Coping with COVID-19

Suddenly Australians are facing a crisis unlike any other we’ve experienced. 

Parts of Australia are seeing rapid growth of people diagnosed with COVID-19, albeit off low base numbers. 

It’s normal to be feeling increasingly worried about what this means for your health, the health of your loved ones, your employment and your future. 

You may also be experiencing increasing anger and frustration in the face of panic buying, mixed political messages and some Australians clearly ignoring government recommendations. 

Here is a list of strategies to help promote wellbeing during this time. 

Take ‘effective’ action: When we’re anxious, we feel that the world is unpredictable. Focus on how you can use effective strategies to keep yourself and your community safe. As far as we know hand washing and physical distancing appear to be effective strategies. Purchase sufficient provisions to last a week or two, and keep in mind that we have a social responsibility to ensure that all of our community can access essentials. 

Focus on the things you care about: In periods of crisis or high anxiety, it’s important that we continue to take daily steps towards the things we value or care about. Most humans value connecting with others, challenging themselves and looking after their health. Take a few moments to think about what you really matters to you, and ask yourself “what can I do today that is a step in that direction”? 

Schedule news time: Both traditional news outlets and social media are saturated with COVID-19 commentary. It’s important that we get a ‘mental break to avoid a mental break’. I recommend that you schedule time in your day to obtain necessary updates. For example, checking news sources once in the morning and then once in the early evening. For the remainder of the day, try to focus on your values to bring meaning and satisfaction.

 Maintain routine: Many of us are now working from home. For folks who are more introverted and can exercise a high degree of self-focus, the home office can be a haven of peace and productivity. For others though, continuously working from home may be experienced as boring, unproductive and even stressful. We may crave social contact or the routine and structure of an office environment. I recommend trying to wake up at the same time as usual, clock on and clock off as per your normal work day, dedicate a clear working area, make a list of objectives for the day and tick them off as you go, and schedule coffee breaks with colleagues online to maintain a sense of collaboration and socialisation. 

Dedicate time to mental and physical wellbeing: With gyms, exercise studios and pools closing, many people will need to think creatively around how to exercise each day. Consider looking up free workouts on apps and YouTube. Play your favourite workout music. Take advantage of the stairs in your apartment. Turn your lounge room into a mini circuit class. 

With stress levels high, make sure you dedicate some time for your emotional wellbeing. This is a very individual experience. Try to do one thing, no matter how small, which is designed to be enjoyable or soothing. Here are some ideas: unplug from technology and play your favourite sound tracks, take a soothing bath, develop a daily mindfulness practice to open up to the present moment, listen to a meditation app, let the morning sun settle on your skin or savour a cup of coffee without other distractions. 

Stay in touch with family and friends: Humans are social creatures. Connection is at the very heart of a meaningful life. There is clear evidence linking perceived isolation with depression and anxiety. We all need to be avoiding physical contact with people other than those we live with, but I’m concerned about the language we’re using around this. Concepts such as “social distancing” and “self-isolation” are likely to contribute to a sense of perceived isolation. A more helpful term may be “physical distancing”. 

It’s vital that we make conscious efforts to keep in regular touch with family and friends during this time. Try to make use of technology such as FaceTime, Skype or Zoom to maximise a sense of connectedness with one another through observing eye contact, facial expressions and body language. Make some space for uncertainty: The reality is that there is a lot of uncertainty about what the next six to 24 months will look like. Try to distinguish between areas of your life you can effectively control or influence (such as physical distancing and washing your hands or clothes and create some acceptance for the things you can’t. This doesn’t mean “white knuckling” difficult thoughts or feelings, but rather opening up some space for uncertainty. For example, I might take some deep breaths and then say to myself, “I notice that I’m feeling worried about my neighbours health. We’re doing all we can to promote their wellbeing at this time. This is really difficult, but in time this worry will pass.”