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Caring for Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

We all had our fingers crossed that 2020 would behave itself. After the devastating bushfires scorched the country, Australia deserved a break.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus had other ideas. We’re now in unchartered waters. It’s confusing, it’s scary and, to put it mildly, it’s bloody stressful.

No-one’s escaped the extreme changes we’re now witnessing. Unemployment, financial stress, and an unpredictable future can push our mental health to the limit. Social isolation, boredom, and loneliness with lockdown restrictions aren’t pleasant either.

And while we recognise that everyone responds differently, it’s important to accept that your reaction to the crisis is likely entirely normal. Some people may be frightened, anxious and overwhelmed. Others may take it in their stride – one of our patients, a self-described introvert, recently labelled her isolation situation as, “Quite blissful.”

Look Out For Signs of Stress

How we respond to uniquely stressful situations can surprise us, especially if there’s been no history of mental health.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, stress can rear its ugly head in the form of:

  • mood swings;
  • restlessness and irritability;
  • insomnia;
  • lethargy;
  • headaches and muscle tension, and
  • drinking or substance abuse.

Additionally, people with existing mental health conditions may feel increasingly impacted. Those with mood and anxiety disorders are particularly vulnerable in times like these. We’re starting to see more frequent panic attacks from people battling obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), hypochondria and those having an existential crisis.

The good news is that there are many ways we can help keep the demons at bay.

middle aged man being counselled by therapist

How to Promote Positive Mental Health

Along with our friends at Beyond Blue, we recommend several tactics to tackle stress during the COVID-19 pandemic and required social isolation.

Go Easy on Yourself
Lower your expectations of yourself. These are unprecedented times that call for ZERO self-judgement.

Without question or self-blame, accept everything about yourself and your life at the moment. Be mindful that you’re doing the best in an impossible situation. Give yourself a break.

Maintain a Routine
Give your day structure. Make a plan to sleep, eat, rest and exercise at similar times throughout the day – and stick to it.

If you’re home with the kids, know that children feel safer with structure and routine. It makes them make them feel secure to know what’s coming next. Let’s face it: their happiness can make quarantine much more bearable.

Exercise Regularly
Try to get active for at least 30 minutes each day. Doing so is great for your head and can work wonders for both your immune system and quality of sleep.

Better still, get outside in the fresh air if you can. A brisk walk will make you feel a million dollars after being cooped-up inside all day.

Stay Connected
Social distancing should be renamed physical distancing. Being temporarily apart from loved ones doesn’t mean you need to be socially disconnected.

Jump on the phone with friends often and regularly organise FaceTime/Skype/Zoom video calls with family. You may even be surprised by Grandma’s iPad skills!

Eat Well
Go for a balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, protein, dairy, good fat and fibre. Now’s a great time to nail that healthy eating regime you’ve meant to start.

Treats are pretty much essential at times like these, but avoid falling into the trap of habitual comfort eating. Too much processed food high in sugar, salt and saturated fats can play havoc on your mental health.

Avoid Excessive Alcohol and Drugs
Boredom and stress tend to go hand in hand with increased drinking and drug taking. While it’s tempting to indulge, try to recognise the effects it can have on anxiety and depression.

We recommend monitoring your intake and having more off-days than on-days. By reducing your consumption, you’ll notice a massive difference in your health and endurance to get through lockdown. You’ll thank yourself when it’s all over.

Take a Break From the News
Limit your exposure to media about the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s OK to check the news occasionally, but don’t obsess about it. The same goes for social media.

Try to access factual, non-sensationalist information (sorry Rupert Murdoch). Some good sources are the Department of Health, John Hopkins University and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Be mindful with children in the house. Kids may not understand news reports and can become frightened.

Find Something You Can Control
We can get quite overwhelming when immersed in times of uncertainty. Our sense of control and influence over our world seemingly flies out the window.

If this sounds familiar, try to identify something in your life you can easily control. For example, organise your bookshelf, clean out your pantry or sort through the thousands of photos on your phone. This may help keep you grounded during while isolating. Get the kids involved as well.

Look Out For the Kids
Children typically feel the effects of sudden changes in routine more than adults. With the current coronavirus pandemic, it’s as important as ever to be patient with the little ones.

Behavioural issues and meltdowns may become more frequent. We suggest responding gently and using discipline as a last resort.

Talk with them about what’s happening in the world at the moment. Answer questions and converse in a manner that helps them understand the virus. This video may help.

If you’re at home with the kids, consider getting more involved in their playtime. Children aren’t always great verbal communicators, yet are masters at relaying their feelings during play. Through role playing games, you can pick up cues on how they may be processing their environment.

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Where to Get Help

If you’re not coping during the COVID-19 lockdown, you don’t need to be alone with your problems. There’s plenty of help available.

Beyond Blue has a new, government-funded COVID-19 Mental Health Support Service. Mental health professionals are ready to chat over the phone on 1300 224 636 or online 24/7.

Beyond Blue’s online forums are great for connecting with others concerned about the pandemic and share stories of how it’s affecting their mental health.

SANE Australia, an excellent mental health charity, have brief phone and online counselling support available – 1800 187 263.

Head to Health is a government-run website giving you access to trusted mental health resources and treatment options, as well as online and phone support.

Other agencies you can call for help 24 hours a day:

Please call 000 if you need emergency assistance.

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How Your GP Can Help

If you need to speak more in-depth with someone, please make an appointment with one of our caring GPs. We’re all experienced and have extra training in treating mental health.

Your GP will listen to your symptoms (both physical and mental) to come to a diagnosis. They may need to dig deeper to exclude any medical conditions possibly causing mental health symptoms (e.g. thyroid dysfunction or iron deficiency).

Rest assured, we won’t apply a cookie-cutter approach to treating your mental health. Each patient requires a personalised approach. Some people need practical strategies, some require medication, while others just need someone to talk with. We’ll work with you every step of the way. No-one will make you do anything of which you’re not willing.

If suited to your circumstances, there’s the option of creating a mental health care plan. The plan makes seeing mental health professionals cheaper. We refer to only trusted psychologists, social workers and therapists.

Your GP will pair you with someone who has the expertise to treat your issue. This process is similar to match-making, as we aim for complementary personalities. Your therapeutic benefit is maximised when you like your therapist.

People often tolerate poor mental health longer than necessary and become unmotivated to change. We’ve successfully cared for many people with mental health issues and encourage you to take steps towards feeling better.

To make getting the care you need easier during the COVID-19 pandemic we’re offering patients telephone appointments. These consults are proving popular with people looking to limit their public exposure at the moment.

You can book online or by calling us on (03) 8579 6838.

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