Maintaining mental wellness during COVID-19
Kym Friese’s monthly mental health column aims to help anyone suffering from any mental health concerns. If this article raises any issues for you please contact the resources at the bottom of this article.
COVID-19 has redefined our social interactions and daily life across local and global communities. The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledges the “stressors the pandemic is causing and [is] advising people to avoid news that causes feelings of stress and anxiety”.
This is understandable, as we are all actively partaking in self-isolation practices, mandatory quarantine, rising unemployment and the closure of both state and international borders.
Whether we realise it or not, we are watching history unfold before us daily as our leaders grapple with enforcing tougher restrictions, which is a necessity to preserve life. It also has an unprecedented impact on our mental state due to isolation from loved ones, daily uncertainty, limited forward planning ability and fear of the unknown.
COVID-19 has resulted in rapid changes unfolding across our communities. Inevitably, this has increased our anxiety, which I assure you is a normal response and—if embraced appropriately—it can motivate us to initiate protective and preventative action.
Current pandemic responses have inescapably caused disruption, seeing people across the globe either ceasing or restricting activities. This may see an increase in people engaging in activities that can make things worse due to underlying anxiety or fear, such as increased alcohol consumption in an attempt to cope with the rapidly changing world around us.
Like yourselves, I’m feeling a full spectrum of emotions—sometimes hourly—dependent on what’s in the news. But I remind myself modifications to daily life is a necessity to ensure compliance with social distancing, which is key to surviving and slowing the spread of COVID-19.
So, the goal for this month’s column is to support and share strategies which you can adapt to fit your personality, routine, or cultural needs.
Be creative, think outside the box, experiment and then share with your communities to ensure social distancing doesn’t become socially isolating.
- Stay informed, but get your information from credible sources. Limit your viewing time, I’ve cut down to viewing current affairs in the evening and limiting online time to mornings to ensure I’m across any new regulations in my state to allow me to modify my routine as required.
- Avoid unfamiliar websites or online discussion groups where people post information from non-credible sources. It’s an easy trap to fall into as we are all naturally anxious, but be wary of what is posted and what you repost on social media. Always consider the trustworthiness of information on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter etc.
- Social media use is increasing due to social distancing, but create ‘down time’ from your electronic devices to allow connectivity with those in your household. Schedule activities such as playing a board game, reading aloud to each other, cooking together, or binge-watching favourite TV shows.
- Ensure social media use is constructive to connect meaningfully with loved ones outside of your set ‘down time’. Why not create support networks, watch parties, or live streams? Get creative! You could set up an online games night and play games via apps with your friends.
- Deal with problems that arise constructively. Naturally, issues at present feel overwhelming. It’s okay, take a breath, step back to identify ‘real problems’ vs ‘worries’—it will allow you to preserve your energy.
- Don’t fall into the ‘what if?’ trap as it results in a negative focus, leading to questions such as “What if a loved one becomes critically ill and I’m unable to support them?” or “Will I see my loved ones again?”. Fixating on worst case scenarios result in us underestimating our ability to cope whilst overestimating the bad around us!
- Recall a difficult situation you worked through when things weren’t perfect—what did you do to cope, adapt and solve the situation? Apply this method now, it’s a reminder you’re strong, not to mention it’s empowering!
- Repeat after me, “I’ve got this, it’s not a bad life it’s a bad day, bad moment and everything passes—including this!” Don’t catastrophise thoughts. Yes, it’s surreal but it is temporary, so let’s work together to get through this!
Lastly, remember we all experience stress, anxiety and challenges differently, so be kind and patient with one another as this is a time for us to pull together! There will be times you may find that you have done all you can to reduce your stress levels but are still struggling. This is normal based on current circumstances.
If this is the case, it’s okay, there’s no shame. I encourage you to contact your GP, telehealth or hotlines such as Lifeline, Beyond Blue or the COVID-19 hotlines in your states. Stay safe, be kind to yourselves and others, and know that together we will see this through!
If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental ill-health, call or visit the online resources below:
- Lifeline – 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au
- Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636, beyondblue.org.au/forums
- MensLine – 1300 789 978
- Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
- Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
- Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet – healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au
By Kym Friese
Kym Friese is a Kamilaroi woman and Accredited Mental Health Social Worker with over 19 years’ experience in Mental Health and Community Services. Her qualifications include BA Health Ageing and Community Services, Masters Social Work, Dip Counselling, Dip Community Services (AOD and Mental Health), and Cert IV Training and Assessment.