We've been here before - but that doesn't mean it feels any easier. But there are a variety of ways you can look after your mental health during this time, which will hopefully make it a little easier.
1. STAY CONNECTED
Lockdown can be lonely, especially for people who are separated from loved ones, or living alone. If you live alone, you may arrange with another person living alone or a household to be part of your household bubble. This can include at most 2 households, and they must be in the same town or city.
Keeping in touch with others — via phone, text, social media, or in other ways — can help avoid isolation and depression. Plan these catch-ups so they are in your diary.
Plan for creative communication strategies with coworkers - when we're all working remotely, communication is more important than ever. Even if you've been working from home already, having people being locked down with you is something to navigate. Be patient, clear and kind.
2. BE REALISTIC ABOUT WHAT’S IN YOUR CONTROL, AND WHAT’S NOT
When facing the prospect of uncertainty, disruption, and plans turned upside down, it can seem futile to have any expectations at all. You may be left feeling somewhat helpless.
Take the time to acknowledge this, but focus on things you can still do, and that you enjoy, or the small things you can do each day to make the day better. For example, doing a hobby you enjoy, exercising, relaxing, listening to music, or watching TV.
Focusing on the smallest of positives, the silver linings, or the things you are grateful for, can help improve your mood. There's heaps of research that shows how practicing gratitude regularly can lead to a more optimistic outlook.
It also helps to evaluate and potentially reset your expectations so you’re not holding yourself or other people to unrealistic standards (which can cause more distress). We can often have really high expectations of ourselves, telling ourselves what things 'should' look like. This has the potential to set us up for disappointment and frustration. Take a look at your current situation and be real about what is happening right now. Ask yourself if what you’re expecting of yourself or someone else is realistic right now. Perhaps good enough is good enough for a few days.
3. LOOK AFTER YOUR BODY
Getting a good night’s sleep, doing some physical activity, drinking enough water, and eating nutritious food can help give you more energy, motivation, and help you manage the lockdown. Limiting alcohol and drugs is also important.
Do some home workouts and go for walks (keeping your distance!) to break up the day and avoid sitting for long periods of time. Some fresh air in the backyard or on the deck can be a welcome break.
4. MANAGE CHALLENGING EMOTIONS
When change happens suddenly, it's likely to evoke feelings of frustration and resentment. We might vent our anger in ways we wouldn’t normally, and act in ways that leave us feeling ashamed or hurt our relationships.
If you feel an outburst bubbling up, create some space - step out of the room or put your phone down. It takes about twenty minutes for those ramped up feelings to calm down physiologically. Spend ten minutes writing down what you’re feeling and your thoughts about what's unfair and who is to blame. This is just for you, so vent away. Once you have your thoughts down on paper, you’ll likely be calmer and clearer.
You'll also be able to see your thoughts more objectively and can get curious and fact-check the stories you're telling yourself. Identify what other information you need to know about the situation and the people involved before yelling and pointing fingers.
Try asking questions instead of making rigid statements. Practice empathy by perspective taking - genuinely try to understand where the other person might be coming from. A helpful question to ask with generous assumptions about someone else's intent is "Why would a reasonable person behave like that?"
5. SET BOUNDARIES AROUND YOUR WORK
For those who are working from home, be aware of the hours you’re working and the amount of time you’re “switched on” — for example looking at emails — even after you’ve clocked off.
Working from home can blur the boundaries, sometimes leaving us feeling like we're living at work versus working at home. With constant access to work, our tendency can be to work harder, for longer. Be mindful of this and make sure you’re taking breaks throughout the day and switching off at night. Regular breaks and scheduling in downtime and rest can help reduce exhaustion and burnout.
If you feel like your manager or coworkers are expecting things you can’t deliver at the moment, consider talking to them and coming up with a plan to navigate the remainder of lockdown.
6. DON'T BE AFRAID TO SEEK EXTRA SUPPORT
When you’re not feeling like yourself, or you’re exhausted or burnt out, it can be hard to tell the difference between what’s a “normal reaction”, versus when it’s a problem that needs professional help.
If you’re feeling like you may not be coping, talk to a GP you trust, call a telephone counselling service, or contact a mental health professional. They can help assess whether you might benefit from additional support or treatment.
While public health measures to protect us from COVID-19 are important, this pandemic has shown us mental health care should be top of the agenda too.
Building positive coping strategies now can help set you up for positive mental health long term. Kia Kaha.
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