Suggestions for how to look after your mental health during the pandemic
This information was created by psychologists on the TAC's Clinical Panel.
Fear, worry and anxiety are normal responses to perceived or actual danger.
Sometimes you can be very aware that you are worried, stressed or anxious. However, at other times you may not be aware that you are worried. What you might notice is a large amount of questions running through your mind or increased thinking in general. You might find it difficult to fall asleep or feel more irritable.
You might worry about your own health and the health of people you care about and the wider community. You may also be worried about your employment and financial situation and what the short, medium and long-term future might hold.
If you are continuously reading about coronavirus, start by getting the facts from credible sources, such as the Department of Health or the World Health Organization - then stop looking! Limit how much you read - for example, only read updates once a day.
Remember, there is only so much language based information that we can absorb. This is especially true if the information is new and doesn’t fit into our existing skills, knowledge and rule based approach to work, or life more generally. We are creatures with habits that we are generally unaware of until those habits are disrupted. These habits are related to the spaces we occupy, time we spend on activities and the way in which we connect with the people in our lives. We will quite likely become aware of unfamiliar body sensations that signal the changes; restlessness, nauseous feelings, heaviness and lowered frustration tolerance but there are things we can do to understand these natural responses to unprecedented circumstances.
Some suggestions to help look after our mental health during the pandemic
Part of the anxiety and worry many of us are feeling also come from feeling like you don’t have control of a situation (or your life). Focus on what you can control.
Maintain routines if possible, to keep a sense of normality. For example:
- Go to sleep and wake up at a reasonable time (make sure you get enough sleep and rest)
- Eat well – a simple one, but stress and eating often don’t mix well and we end up over-indulging, forgetting to eat or ‘comfort eating’. Stay hydrated and try and eat nutritious foods (maybe even challenge yourself to learn how to cook something new!)
- Exercise each day (at least 30 mins) – if you’re not already exercising regularly, now is a great time to start! There are lots of classes on YouTube to get you started or to help if your gym has closed. Exercise helps burn off the adrenaline and cortisol we naturally produce in times of uncertainty. There is also a ‘let-down’ period after exercising that lasts for 2-3 hours and helps with relaxation.
- Get outside each day for some fresh air – our brains crave new experiences, so make sure you leave your house, even to walk in the garden or around the block. Make sure you leave your phones behind if you can and 'stop and smell the roses'.
- Reach out to others and maintain your social connections. Talk to friends and family about your concerns – this is more important than ever! Use Facetime, Skype or your phone - whatever helps you to keep connected.
- Schedule in activities. Take some time to brainstorm lists of activities that:
- are cognitively stimulating (that is, reading, crosswords, puzzles, podcasts etc.)
- give a sense of pleasure (that is, nice food, a bath, watching a movie)
- give a sense of mastery or a sense of achievement (that is, house work, clean out or rearrange the garage, your cupboards, paperwork)
- were established hobbies that you may have left out of your busy life and want to take up again
- Set small daily projects to work on, as well as a larger goal that may take longer to achieve.
- Practice being in the moment (mindfulness). Try not to project too far into the future. Take each hour and day at a time.
- Practice some form of relaxation like Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Yoga, Tai Chi etc
- If you find yourself worrying a lot of the time, try the strategy of ‘postponing your worries’ to a set time of the day. For example you could do 10 minutes at 3pm. If you find yourself worrying outside of your set time, you have to remind yourself ‘it’s not time to worry about that now, I can worry at 3pm’. This gives your brain a solution to the problem it is trying to solve (which is what ‘worrying’ is trying to do).
- It is helpful to write out the issues you are worrying about, rather than thinking them out. Once you have written them down, you can apply problem solving techniques and only add new, reliable information as it becomes available. If all you do is worry, you are practicing worrying and becoming good at it. This is not the same as problem solving, which you can do to try and resolve your issues.
- Think about strategies that have helped you manage stress in the past, and revisit these strategies.
- Reach out to mental health professionals
- Help others. Find ways, big or small, to give back to others. Check in with neighbours, support local business, offer to grocery shop. Helping others gives us a sense of agency and some good feelings in return
Digital mental health services
MindSpot offers free courses that can help you manage anxiety and depression discreetly by combining educational and practical exercises with therapy. With your consent, MindSpot can provide updates on your progress to your GP.
- Managing depression and anxiety
- Overcoming symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Helping adults (18-64) manage symptoms of stress, anxiety, worry and low mood.
- Managing pain
There are specific courses for Indigenous Australians, young people and people over 60.
This way up
Cost: In response to the coronavirus pandemic, all course fees waived until the end of April 2020 (usually $59). If you need online mental health support in relation to the transport accident, we can fund access to This Way Up. You will need to register and pay for the course and then send us your receipt for reimbursement.
A referral can be obtained from your GP or other mental health professional. Your GP can register online and prescribe a course that’s right for you.
Using cognitive behavioural therapy principles, This Way Up offers proven online courses for conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mindfulness, chronic pain, social phobia, panic and agoraphobia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
You can also access self-help courses on your own.
Moodgym is an interactive program based on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy. It is structured as supported self-help to manage and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. It consists of five interactive modules which include:
- Exercises and quizzes
The program is intended for users 16 and older and mild to moderate symptoms of depression and anxiety. There is a screening tool for new users; if symptoms are judged as more severe, users will be directed to speak to a health professional.
The program is available in English and German.
1300 224 636
Provides depression and anxiety support for all Australians.
13 11 14
Lifeline is a national charity that provides people experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.