As COVID-19 spreads across the globe and affects our lives in so many ways, it’s important to have tools to manage our mental health and wellbeing.
Apart from feeling concerned about your health, the global pandemic may have impacted your life directly through job loss or insecurity, financial stress and isolation.
While it’s normal to feel anxious or sad, there are a number of things you can do to take charge and feel in control of your mental health and wellbeing.
As with any stressful event, we can’t control what happens, but we can control how we respond.
Try to keep things in perspective
It’s normal to worry about whether you or someone you love will get sick, or whether COVID-19 will affect your income and work. And with no clear end date of the pandemic in sight, these worries can feel overwhelming.
While it’s reasonable to feel concerned, panicking is not a helpful way to respond, says APS President Ros Knight.
“As humans, we are hardwired to be afraid of the unknown, and of something that appears random and uncontrollable.”
Instead, try not to imagine the worst-case scenario. Most people who contract the virus, including older people, will have a mild illness and recover from it.
Remind yourself that there are medical, scientific and public health experts around the world working on containing the virus, treating those affected and developing a vaccine.
While it’s important to know the symptoms of COVID-19, try not to obsess over your health and the smallest signs of illness.
Remind yourself that you’ve got through difficult situations in the past, and you have resilience that will help you get through this one too.
Look after your mental and physical health
Eat nutritious food, try to get regular sleep, and do any hobbies that make you feel good, Beyond Blue advises.
Try to keep up some physical activity, such as gardening and walking, and avoid using alcohol or other drugs to cope.
Establish routines, and if you’re now working from home, maintain a healthy balance between work and home life by setting up a separate work zone and clear work hours.
“Remain calm and practical and continue with your usual regime, as much as you can,” Knight says.
Manage your media exposure
It’s important to stay up to date with facts about the virus, but being exposed to too much negative information can make some people’s anxiety levels worse.
If you’re feeling vulnerable, try to limit how much time you spend reading, watching and listening to the news, and avoid spending too much time on social media.
“Exposing yourself to a constant stream of negative information takes a huge psychological toll,” Knight says.
“Sticking to the facts and relying on scientific sources for your information is the best way to maintain perspective and manage your feelings positively.”
Keep up social connection with loved ones
Humans are social beings, and the loss of social contact can be hard for all of us. Even if you love having time alone, you might still miss seeing friends and family.
For people who live alone, it can be especially tough to lose that social connection.
While we need to maintain social distancing at the moment to stop the spread of COVID-19, there are lots of other ways you can connect with friends and family:
- Try virtual chats via video conferencing – such as through FaceTime or Skype
- Call family and friends on the phone
- Email and send texts
- Revisit the old art of letter writing
Be open with children
If you have children, remember that they will be absorbing information from news and conversations around them. You’ll need to explain why they can’t go to school and why they can’t see their friends.
Give your kids factual information – without overloading them with details - and then ask if they have any questions. Remind them that they are safe and loved, and it’s normal to feel concerned.
Children look to their caregivers for cues on how to react, so try to stay calm while talking to them.
“Research shows that being open and honest with children is the best way to help them cope with serious situations,” Knight says.
“Sharing the news will help children to not feel excluded, imagine the situation is worse than it really is or, even, blame themselves. Sharing information shows that you trust and value them, which can enhance their resilience.”
Get support if you need it
If you feel overwhelmed with anxiety or stress, ask for an appointment with your GP, who can refer you to a psychologist.
Beyond Blue’s helpline is also open 24/7 on 1300 22 4636.
The Australian Psychological Society has lots of useful information on coping during the COVID-19 outbreak on its website.
Download these APS fact sheets:
- Tips for coping with coronavirus anxiety
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) anxiety and staying mentally healthy: For older adults
Beyond Blue also has some good advice on coping during the COVID-19 outbreak on its website.
Beyond Blue is setting up a dedicated COVID-19 Mental Health Support Service. The helpline will be open 24/7 for all Australians, offering free counselling by mental health professionals, and information about coping with COVID-19, isolation, workplace and financial stress, and supporting loved ones.
In these uncertain times, CUA is here to support you. We have dedicated assistance packages for our CUA Health and our CUA financial services customers. You can find out more about how we are supporting our members impacted by COVID-19 here.