Mental Health and COVID-19
With much of the world going into lock down as a result of COVID-19, one of the biggest global health risks we’re facing right now is mental illness.
Loneliness, as a result of social distancing, and stress as a result of the financial implications of lock down and health fears, are very real issues for many of us.
Long after COVID-19 has passed, we may still be dealing with the trauma from social isolating and financial stress. So it is important that we act now to take care of our mental health.
Research has shown that social isolation is associated with adverse mental health consequences including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, impaired immunity, altered hypothalamic pituitary–adrenocortical activity and earlier mortality (1).
Social isolation may be just as bad for our health as obesity and smoking (2) and the mental health implications are significant.
Even before we had heard of the word coronavirus, financial concerns were considered to be the leading cause of stress (3), and financial stress is only likely to increase during this time as many people are unable to run their businesses or are laid off at work.
It’s important that we prioritise not only our physical health, but also our mental health during these difficult times.
I’ve seen first hand the difficulties that people are having trying to juggle working from home with children, being laid off work, fears about their health and very real concerns about how they are going to pay their rent and put food on the table for their families.
It’s an incredibly stressful time for many of us.
Here are my top five tips for staying sane during these challenging times.
1. SOCIAL DISTANCE, NOT SOCIAL ISOLATION
Social distancing is important, but isolating is not.
It’s important to stay connected with family, friends and colleagues.
Use social distancing as an opportunity to connect more with the people you live with, and connect with others outside your home on the phone, on video calls, and through the myriad of supportive Facebook groups that have popped up online.
2. LIMIT MEDIA EXPOSURE
Stay informed, but limit scrolling through news sites and social media.
Only get your information from reputable sources, there is a lot of misinformation at the moment.
3. MAINTAIN SLEEP RHYTHMS
Getting regular and enough sleep is vital for mental health and immune function.
Even if you don’t have to get up to work in the morning, still go to bed at your regular time, and make sure that you are getting enough sleep. For most people, this is around eight hours per night.
4. KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
Watch for catastrophic thought patterns. It might seem like the end of the world is coming, but this is unlikely.
The Australian Psychological Society suggests asking yourself the following questions:
Am I getting ahead of myself, assuming something bad will happen when I really don’t know the outcome? Remind yourself that the actual number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in many countries is extremely low.
Am I overestimating how bad the consequences will be? Remember, illness due to coronavirus infection is usually mild and most people recover without needing specialised treatment.
Am I underestimating my ability to cope? Sometimes thinking about how you would cope, even if the worst were to happen, can help you put things into perspective.
5. MANAGE ANXIETY AND STRESS
We’re living through a stressful time, and it’s important that we have tools to manage the anxiety we’re likely feeling.
If you’re feeling anxious, know that you’re not alone.
Book a session with your Psychologist, go for walk, watch a funny movie, talk to a friend, pat your dog, make love, read a book, listen to your favourite podcast and/or meditate.
Meditation is particularly helpful to reduce the physiological stress response and to increase your connection with yourself. It helps you to stay calm and balanced, amidst the challenges that we are all facing.
If you would like to meditate, I’ve created a free meditation class to support those experiencing stress and anxiety during the coronavirus. Access it at www.laurentober.com/meditation.
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