness, distress and boredom can manifest as anger and aggression and where there are siblings, rough play. This is where play, engaging in activities and outdoors exercise are particularly important.
Self-care. Do the things that you really enjoy doing. Whether that is eating chocolate or ice cream, painting your nails, working out, listening to music, having a relaxing bath, playing an instrument, baking, drawing or painting.
Complete a project. Choose a project or activity that you would like to achieve over the coming weeks. For example, growing a veggie patch, painting the house, making some changes outside, completing a large puzzle, reading a book series or cleaning out the spare room. Children enjoy building and creating things too.
Do something for someone else. Doing things for others and being part of a community can help you to feel more positive. Prepare a meal for an elderly neighbour, buy some essentials to donate or put together a package to give to the local op shop. There are a lot of groups that have been formed and can be found online or on Facebook that are focused on helping others and which you could get involved with.
Focus on what you can control. At present there is much uncertainty and a range of things that lie outside your control. Focusing on these things is unhelpful and can actually compound your distress and frustration. Try to keep in mind those things that you can control - such as establishing a routine, exercising, practising hand hygiene and self-care, and work on these things.
Limit the news. There has been so much information, bad news and opinions on the TV and social media, it can be overwhelming. It can help to limit the news to once or twice daily. And don’t forget to look at the source - is it factual by a health or medical professional, or someone’s opinion?
Mindfulness. Mindfulness is one way of disengaging from or letting go of negative thinking or strong emotions. The basic guideline in this practice is to become mindfully aware of moment-to-moment changes in bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings and accept these without struggling against them.
Meditation. Although not everyone’s cup of tea, meditation can help to reduce stress levels. There are a range of meditation and mindfulness apps and YouTube clips. Some people prefer guided visualisations whereas others prefer progressive muscle relaxation, nature sounds or music. Meditation is something that needs to be practised, so if you find it difficult initially, try and persevere.
Reach out for support. If you’re struggling emotionally, family and friends can be a good support and sounding board. However it is also important to get in touch with a professional. Chat with your GP who can refer you to a psychologist. With the government’s mental health initiative, everyone can access video or telephone counselling under the Medicare system. Some psychologists offer bulk billing. Your GP can often recommend someone however you can also have a look at the ‘Find a Psychologist ‘ website by the Australian Psychological Society. The sooner you get support, the better. Don’t put it off.
Wow - what a list!
It is essential to look after your mental health and wellbeing during this difficult time. The best way to do that is to use the range of strategies described here. Some suggestions may resonate with you, whereas others won’t. Everyone is different and you will probably find that different situations require a different approach.
I hope that that this information helps you to get through this health crisis and the restrictions on people’s day-to-day activities and isolation at home.
Always remember to reach out if you need support.
Stay safe and well,