Managing your mental health during COVID-19
If you’re staying at home due to coronavirus (COVID-19), it’s especially important to look after your mental health.
It’s okay to feel anxious, frustrated or worried during times of disruption and uncertainty. Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor at UNSW Sydney and the Black Dog Institute, Jill Newby, says that while everyone reacts differently to challenging events, there are things we can all do to ensure a healthy mind right now.
She shares her expert tips and advice on how to keep on top of your mental health, and where to seek further support if you need it.
1. Look after your body
Maintain physical activity as best as you can. Incorporating creativity into your workouts can make exercising in small spaces fun – create a home gym, go for a walk on your driveway, assemble a training circuit or download an exercising app.
Get enough sleep. Sleep is a powerful stress buster. When you’re well rested you are a better problem solver and coping with stressful situations is more manageable. Beyond Blue offers some helpful tips for improving your sleep.
Meditate. Relaxation exercises such as spending a few minutes a day doing nothing but focussing on your breathing can help calm anxieties. Free meditation apps you can download without the need to subscribe include Headspace and Calm.
Eat well. Some indulging is fine, but maintaining a balanced diet with plenty of healthy foods will ensure your immune system remains strong and able to fight off any lingering flus or colds.
2. Limit your media exposure
Limit your exposure to media as it can have an insidious effect. There is a lot of information coming from various sources. While we’re trying to read as much as possible to be equipped with knowledge around COVID-19, it can also be counterproductive by heightening stress levels and anxiety. To stay informed but reduce overwhelm, set media check-in times.
Watch something unrelated to COVID-19. It can be your favourite movie or show – just make sure it’s on a topic that is unrelated to disease, illness and stress.
Keep a balance of media consumption by seeking out good news. There are a number of platforms offering quick access to positive content from around the world. Some options for a positivity fix include the Good News Network, Positive News, Sunny Skyz, while some news outlets have a dedicated ‘good news’ section.
3. Stay connected with other people
Practise physical distancing, not social distancing. There are myriad of digital tools now at our disposal that mean friends and family are only an instant message, phone call or virtual coffee catch-up away. Bond with friends on social media, seek out support when you need it, and check in on your loved ones regularly.
Be proactive about self-care. If you have a history of depression, anxiety or emotional health problems you may recognise that now is a risky time for relapse, and start to withdraw socially. Put a self-care plan in place to help you recognise early warning signs and devise strategies to help you overcome those feelings. The Black Dog Institute offers a self-care plan template to help you get started.
Keep conversation light. When catching up with friends and family at this time, it can be difficult to avoid the topic of COVID-19 but try to talk about positive experiences and updates. This is another great reason to keep on top of positive news in the world.
4. Stay motivated
Break large tasks into small parts. A popular myth is that one must wait until motivation strikes before starting a task, but it’s actually vice versa. If you complete a small part of a larger task, this will make the task feel more achievable and you’re more likely to feel motivated to complete it.
Keep your work area tidy. A clean and organised work environment can give you a clear mind, create good energy and motivate you to perform your daily tasks more efficiently.
5. If you need further support
If you need further support, there are a range of excellent options available:
• Schedule an appointment with your GP, and ask for a referral to a local psychologist (telehealth options are now available)
• Schedule a phone session with your Employee Assistance Provider if your organisation provides one.
• There are also range of free online programs that help ease stress, manage anxiety and depression. For a full list of support available, see: https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/clinical-resources/anxiety/seeking-help
Jill is a Clinical Psychologist, Associate Professor and MRFF Career Development Fellow at UNSW Sydney, based at the Black Dog Institute. Her research focuses on understanding anxiety, and technology-based treatments for anxiety and depression.