Protecting our mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the globe, my research into mental health and resilience becomes more important to greater numbers of people around the world. With rising unemployment, social distancing in place and uncertainty around when these conditions will ease, it is only natural to be experiencing some level of anxiety.
Social distancing by staying home is forcing us to be separate from family, friends or work colleagues. It’s also forcing us to reconsider ways we can still exercise and have fun in ways different to before. No one knows when the situation will change, it could be months from now. So it’s important we take care of our mental health and wellbeing during this challenging time.
I have put together a checklist of things that we can do or think about, to help us to stay resilient:
- Refocus on your basic health
Take advantage of being at home by preparing yourself a decent breakfast, lunch and dinner. Get fresh air and, if possible, step outside during your breaks. Keep exercising throughout the day, whether its during ad breaks, at lunch, or a stretch before bed. It’s also important to go to sleep at the same time each night – and treat yourself to a good sleep in!
- Remember, we are all in this together
It is very easy to take your frustration out on others, but do not forget that everyone is experiencing challenges right now. While we can’t control all of the events around us, we can control how we react to new daily stressors. Your effort to treat others well is helping the entire community and those most close to you.
- You are still allowed to smile
With the constant stream of COVID-19 news, it is very easy to catastrophise all the negative things that could unfold. But smiling and laughing diffuses this tension, and helps us feel better. Even in tough situations, we can still find joy in everyday life or online.
- Practice gratitude
Pausing to think of some of the things you are grateful for can have a huge positive impact on our mental health. Perhaps you are grateful for your friends or family; perhaps it is being thankful that you have access to shelter and food; or maybe you are relieved to be working from home and avoiding Sydney traffic!
- Stop and take a breath
While we have been faced with unpredictability for some time now, we do know this virus will end. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We have the unique opportunity to slow down, focus on ourselves for a while and reflect on what it means to live a meaningful life. Perhaps when things return to “normal”, we would actually want things to be different.
Dr Justine Gatt is a senior researcher at NeuRA. For more information, please visit neura.edu.au/staff/dr-justine-m-gatt/