31 March 2020 posted by Nadine Neate

For many people, the current coronavirus pandemic is the most stressful situation they’ve ever had to contend with. Even for those of us who haven’t got the virus, the ripple effects are substantial. Every aspect of our lives, from our finances to our family relationships, is impacted by the upheaval and shock waves from COVID-19. These are strange and uncertain times and most of us have no precedent for how to operate in these conditions. We’re anxious, scared and physically isolated from each other, with lives suspended in a holding pattern until this is over. What’s more, we have no idea when that will be, so we can’t rely on the comfort and promise of an end date to pull us through.

By now, most of us understand the advice we’ve been given from health professionals about how to prevent transmission of the virus and stay physically well. But, how do we maintain good mental health at this time? How do we ensure we’re looking after our minds as well as our bodies, and defending them against the very real pressures the outbreak presents to our wellbeing?

To answer these important questions, we’ve combed through the research, found the best expert advice on the topic of mental health in the pandemic and collated it here. We encourage you to share this article far and wide with your professional networks, local community and loved ones. Just like the virus, stress and anxiety don’t discriminate. We’re all vulnerable and we all need to take extra steps to safeguard our mental health at this time. Here’s how to do it:

Educate yourself

When we’re living through something like the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the magnitude of the crisis, frightened about the severity of it and frustrated with our lack of control over how it impacts us. The best antidote to these feelings of powerlessness and fear is to arm ourselves with information. When we know and understand things like how the virus is spread, what preventative measures we can take and how we can best adjust our lives to protect ourselves and those around us, we feel empowered and have a sense of agency. But, it’s also important to moderate this, as too much negative information can actually exacerbate anxiety. According to Beyond Blue, it’s vital to go for credible sources for your info and limit what and how much you’re taking in. And, steer clear of social media doomsayers.

Get into a routine

It’s tempting to use time in isolation or quarantine to channel our inner sloths and fritter away the hours with Netflix and mindless scrolling. And, while that’s probably fine for a while, most of us will grow bored with these pursuits. Boredom is a gateway to melancholy feelings, so it’s best to stave it off before it really gets a hold. A good way of getting through the days when you’re not adhering to your usual schedule is to come up with a new routine (especially if you’ve got kids). The structure of a regular routine is comforting and provides us with a framework for using our time productively if possible. And, according to Dr Carol Maher from the University of South Australia, people with a routine tend to have higher levels of wellbeing.

Maintain good physical health and hygiene

Even if you’re stuck indoors, it’s important to exercise in some way. You need those endorphins now more than ever, and regular physical activity will help combat the effects of a more sedentary lifestyle on both your physical and mental wellbeing. It’s also important to stay calm, practical and on top of your usual self-care regime, says Ros Knight, President of the Australian Psychological Society. ‘Observe good hygiene habits, like washing your hands and avoiding close contact with people who are unwell, and, if it makes you feel better, wear an appropriate mask in public.’ Following best practice guidelines for looking after yourself is a proactive, positive action you can take in an area of your life you can still exert some influence over.

Plan and prep

In the recent bushfire season, we heard many times that families needed to have a plan for evacuating so they could protect themselves and their families if fires arrived in their area. Planning your response to potential scenarios is equally important in a pandemic and will help you feel equipped to handle whatever eventuates. Run through the possibilities with those in your network. What will you do if you get sick? How will you manage a quarantine situation in your home? What resources will you need and how will you get them? What if someone else is infected? How can you help them and keep yourself and others safe? The Australian Red Cross has some simple tools for making emergency plans, and Victoria’s Better Health Channel has a specific guide to coping with quarantining at home that can help you prepare.

Stay connected and help others

The government is urging us to ‘socially distance’ but this is actually a bit of a misnomer, experts say. What we really need is physical distancing but social connection, which is a vital part of the human condition. We may need to observe strict protocols around the in-person contact we have with others, but it’s really important to stay in phone, messaging, or email contact while we do so. The Black Dog Institute suggests that we might need to try new ways of connecting that we haven’t before, and seek out supportive people to help mitigate loneliness. While we’re doing this, we could also be thinking about ways to help those around us. It’s not entirely selfless, either, as altruism can genuinely help us feel better!

At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. A united front is not only desirable but essential if we’re going to halt the spread of COVID-19 in its tracks. If you’re feeling anxious or scared about coronavirus and want to speak to someone, please try the numbers listed below.

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

If you’d like advice on the Work Health and Safety implications of COVID-19 or how to help protect your workers in this time, please get in touch with Recovery Partners on 1300 OHS RTW (647 789) or by emailing enquiries@rrp.com.au.

Written for our friends at NatRoad

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Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at www.workcover.nsw.au