Imagine your entire life changed overnight. Your usual routines were stopped in their tracks. Life, financial and career plans were put on hold indefinitely (maybe you even lost your job). You were separated from friends and loved ones. If you lived alone, you were isolated. And if you were a parent, suddenly you had to become a teacher, a peer and an occupational therapist. Even solid loving relationships would feel the strain. If this happened, it would make sense that many of us would struggle to maintain mental and emotional wellbeing. And it wouldn’t be surprising if many of us developed symptoms of anxiety and depression. Even those of us with good mental health may find it hard to function well. Why?
COVID-related stressors and restrictions are a recipe for overwhelming the coping skills and resilience that enable us to endure ‘ordinary’ curveballs. Many psychological principles that are integral to mental health have been challenged by the lack of control and certainty we now have over our own lives. In addition, worries, fears and anxieties are compounded by lack of usual support structures. We may also develop symptoms of grief as we grapple with a sense of loss. It’s unsurprising that there have recently been unprecedented numbers of calls to help lines such as Lifeline.
To mark the recent R U OK Day, which recognises the importance of support for those suffering mental and emotional health issues, our psychologists have teamed up with Hume City Council to bring you tips for both your own mental self-care and that of friends and loved ones.
Who is at risk?
Vulnerable groups include:
- Those who live alone and have been quarantined for a prolonged period
- Children and young adults
- People with pre-existing mental health problems
- People who have lost their jobs
Signs of psychological distress in loved ones
- Noticing a change in behaviour (e.g. talking less than usual, increased aggression, not responding to texts or calls as often as usual, etc.)
- Reacting to a gut feeling. You know your loved ones best; we should trust our instincts if we feel that our loved ones may not be coping well
- Using deflated phrases such as “why do we bother”, “there’s no point”, “this will never end”
- Social isolation (which is different from physical distancing)
How to ask someone if they are okay
Dos and don’ts of asking someone if they’re okay:
- Picking the right time and place to start the conversation
- Mentioning key points that have caused concern, e.g. “You seen less chatty than usual”
- Be prepared with ways to deal with resistance as well as action steps if they are willing to accept help
What you can do for others during COVID-19
- Engage in active listening (we discuss in the video what this is)
- Encourage them to take action
- Support them (we discuss in the video how we can do this)
- Check in
How to look after your own mental health during COVID-19
- Journalling: putting thoughts on paper to get things them off your mind
- Scheduling (planning how you’ll use your time helps to create a sense of structure)
- Making to–do lists (and going easy on yourself if you don’t complete it)
- Making time for deep breathing/meditation/yoga
- Taking up a new hobby (e.g. learn a new language, learn and make a new recipe, practise a new skill)
- Utilise the time permitted outdoors (e.g. go for a walk, get fresh air)
- Make time to connect with family and friends once a day (e.g. social media, over the phone or at home)
- Drink enough water and get enough nutrition (our dietitians can help)
If you or someone else is feeling or shows signs of being anxious, depressed, hopeless, confused or frustrated and angry, it’s important to recognise that such thoughts, feelings and behaviours are valid (and often normal) responses to abnormal circumstances. If you are struggling and don’t feel you can speak to a friend or family member, please reach out to a mental health professional such as a psychologist or a support line such as Lifeline (13 11 14) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636).
- R U Okay? https://www.ruok.org.au/
- Headspace https://headspace.org.au/
- Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/
- Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/news/the-importance-of-self-care-planning-during-coronavirus/
How to Ask https://www.ruok.org.au/how-to-ask