Elisabeth Shaw, CEO Relationships Australia NSW, explains how to manage mental health during COVID-19 isolation.
As living and working at home becomes the norm, we are faced with a variety of new challenges that weren’t previously on our radar. Even those who are accustomed to the ‘WFH’ environment will be challenged by spending extended time with other household members, and the restrictions under which we now operate.
Some are struggling with a loss of work coupled with helplessness about finding new work at present, whilst others adjust to increased volume of emails and the world of video conferencing. So the challenges are many and varied depending on the terms under which you are at home, the number of family members or housemates you cohabit with, and the architecture that supports you.
Key mental health variables also need to be taking into consideration:
- Your personality: If you are more introvert and can control your living environment (that is, you don’t share the dining room table as a desk with 4 others!) you might be travelling quite well. However, if you are introvert and trapped with a noisy partner managing what feels like a call centre from home, or littlies constantly asking for attention, then it could be extremely stressful.
- Your home obligations: If you are worried about work and are now home schooling, the stress of wondering if you are going to fail on all fronts, and the fear to admit it and ask for help, can give you anxiety.
- Social norms: we are all in similar boats, so it can feel more difficult to ask for help because you think you are expected to “suck it up” like everyone else appears to be.
- Ethical challenges: it can often feel like a struggle to make the “right” decisions. However, there are many versions of “right”. Indeed sometimes competing things seem to be equally right, for example whether to send kids to school or keep them home. Whether to visit elderly relatives or stay away. This can lead to a lot of worry, guilt and judgment which is also burdensome.
- Your background and circumstances: perhaps your relationships are not at all ideal and may be unsafe, and being out most of the day, seeing other friends and having separate interests was part of how you kept everything going. Right now, you could be questioning your relationships or may be at risk of harm. Asked to stay home has, for many, exacerbated the need to make some decisions, but it can also make it harder to make change or escape. To help navigate the pitfalls, here are some protective actions to help you staying mentally healthy during the COVID-19 crisis:
- Develop a plan to attend to your own state of mind. If you know you veer towards getting withdrawn and negatively ruminating, then develop a plan each day to get out – into the sunshine, onto a VC with friends. 30 minutes of exercise is recommended as part of preventing poor mental health.
- Ensure you balance the social time and quiet time you need for good self-care. That may be a walk around the block on your own, some meditation, or ringing someone for a good chat. Go with what works for you.
- You may have little choice about some elements right now, for example, where you live, what your job demands. Make a list of what you can control and make sure you maximise those possibilities to stop yourself feeling suffocated.
- Don’t aim too high. If you realise your relationship or living situation needs to change, and you are safe to do so, use this time to plan and strategise, rather than let the concerns take you over. Keep working on what you can. Try new approaches to solve problems. You might find a way forward.
- If you know you are not travelling well, and have friends and family noticing, there is no point being stoic. These are difficult times and we all have different vulnerabilities and challenges. Let yourself get help. There are a variety of services are can assist you.
Relationships Australia NSW is here to help. We have set up Time 2 Talk, a free telephone hotline that provides professional advice to help families, individuals and couples navigate the complexities of day-to-day living amid COVID-19.
If you would like support to set up a plan to help you manage your mental health, ring us on 1300
022 966. We have a number of options available for you to receive continued support throughout
Elisabeth Shaw is CEO of Relationships Australia NSW and a clinical and counselling psychologist specialising in couple and family work.