The past few months have been a time of incredible uncertainty and change for us all. We’ve been dealing with a global crisis, we’re fearful about our health and many of us have lost jobs or have decreased income.
To top it all off, due to social isolation, we don’t have access to some of our usual support structures such as spending time with our family and friends, attending our exercise classes and getting out and about.
Looking after our mental health is as important as looking after our physical health in this time of turmoil. Here are some tips to help look after your mental health while in coronavirus isolation.
1. Be self- compassionate
During this crisis, it’s normal to question if you are coping ok. I want to let you know right now – you are coping just fine. Some days feeling relaxed and calm? Awesome. Other days madly doomsday prepping? Also fine. And on other days still, exhausted curled up in bed while your kids watch Frozen for the 100th time after they had Easter eggs for breakfast? This too is all ok.
Try not to get caught up in the trap of trying to maintain the same level of optimal functioning of juggling work, home-schooling (if you have kids) and maintaining your usual other activities including social relationships. You might be getting stressed, frustrated or anxious that you aren’t coping as well as you’d like or getting as much done as usual.
Remember, you are not just working from home. You are not just home-schooling. You are sheltering at home, trying to get some work done, during a Global Crisis. This is an unprecedented and ongoing event that is incredibly challenging so it’s completely normal and expected that you will be operating at 30-50% of what you are used to.
Catch any hypercritical self-talk that might be going through your mind and remind yourself that it’s ok to get less done than usual.
Exercise, movement, and dance have all been shown to be mood-enhancing, but you don’t have to just exercise the traditional way. If running, walking or aerobics isn’t your thing, then there are other ways to get your heart pumping and blood flowing. Music and dancing can also have great benefits for your mood so give moving, dancing and shaking to music a go!
Get outside and breathe in the fresh air, get that dose of Vitamin D. Take advantage of some local walks or explore your local neighbourbood. It can be a way to break the day up and help you feel less enclosed.
If it’s raining or you don’t want to go out, look up a Pilates, HIIT or other fitness class on YouTube. Pretty much anything you can think of is on there and the great thing is you don’t have to commit to a full hour. Start with a 15 minute workout and go from there.
3. Stay connected
Connection is an incredibly important way to look after your mental health while in Coronavirus isolation. Just because you can’t see your family and friends in person, it doesn’t mean you can’t talk or video chat with them. If you’re feeling isolated, make an effort to talk to at least one person a day. If you’re not the small talking kind, try an online version of a board game like Taboo, or Codenames.
Alternatively, you can schedule a virtual dinner date where you cook dinner with video chat in the background. This gives you connection without the pressure of intense static eye contact through a computer screen. Not only is it beneficial for your mental health to keep in touch, but it could exactly what they need as well.
We’re all struggling in this together and it’s vital we check in on each other to make sure we’re all doing ok.
4. Take up a new hobby or learn a new skill
If you’re feeling up to it, and you’ve got the time, why not use this as an opportunity to grow your skills. Feeling a sense of achievement is one vital way for us to look after our mental health. While you might get a small thrill binge watching the entire season of Tiger King, it’s probably not going to be as beneficial as learning a new skill.
Always wanted to learn how to take better photographs but never had the time? Or perhaps you’ve wanted to know how to set up a website or improve your business in some way. There are heaps of free courses and resources right now so now could be the perfect time to learn something new.
Even if it isn’t directly related to your job, learning a new skill will help you feel that sense of accomplishment which we all need right now. At the same time, if you are exhausted after each day then sinking into the couch for a Netflix is absolutely fine too.
5. Don’t spend too much time checking the news
Every news site you look at has a lot of news about coronavirus and a lot of it is pretty overwhelming. It’s normal for you to get sucked down into a spiral of news stories and when you emerge, you probably won’t feel better for it.
I’d recommend only checking the news once or twice a day. Choose a news site that is reputable and make a point of only checking in the morning and evening. Promise yourself you’ll only read a handful of stories or give yourself a time limit of how long you’re going to read for. Then leave the site and do something pleasant.
Remember – you can’t control how people social distance, you can’t control the spread of the virus but you can control how you respond to it.
6. Boundaries and Routine
It’s easy to fall into unhelpful habits when your home has become your workplace, gym, place for socialising, classroom and place of rest. In the absence of tangible boundaries and rituals like catching public transport to work, it’s important to create symbolic boundaries to indicate the work day is over.
This might include things like a dedicated place where you do your work, and always closing your laptop when the workday is done. Be clear with colleagues and clients what your current working hours are, and stick to them. Don’t answer emails or your phone if out of business hours.
You could also bookend your day – take a brisk walk around the block at the start and end of your day to replace the commute to and from work.
The other helpful routine you could implement is trying to substitute your old weekly routines with the same pattern at home. For example, if you used to catch up for drinks with people on a Friday night after work, then do the same thing via Zoom or Skype. If you used to go to a gym class on Thursday morning, then set your alarm and get up to do a similar fitness routine online.
7. Get help
If you’re finding that no matter what you do, you’re still feeling completely overwhelmed then don’t struggle alone. There is lots of mental health help available including a dedicated COVID-19 support page on the Head to Health website and Mindspot has online assessment and treatment for anxiety and depression. Here are some other resources:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- beyondblue on 1300 224 636
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- Headspace on 1800 650 890
- QLife on 1800 184 527
Or you can contact me about setting up a psychology session either using telehealth or in person. Many people are struggling with these difficult times and it’s important to know you’re are not alone. Sometimes just expressing how you’re feeling to a non-judgemental professional can help you share the burden.