Looking after your mental health in an insane world

April 1, 2020 by Lisa Bywaters0

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Our worlds have turned upside down and inside out. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of the new normal of isolation and staying at home, a new restriction comes into place. These restrictions are vital to help prevent the spread of a highly infectious virus, but they do make it hard to find your balance.

It’s no wonder most of us are feeling anxious, stressed, upset, angry, vulnerable and a whole host of other emotions. When you also have a musculoskeletal condition, especially if you’re immunocompromised, all of these emotions may be heightened.

That’s why as well as looking after our physical health, it’s really important we look after our mental health.

We’ve put together a list of many practical things you can do to look after your mental health during the pandemic.

A quick warning, this is a ridiculously long blog 😉 but there’s so much we wanted to share with you!

Read it all, or just read the bits that are relevant to you at the moment and revisit as things change.

Find a new routine

This will obviously depend on what you need to do in your day, if you have people depending on you, if you’re working from home, have school work (or need to help others with school work) etc.

It might help to sit down with the members of your household and create a calendar that includes everyone’s commitments and needs. Things to think about when creating your calendar:

  • Get everyone involved. We’re living together in close quarters at the moment, without many of our usual distractions, sports and our friends, so it’s vital that everyone feels that their needs matter and they’re being heard.
  • Include specific time for fun stuff, exercise and connecting with family and friends. Dust off the board games – who doesn’t like a good game of Twister, Monopoly or Yahtzee?
  • Keep your weekends separate – this is really important so that you can get your chores done (sadly the laundry doesn’t stop because of a pandemic) and you have time to do creative stuff, exercise, and get a break from the workday routine.
  • Be very clear on your hours. It’s really easy to lose track of time. If you find this happening, set reminders on your phone to alert you.

Stay informed

There’s a lot of information out there about COVID-19, which can add to our anxiety and stress. But we need to stay up-to-date with factual, current information. Visit the Australian Government website for the latest from the government. Visit our website, follow us on Facebook, and/or call our Help Line weekdays on 1800 263 265 or email our nurses helpline@msk.org.au for info and support.

And once you’re up-to-date, put the news away for a while. It really doesn’t help our mental state to continually check what’s happening. Consider having a specific time (or two) when you check the latest news, and then go back to doing other things.

Get some sleep

We often struggle with sleep at the best of times, because we live with chronic pain. Unfortunately anxiety and stress can make this worse. But it’s important that we do all we can to get some decent sleep. Our physical and mental wellbeing is inextricably linked to good quality sleep – and getting enough of it. Read our recent blog for some practical tips on getting a good night’s sleep.

The Conversation has also recently written a useful article about the importance of sleep, especially now: Sleep won’t cure the coronavirus but it can help our bodies fight it.

Exercise regularly

We’ve talked, and will continue to talk about the importance of staying active – both during a pandemic (still blows my mind to say that) and during normal times. It helps us sleep better, maintain our weight, manage our pain, reduces our risks of developing other health conditions, and it improves our mood. There’s very clear evidence that regular exercise reduces stress, anxiety and feelings of depression and boosts our self-esteem. So exercise outdoors if you can (while maintaining physical distancing), and exercise in and around your home. Read our blog about exercising during the pandemic.

Eat well

Hands up who’s eating more often, and more unhealthy food choices at the moment? 🙋‍♀️🙋‍♂️ Food is a comfort to us all…and when we’re feeling a bit lost many of us reach for the food that makes us happy. But remember this gratification is short lived. Try to stick to your usual meal times, and gather everyone together and discuss your day (as long as you’re all well). If you live alone, use one of the many apps available (e.g. House Party, Hangouts) and share a virtual meal with a friend or your family.

Be careful with alcohol and other drugs

The temptation may be there to drink a little more, or use other drugs to make you feel better. But any mood changes you may experience are temporary, and drugs and alcohol have a negative effect on our mental health and our wellbeing.

Stay connected

Many of us are feeling the effects of being isolated, even if we live with others. We’re missing our circle of friends, our various social groups, our workmates and our extended families. There are many ways we can stay connected and keep up with each other’s lives. The simplest way is to pick up the phone and call. Avoid discussing the doom and gloom of the news cycle if you can. Instead focus on the new things you’re doing, your triumphs, how you’ve been able to work through challenges. And if there is something really worrying you, or making you anxious or upset, discuss it with someone you trust. Don’t ignore it. Get it out in the open so you can deal with it. As well as calling people, use tech to connect. There are a ridiculous number of ways to connect with others using social media platforms and apps. If you’re not sure where to start, read From Houseparty to Hangouts, these apps can help you stay social in coronavirus isolation by ABC News.

Create something

Channel your inner creativity. It’s a great way to relieve stress, and distract yourself from the worries of the world. There are a lot of online tutorials and info to help you: write a poem/song/novel/blog; learn a craft/language/skill; grow a flower/herb/vegie garden; paint a landscape/portrait/abstract; organise your home/office/life; cook a new recipe.

The sky really is the limit. So ask yourself – what have you always wanted to do if you just had the time??

Turn off the screens/limit news

Although a lot of the tools we’re using to deal with this pandemic are online, we need to set ourselves limits. Too much screen time, too much news – it’s just not good for us. As with everything, moderation is key. Turn off the electronics and pick up a book, or go for a walk, weed the garden, do some deep breathing exercises, talk with someone, try mindfulness. Do anything else but look at your screen or the news…at least for a while.

Give yourself a break

Our world really is crazy at the moment, so it’s important to recognise that and give yourself a break. We’ve not had to deal with a pandemic on this scale before, so be kind to yourself, and if you have a bad day, or a meltdown, that’s ok, we’ve all done it. You’ll brush yourself off and keep on going. And if you feel like you’re not finding it as easy to move on, or get past these moments, it might be time to talk with your doctor about getting professional help.

Get help when you need it

This may be psychological help if you feel like you’re not coping emotionally, financial help if you’re worried about your money situation or legal help if you have some concerns about your employment rights, or you have questions about writing your Will or setting up Powers of Attorney. Getting expert advice can help relieve some anxiety.

Take heart

🧡We’ll get through this. We may have to change and adapt, but we will come out on the other side of this pandemic. We just have to be patient, follow the advice and guidance of our health professionals and the government, look after each other and be creative with how we live during these crazy times.

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Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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