Healthy Minds During COVID-19
During COVID-19 we may find that we are feeling a range of emotions, such as stress, worry, anxiety, boredom, grief or low mood and this is normal.
As the government restrictions ease we may find ourselves wondering more about what the future will hold. As we slowly return to workplaces and socialising it is even more important to remember to practice physical distancing and caring for ourselves. Take time to build your resilience, take time to reflect on what is important to you and focus on ways to grow and strengthen your mental health. It is important to acknowledge all of our feelings and recognise that we are living in a strange time that for most of us is a new experience.
Opportunities during COVID-19 to build a healthy mind
- Acknowledge your feelings, take time to recognise what you are feeling. Say to yourself ‘I am feeling sad; I am feeling angry; I am feeling lost. Know that feeling stressed, depressed, guilty, or angry is common after an event like an infectious disease outbreak, even when it does not directly threaten you.
- Keep in touch with your family, friends, colleagues and community.
- Share your skills – help, coach, mentor others and enhance your own skills.
- Play games. Playing new games (including on-line) with friends or family, particularly more intensive games like chess or cribbage, can help you add to and enhance your cognitive abilities.
- Find time each day to focus on the people who matter most to you.
- Direct your attention. This will help to give you a sense of control.
- Follow a predictable work schedule, even when working from home. Put it in your calendar to make it feel more official.
- Schedule some time out each day.
- Plan a vacation or a weekend away - have something to look forward to. This time will pass and we will be able to share our time again with the people we love.
- Deliberately seek out things that are new and different. While it may be tempting to avoid rather than pursue things that are strange or different, your brain builds new and more diverse connections each time it encounters something unfamiliar or difficult to understand. Embrace challenges to your ideas, beliefs and experiences.
- Try something new like mindfulness, gratitude or random acts of kindness.
- Work toward a new goal, something you want to achieve. Be kind to yourself with your own expectations.
- Try something new each day, this way your mind is kept more active.
- Seek out reading that’s at least moderately challenging in terms of its vocabulary, content, or ideas.
- Look for activities that can not only grant you access to new knowledge, but allow you to explore new and different ideas, perspectives, and beliefs as well.
- Build your strengths – don’t always focus on trying to strengthen your weaknesses
- Confront your stressors - Whatever you are stressed about the most - tackle first. What actions can you take? How can you address what is stressing you? Remember only things that you care about will create stress for you.
- Take care of your physical health - your physical and mental health are connected.
- To lift your spirits try a Jolt of Joy.
- Learn a new language (Babbel, Open Universities)
- Try to stay positive and maintain a positive outlook but acknowledge when you are finding this tough. Reach out to a friend to help you to be positive.
- Enjoy conversation unrelated to the outbreak, to remind yourself of the many important and positive things in your lives.
- Take leave if you need to. This could be annual leave or as simple as just taking regular breaks throughout the day. Giving yourself a chance to rest and reset will help you in the long term.
- Ask for help and support if you are not coping. Contact your supervisor or seek professional support and advice through the University's EAP or your own GP.
- Seek accurate information i.e. the World Health Organisation, the Australian Government Department of Health and SA Department of Health.
- Set limits around the amount of news and social media you watch.
- Practice mindful breathing.
- Drink more water – it is vital for our brain and nervous system function. If you are dehydrated you are more likely to have a decrease in reasoning, attention, memory and language.
- Make the time and effort to do the things you enjoy, find valuable, meaningful and fun. Try and do these activities with others.
- Remember that everyone is different. We all have different ways of coping and our situations at work and at home will be different. Check in with people you know to make sure they are OK.
Symptoms of stress
If you are finding this time difficult you may find you are experiencing some of the following symptoms of stress, anxiety and worry.
- Low energy, or nervousness
- Headaches, general aches
- Upset stomach,
- Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
- Poor sleeping habits or insomnia
- Clenched jaw and grinding teeth, especially at night
- Muscle soreness and stiffness from holding tension
- Constant worrying
- Feelings of anxiety
- Racing thoughts
- Inability to focus
- Poor judgement
- Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side of a situation
- Changes in appetite
- Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
- Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes
- Exhibiting more nervous behaviours
- Feeling overwhelmed and unable to manage
- Feeling lonely
- Feeling generally unhappy or depressed
Techniques and tips to reduce stress
Mindfulness is the act of paying attention, noticing what is happening and pausing before reacting. It is being present in the moment. There are various mindfulness practices that can include breathing practices, loving kindness practices, mindful eating and mindful movement. In addition there are free apps such as Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, Stop Breathe and Think, Calm and UCLA Mindful, or you can pay a small free for apps such as Headspace, Buddhify and Simply Being (Apple/Android).
Gratitude is a sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation of life. While we often focus on things that are going wrong, cultivating gratitude is a tool that allows you to think about what went right. To gain the most from gratitude it is best to do this in a formal practice. You may like to keep a gratitude journal, do your gratitude practice just before falling asleep or do this as a family at a meal time. If you like you can choose to complete a simple written gratitude practice. Remember to think about three things that went well today. It may be events that happened, something you did well, goals you have achieved, individuals who care for you or who you care for or something beautiful you experienced whether from a loved one or total stranger or maybe it was something from nature. Why did it go well? How did you or others in your life contribute to the good thing that happened? How did you feel?
Jolts of joy
This is simply a small, quick thing that you like to do and that is good for you, that puts a smile on your face. However, don’t make it a crutch. It’s not alcohol, ideally, it’s not necessarily food based, but something that’s actually good for you that you can reach for in a small moment. There’s a reason cat videos are so popular on YouTube. They’re really an easy jolt of joy. It could be talking to someone you know always makes you smile and reaching out for that conversation, it could be getting outside and taking a walk.
Random acts of kindness
We have seen all round the world small acts of kindness which have lifted the spirit of those watching. We saw people coming out of the homes at a set time to clap the front line staff, people singing from balconies, choirs of thousands forming on line and kindness shown to neighbours and communities. You may like to write and post a letter to a friend, send a loving text to a friend, check in on your neighbour, share your baking and home cooking with an older family member, pay for an extra coffee when you collect your own coffee or any other way that you can see to help someone.
Please contact the University’s Workplace Wellbeing Specialist (HR Branch), Ronda Bain