Australia is six weeks into coronavirus lockdown, and while restrictions are easing in parts of the country, millions of people continue to stay at home.
From the stress of working from home to increased anxiety and loneliness from social isolation, many people are struggling to manage their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One study released this week found that people reported being depressed, stressed or anxious up to five times more than they were before the outbreak.
Many people are turning to the internet for information on how to cope with the coronavirus, which has been the most searched topic on Google for the past eight weeks in Australia.
Searches for social isolation, social distancing, lockdown, and related terms were trending over the week to April 30, with searches for “symptoms of stress” skyrocketing by 4500 per cent.
How to manage coronavirus anxiety
“Given the constant stream of negative news about the novel coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to feel anxious and uncertain,” cognitive neuroscientist Dusana Dorjee, a psychology lecturer at the UK’s University of York wrote in The Conversation.
“Anxiety is also an understandable reaction, since coronavirus has made many of us change our daily routines, and threatens our sense of safety,” she said.
This can be difficult, but we can also “try to use anxiety to develop habits that can protect our mental health”, Dr Dorjee said.
“Our brain has a capacity to change and ‘rewire’ in response to our experiences. We call this capacity neural plasticity,” she explained.
If we have recurrent, anxious thoughts, we are establishing neural connections that make thinking anxious thoughts easier for us the next time we do so.
“But we can also use anxious thoughts as triggers for engaging in activities and thoughts that help manage and reduce anxiety.”
Anxiety can be transformed into “one of the first building blocks of habits that can support our wellbeing when we face challenging circumstances”, Dr Dorjee said.
She recommended a number of activities that can be used to manage anxiety and create positive mental health habits. They are:
- Practise self-care
- Do something relaxing
- Notice the small things
- Do something to help
- Put things into perspective
- Meditate or pray.
Working from home stress
Working from home during the pandemic can create a host of mental health challenges, corporate psychologist and Shortlyster chief executive Rudy Crous said.
“As social beings who need connection on an emotional and physical level, this new norm of staying at home can be a very challenging time for many of us,” he said.
“For those of us who are at home with young kids, there is the added pressure of educating and looking after children while maintaining a full-time job. This can lead to fear, anxiety and a sense of hopelessness.”
Strategies to remain calm and in control while working from home during the pandemic are:
- Decrease news exposure: “Higher smart device usage is connected with higher levels of depression and stress,” Mr Crous said. “Unsubscribe from all the news alerts and take time out from your social news feeds that make you feel that you are in an echo chamber.”
- Exercise: “This is the best thing you can do for your mental health,” Mr Crous said. “Put on your runners and take a 30-minute walk around the neighbourhood. The fresh air and endorphins will make you feel your best.”
- Maintain a routine: “Wake up at the same time each day, eat breakfast and get ready as though you’re leaving the house,” Mr Crous said. “This will put you in a positive mind frame and make you feel more in control.”
- Stay connected with friends and family: While you may not be able to see them in person, it’s important to stay connected to your loved ones,” Mr Crous said. “Organise virtual calls and share a positive highlight of your week.”
- Reframe your thoughts: “For every negative thought you have, reframe it into a positive thought e.g. ‘I’m not stuck at home, I’m safe at home’,” Mr Crous said.
If you are concerned about your or a loved one’s mental health, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14