How to stay mentally healthy during the coronavirus panic

Acknowledging how you feel during this time is essential to finding ways of coping.

Acknowledging how you feel during this time is essential to finding ways of coping. Photo: TND

It might be the uncertainty that’s hardest at the moment.

Perhaps a relative is considered at risk of contracting the virus, you don’t know how to protect your family, or you’re unsure what will happen at work.

The coronavirus pandemic is, for most Australians, an unprecedented event – and it’s likely to stir up all sorts of emotions.

The mixed feelings are normal.

At greater risk of being more severely affected are people with underlying mental health conditions, but there are practical steps everybody should be taking to keep the mind healthy during this stressful time.

If you’re not personally feeling stressed, you can still play a role in helping others in the community.

First, hear people out.

Acknowledging that they are experiencing losses, whether that be a loss of security or a rapidly changing lifestyle, can help the person start to unpack their worries.

Sarah broke down. But taking time out for herself has helped her move forward

Last week, Sarah, who asked that her last name not be used, was devastated to learn four close workmates were made redundant as a strategic move by their digital marketing agency to prevent financial losses and keep the company afloat during COVID-19.

“I felt like each of them leaving was like a personal death because I love my people at work,” said Sarah, who suffers from anxiety and depression.

“They’re my community and so I felt like I lost four people in one day.”

The news drove the 28-year-old copywriter to a mental breakdown and left her emotionally fragile for days.

As a coping mechanism, she said she safely “checked out of life” by letting her family and friends know they wouldn’t be hearing from her over the weekend. That gave her time to accept the change.

“I’ve come into the new week being like, OK, I’ve got my family, I’ve got my friends, I’ve got a housemate, I’ve got my dogs and I’ve got an online community where I’m being constantly reminded of the good things that people are doing for each other.”

Sarah is grateful that her job allows her to work from home. Photo: Sarah

Sarah is among the tide of Australians having to work from home, and has been terrified at the thought of a lockdown but is trying to see it from a positive lens.

“It’s a good time to test myself in that maybe it’s the perfect time to learn how to be socially isolated and survive,” she said.

Jasmine focuses on others

The pandemic has also taken a heavy toll on Jasmine McLennan, 33, who has bipolar disorder.

The retail worker has found that focusing on what she can do to help other people, in turn, helps her cope, especially when she’s struggling with anxiety.

That’s often when she’s spent too much time scrolling through social media or consuming the news.

Managing her mental health has been a constant concern for Ms McLennan. Photo: Facebook

Ms McLennan has also compiled a list of the important areas in her life that may be affected by the changes happening in response to the pandemic.

She has started brainstorming creative ways to address her needs, which include being physically active and maintaining social contacts.

“For example, my friends normally meet every Thursday night for dinner. Some of us are self-isolating by choice and so this is not possible at the moment,” she said.

“Instead, I have downloaded the conference call app Zoom and we are going to try to all use that instead so we can eat dinner in virtual company.

“I think being pro-active about the issues I – and we – are facing rather than avoiding them really helps curb my anxiety.”

It’s also important to remember that “we are all in this together, and that if I am feeling anxious it’s likely others are too”.

Working from home has become the new norm for many Australians. Photo: Getty

Miranda is mindful of mindless scrolling

Victorian Miranda Luby flew home from Indonesia on Tuesday and has since been in isolation, alone, in an apartment in Melbourne.

She said she’s aware it could be a stressful time and is taking steps early to look after her mental wellbeing.

“I feel like it could be easy to mistake scrolling through social media and numbly absorbing this news cycle for staying connected. It’s not,” Ms Luby said.

She is catching up on some reading, getting work done and, most importantly, taking time off social media.

Psychologist Lyn Bender gives her tips:

  • Stay informed on safe behaviours that will prevent transmission of the coronavirus. If you do not stay informed you are more vulnerable to unhelpful rumours. Also, limit how much news you consume every day to prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed with information
  • Do as much of what you would normally do to sustain your health as possible. If you exercise outdoors or enjoy gardening, for example, continue to do so while practising social distancing
  • Pets are good therapy
  •  If you are working from home, maintain work contacts
  • Eat sensibly and nutritiously
  • Getting enough sleep each day is vital
  • Do not panic-buy. It will increase your sense of panic
  • Allow yourself to grieve. Where there is a loss, there is grief. Acknowledge that there is sadness or frustration. We have assumed a certain level of functioning will prevail. We have to progress to accept changes
  • Be creative in the way you adapt. FaceTime friends while having a coffee for example
  • Foster care and attention for those around you. Leave a delivery of groceries at the door of an older person, for example
  • Accept that there will be a level of uncertainty. We don’t know how long these changes may be necessary, nor do we know how routine daily lives may change
  • Look for the potential for good in a situation.
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