The current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has brought challenges unlike anything we have faced before.
Not only are people’s physical health at risk, efforts to control the spread of the virus has had significant impacts on our lives.
Changes to our work situations, social lives, daily routine and sense of safety can have serious impacts on our mental wellbeing.
Clinical psychologist Dr Lillian Nejad, of Omipsych, shares her advice on coping mechanisms to protect our mental wellbeing in the time of coronavirus.
Don’t fight the feelings
It’s normal to feel heightened feelings of stress, sadness or anxiety in these uncertain times. While trying to focus on the positives in our lives can be helpful, you shouldn’t put pressure on yourself not to experience difficult emotions.
“Uncertainty is what many of us are finding the most problematic. We just don’t know how long we will need to take precautions and how long it will take to get back to our regular lives. All we can do is accept the reality of our current circumstances and to try to adapt as best we can,” said Dr Nejad.
Stay informed, not overwhelmed
It can be tempting to spend our days at home refreshing news websites, waiting for the latest updates. Things are changing quickly, so it’s important to stay informed about safety precautions and other developments, however limiting how much news we consume is important for our mental wellbeing.
“Some people may feel relieved with more information while others may become more anxious,” said Dr Nejad.
“Do what works for you but also try to have a balanced approach, and remember how your information intake will impact those around you, especially children.”
Do one enjoyable activity every day
Many of our usual recreational activities such as going to restaurants or the cinema are off the agenda for a while, so it’s important to get creative and find safe ways of having fun.
Embrace indoor activities; try some relaxation or mindfulness exercises, watch a comedy, play a board game or get creative.
“Delve into art and creativity through drawing, painting, writing, photography, sewing – anything that brings you joy in the present moment. If you’re not sure where to start, think about what you used to love to do as a child and start with that,” recommends Dr Nejad.
Maintain healthy habits and routines
While some elements of your daily life must change, keeping some consistent structure to your day can be helpful.
Ensure you are eating nutritious food, aiming for some physical activity each day (which could be anything from dancing in your living room to following a yoga video on YouTube), and getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
As tempting as it may be to start staying up late and sleeping in, sticking to your regular bedtime and wake-up time can help protect your energy levels and physical and mental wellbeing.
Having a healthy night-time routine which includes limiting screen time, and news-monitoring, a few hours before bed has been shown to decrease stress symptoms and improve wellbeing.
Even though many of us are physically isolated, make the most of technology to stay connected to your loved ones, particularly those who live alone or are vulnerable. Check in on people outside of your household, and offer emotional support to those facing extra challenges.
“Everyone is processing this information differently. Some people may not have the skills or resources to effectively manage their anxiety in a situation like this one,” said Dr Nejad.
“To get through this, we need have empathy for others, we need to be less judgmental, and we need to be patient. If you are in a position to do so, show compassion for people who have been impacted the most by providing support or by helping them access appropriate supports in their communities.”
These techniques and tips may help to support your mental wellbeing during this time, but if you are experiencing significant distress or anxiety, it’s important to seek professional support. Everyone is experiencing this crisis differently, so don’t feel like you need to tackle it all on your own.
“Some people are also dealing with financial distress, job insecurity, caring for unwell family members, and additional physical and mental health issues. If you are struggling and feeling unable to manage your stress levels, it is vital that you use the available resources in your community to access support,” said Dr Nejad.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, immediate support is available from Lifeline. Call 13 11 14.