Mental Health & COVID-19

COVID-19 Is a contagious viral infection that causes respiratory illness. Symptoms range from none to potentially life-threatening complications, particularly in the elderly and in those with weakened immune systems. The virus is passed on by droplets that are emitted when you sneeze or cough. COVID-19 can live on hard surfaces for up to 12 hours. Social distancing is one of the key measures being used by the Australian government to limit the spread of this virus.

The rapidly evolving outbreak of COVID-19 may be stressful for some people, considering the rolling social distancing measures, school closures, panic buying and companies encouraging working from home. These changes can leave a person feeling fearful and anxious, not only for themselves but for their loved ones, too. Each person responds differently to stressful situations, and their response is determined by their background and current situation.

The worldwide spread of this virus is a new and challenging event. Try to remember that medical, scientific and public health experts are working non-stop to contain this virus  and develop a vaccine or cure. Anxiety is contagious, and it is better to focus on readiness and staying calm in the situation.

Reach out and check on the well-being of others, reminding them that COVID-19 is serious but temporary and that life will return to normal. People that may react more strongly to the stress caused from this outbreak are:

  • Older people and those with chronic diseases who are at a higher risk of COVID-19
  • People with previous mental health conditions or problems with substance abuse
  • Children and teenagers
  • Doctor’s, healthcare workers, first responders

The virus will impact people’ lives for an unknown period. You may notice, either in yourself or others, signs of stress caused by the virus and the change in daily life. These include:

  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Feelings of helplessness or lack of control
  • Becoming irritable more easily
  • Scared that normal aches and pains might be the virus
  • Finding yourself excessively checking for signs and symptoms yourself or others
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Increased alcohol, tobacco or other drug use

It is perfectly reasonable to be worried, anxious or even frustrated at the current  COVID-19 situation in Australia. It is also important to allow yourself time to deal with these emotions. Just remember that this is not doomsday and for us to move on both personally and as a community, we need to find our new normal. Reminding yourself and others that this will pass can help.

The constant bombardment of media coverage can be confusing and overwhelming. It is important to stay well-informed in this ever-changing situation. Accessing credible resource information such as the Australian Government coronavirus COVID-19 health alert and Healthdirect coronavirus COVID-19 information can help maintain prospective leading to a feeling of more control.

Tips to help you handle the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic include:

  • Stay informed but limit news and social media.
  • Keep up with your healthy routines as much as possible. Healthy eating and maintaining regular exercise are important in times of stress for adults and children, and they can help alleviate some of the associated stress. Normal routines will undoubtably be disrupted during this outbreak, it is important to maintain or, if necessary, vary some of these to fit the situition while still living as healthfully as you can.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Find an enjoyable pastime such as reading a book, listening to music or other ways to relax and unwind.
  • Stay in touch. We are social creatures by nature and social distancing may be difficult for some people but is vitally important to halt the spread of this virus. Often in stressful times we turn to friends and family as a source of comfort. It is important with these new social distancing measures that we continue regular contact with these important people. Staying connected via email, social media, video calls and phone calls helps stay feel less alone in these times. Talking through your worries or concerns with somebody helps lessen worry or anxiety.
  • Keep a regular sleep pattern.
  • Take a break. If you feel overwhelmed or distressed from the bombardment of news and social media, simply turn it off or avoid it and give yourself a break.
  • Ask for help if the situation becomes too much or, if you have concerns for someone else, seek professional advice.

This pandemic is constantly evolving and with it comes changes that are affecting people’s everyday life. Many people have voluntarily or have been forced to work from home. This remote work comes with its own mental health challenges. The two main concerns are isolation and burnout. Going to work daily reinforces a sense of well-being and belonging. Working from home hampers the social interactions considerably, leading to feelings of loneliness.

A 2019 US study showed a significant number of employees that suffered from burn-out reported that they worked longer hours. The majority of the employees felt they needed to work these longer hours to prove productivity to office-based colleagues. There has been a rising trend in previous years for some workers to work from home. This has proven to be an unexpected benefit to the present situation, with companies and employees  already set up to facilitate this to some degree. For those workers that have not worked from home previously or must work from home full-time now, using some of these simple steps may help you adapt to your new normal:

  • Keep to your normal routine. Get up and get ready as you would for a normal day at work. This can help you mentally prepare for your day ahead.
  • Ensure you have a dedicated workspace that is comfortable and will provide you with the privacy that you need.
  • Dedicate specific work hours, a start time and finish time, allowing yourself breaks. Using your normal office routine may be helpful.
  • Take time to get up and walk about or stretch.
  • Communication is important for many reasons. Using the established communication tools available in your office will help you stay in touch with colleagues and help maintain those workplace relationships, preventing the effects of isolation.

Health care and other frontline workers will bear the brunt and associated stressors of this pandemic. They, too, will have the fears and concerns that everybody else does. It is important to keep these workers safe. Recognizing the great work they do and trying not to overburden the healthcare system is one way to show support. If you know one of these exceptional people give them a thank you and offer any support, you can. Together we will all get through this.