The world is stressful. Suddenly, we find ourselves uncertain when we will see our family overseas again, uncertain if we will be employed next week or if it will feel safe to buy groceries. We are all living with more uncertainty than ever before. So caring for our mental health during covid-19 should be a top priority. It can feel like we have moved from living on solid ground to living in the water, where everything is constantly changing.
We know that pandemics affect mental health. It is estimated, based on previous pandemics, that up to 33% of people have experienced high levels of anxiety and worry due to the pandemic (Black Dog Institute, 2020).
Understanding stress and mental health during covid-19
Pandemics connect us with a primal fear, the fear of death. There is a strong desire to have clear medical information about the pandemic, which was not forthcoming in the early days of Covid-19, and some would argue is still patchy.
It is normal to have anxiety in the midst of a pandemic. It is normal to experience anything and everything from the list below:
- Fear about own health and people you care about
- Fear about financial situation
- Hypervigilance (having increased alertness to prevent danger)
- Generalised anxiety
- Difficulty sleeping or focusing
- Loneliness and isolation
- Feeling that you are overreacting or under-reacting
- Fear of the unknown
- Stress around changes of routine – work, eating, kids, gym and self-care
- Stress caused by a change of support structures
- Worsening of pre-existing mental health conditions
- Increased use of alcohol or other drugs to cope / numb
Different stress for different people
Everyone will deal with this particular type of stress differently. Some of the factors that make a difference are:
- Different connectedness, family, friends, community etc.
- Varying baseline mental health
- Different backgrounds
- Location and environment
You may feel that everyone else is handling this a lot better than you. Try not to compare yourself to others. Whatever you are feeling and experiencing is valid for YOU. If you are experiencing difficulty, think about what extra support you might need.
How to cope with the stress & tolerate uncertainty
Here are a few tips:
- Have a Covid-19 action plan. Know where to go to be tested, know who you will contact in the event you are ill and where to get treatment. Be aware of where you might be supported in terms of mental and emotional health, counselling or psychotherapy.
- Limit media intake in all forms. It can be anxiety-provoking during a pandemic
- Stay connected. Share with people you trust. Arrange online meetups with friends and family. Take time to be in nature and do things that bring you calm.
How to take care of your mental health
Like your physical health, your mental health needs to be attended to. Like a garden that is left to overgrown with weeds, we can let the mind start to grow all kinds of weeds if we are not taking care of it. Part of caring for the garden of the mind is to limit social media, avoid long conversations about the pandemic with stressed people. Instead, put boundaries around how much time you spend on the topic. Actively look for other things to talk about.
With mental health in stressful times my mantra is “a little bit regularly.” There are some basic self-care practices that make a huge difference to your mental health. Think of them as the foundations for a new building. If the foundations are not there, everything we build on it will be unstable.
- Think about what helps you to de-stress. It might be exercise, reading, or yoga.
- Take time to relax
- Engage in positive self-talk
- Try meditation
- Healthy eating
- Regular sleeping patterns
As a community, we need to stay connected and support one another. Sometimes a little can go a long way. If you suspect someone you know is struggling, take the time to reach out, listen and validate their experiences.
Remember that this will pass. Like nature, there are cycles to everything. Summer, autumn, winter and spring. It feels like we are in a collective winter right now. As systems change and we stay at home, we go inward. There will be a time for coming out from our hiding places into the new world of spring, whatever that might look like.
If you find you are struggling and need some support, please use the numbers below:
Lifeline – 131114
Domestic violence – 18007997233
In an emergency please call: 000
About the author of Caring for our Mental Health During Covid-19
Jennifer Nurick (M.A. Psych / Couns.) is psychotherapist, counsellor and energetic healer. She is President of the International Energetic Healing Association and the founder of Psychotherapy Central. She specialises in attachment issues, trauma, depression and anxiety resolution. You can book an appointment through her @psychotherapy.centra or her website.