Deena Mehjabeen – PHAA member
Mental health is essential to our health and wellbeing. In Australia, around 1 in 5 people aged 16–85 experience a mental health disorder. Worryingly, the leading cause of death among Australians aged 15–24 and those aged 25–44 is suicide.
R U OK? is a suicide and harm prevention charity organisation that aims to encourage people to identify the signs of distress and difficulty, and connect them to appropriate mental health support services before a serious crisis. This year on R U OK? Day (9 September 2021) the key message is to ask if those around you are really okay and taking the conversation forward to meaningfully connect with those who might be struggling with life.
Currently, around 60% (15 million) of the Australian population is under lockdown and strict restrictions with the surge of COVID-19 delta variant cases. However, concerns about contracting the virus, social distancing and physical isolation measures, unexpected loss of employment, reduced social interaction, and the stress of remote school or work have impacted the mental health and wellbeing of many Australians.
The pandemic has given rise to a myriad of emotions such as stress, confusion and anger. The World Health Organization has reported that COVID-19 can potentially contribute to or exacerbate long-term mental illness and substance misuse. A recent review reported higher levels of anxiety and worry among females, young adults aged 18-24 years, Indigenous Australians, and those who speak a language other than English. Working from home and home-schooling children during the pandemic has contributed to rising rates of burnout.
Burnout symptoms include exhaustion, cognitive dysfunction, feelings of withdrawal and disconnection, and reduced work performance. Lockdowns reduce opportunities to connect with our loved ones in-person, with some living overseas, and there is uncertainty about when we will reunite. It can cause feelings of loneliness and be extremely distressing for those experiencing it. Hence, it is important to recognise how loneliness adversely affects daily functioning.
The first practical step to manage anxiety, burnout, stress, sadness, loneliness, and other negative feelings is to notice, acknowledge the feelings, normalise our experiences, and talk about it to trusted people or health professionals. It is important to get involved in practical ways that help distract and relax oneself, cope with lockdown stress, and provide health benefits such as improving sleep and general wellbeing.
Some ways to take care of yourself are to:
1. Maintain a healthy lifestyle during the lockdown. It can help us reduce stress and anxiety since physical and mental health are interrelated. Eating healthy meals with more vegetables and fruit and drinking an adequate amount of water is beneficial. Taking walks, going out for a run in the park and enjoying fresh air, or doing video-guided exercises indoors can provide us with feelings of calmness and happiness. Maintaining a sleep routine reduces tiredness and coping with daily pressures and anxiety associated with rising infections and other stressors. Exercise, meditation and mindfulness have been most helpful to reduce stress levels throughout the body.
2. Foster meaningful connections with others can help those who are feeling lonely.
- Check in and share – Sharing our experiences of being in lockdown can allow us to bond with others and show kindness, and empathy. A simple ‘hello’ can mean a lot.
- Ask non-judgemental questions – such as ‘is there anything I can do to help?’ or ‘what do you think could help you?’ can facilitate a conversation.
3. Regularly connect with others through video calls, writing stories and letters, leaving care packages, engaging in social media opportunities to be part of a group, and exercising with a friend (maintaining physical distance and with face masks) all positively increase our immune system’s ability to cope.
4. Implement coping mechanisms such as a ‘prescribed worry time‘. Set aside a time during the day to deliberately focus on worries and think about what is within our control rather than what is beyond our ability to reduce levels of anxiety and helplessness. Another mechanism is to practice positive self-talk. For example, think about three positive things about our life, or things we are grateful for every day for a week.
5. Engage in a hobby to keep away boredom and feelings of loneliness during lockdown. We can create a list of interests and find a suitable option, perhaps one that is indoors and also explores our creativity.
6. Take steps to work better from home by setting boundaries between work and home life. Tips include having a dedicated office space, a daily schedule (including breaks and a routine that works for you), stand and stretch throughout the day, dress for work, keep healthy snacks and meals for lunch, and stay connected with colleagues. Set ground rules with the people at home, for example, when it is and isn’t appropriate to communicate to avoid distractions. Most importantly, know when work-life stops and personal life begins.
Reach out for support
If you experience anxiety, mood changes, feel overwhelmed, or find it difficult to sleep, to the point where you are affected in a negative way, it might be time to reach out.
If you are concerned for your safety or the safety of others, seek immediate assistance by calling Triple Zero (000).
Other resources that may be useful:
Beyond Blue 1800 51 23 48
Domestic Violence Line 1800 65 64 63
1800RESPECT 1800 73 77 32
Photo credit: Anna Shvets from Pexels