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Looking after your mental health while in lockdown / isolation

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has impacted New Zealand again and can be a stressful time due to an overwhelming amount of information about the situation.

With help from Vanessa Carty, clinical psychologist and member of the Best Doctors network of specialists, we look at some practical tips to help you and your family maintain good mental health during this time – as well as guidance on where to go if you need further mental health support.

It’s a normal response to feel some worry or anxiety about what is going to happen during such an uncertain time. There are lots of things that we can do however to help manage our mental health, even when we are in isolation or quarantine. We may not be able to use some of our normal coping mechanisms, but with a little bit of flexibility and adaptability there are lots of helpful things we can do inside our home or even hotel.

Here are some things to consider trying:

  • Remind yourself that quarantine or self-isolation is only a temporary period and will pass 
    What you are doing is helping to care for the community, yourself and those that you love

  • Keep up a routine for your day
    Try to have some morning, afternoon and evening activities and keep up your normal healthy meal times. This helps provide a sense of familiarity and helps to promote regular sleep patterns. Be kind to yourself when picking activities, have a mix of pleasure (watching a movie), achievement focused (catching up on work emails or even completing an online crossword) and social activities (talking to a friend on the telephone or video link).

  • Put some exercise in your day if you can
    If current restrictions allow it, go for a brisk walk or run every day. If you are required to stay inside, try finding an exercise workout online. There are many free workouts and yoga sessions online that will give both your body and mind a boost.

  • Stay as connected as you can to friends, family and work colleagues
    Social distancing or quarantine doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Keeping up regular contact through the phone, email and social media can all help. Hearing another person’s voice can make us feel both calmer and more connected. Try talking to a friend you haven’t contacted in a while. They may be on the other side of the world, but now is the time when we are all in this together. Remember you are not alone.

  • Limit the amount of time you are reading or watching the media 
    Try to only allow yourself one daily update from a reputable news source such as One News or government websites. The news is often designed to be alarming and too much consuming of awful news will make anyone feel anxious. Stick to checking in with the news in the morning if you can and keep night times for watching a light-hearted drama or comedy or reading a book. This is likely to aid sleep.

  • Notice if your mind is worrying 
    While the situation in the world is distressing, remind yourself of the facts about coronavirus and that you are very likely to be okay. Try and bring your mind back to the here and now and focus on five things you can see, hear, feel, touch or smell. Do something mindful and in the moment. Now is the time to try out one of those mindfulness meditation apps you have been reading about.

How to manage your family’s wellbeing

Managing your own mental health is key to managing your family’s wellbeing. The article by Matthew Whalley and Hardeep Kaur gives some helpful tools for managing anxiety and worry at a time of uncertainty.

It is normal to feel some worry and anxiety in relation to your family during this challenging time. This is a time when families are going to be spending more time than ever in close proximity to each other. There are lots of things that you can do to try and keep your family life as normal as possible.

  • Keep healthy habits going on in your household. Try to manage regular sleep, wake, meal times and work/play times. Keeping up your regular family mealtimes are still a great way to keep a sense of normality in your day time.

  • Keep up regular exercise. This is great for the mind and body and can be a good bonding time for the family by going for a walk together in nature and looking at the environment around you or, if you need to stay in the home, having fun by trying an online workout together or make up some exercise drills to do together in the backyard.

  • Make time to talk to your children about their worries. Helping children to voice their fears won’t make the situation worse, they are likely to feel calmer and more reassured by you for doing so. There are some great resources online about ways to do this.
  • Be aware of what you are saying around your children. We tend to have a negative bias in our minds towards danger and negative outcomes. This is likely to be going into overdrive at the moment. If you hear yourself saying something fearful or negative, try to follow it up with a few more calming and positive outcome statements. Find good news articles to share with your children and point out all the people being kind, caring and doing amazing things in the world.

  • Try and bring some fun into your day. This will help all of you. Now is the time to dust off those board games, get the hula hoop out or start drawing. This won’t solve all your problems, but it will help balance the mind and bring you all back to the here and now and what you are in control of.

When and how should people seek mental health support in this situation?

It’s very normal to be experiencing some worry and anxiety about the current Covid-19 situation. It may be that you are particularly being affected because you have lost your income, or you are more worried about your own health situation. It is important to recognise and acknowledge your worry and look at what is in your control and what isn’t. A lot of the initial steps to manage our mental health are discussed above.

There are times however when you have been trying the above things and you are not getting enough relief. You may have noticed yourself having trouble sleeping, being unable to control worrying during the day or night, have a lot of appetite disturbance and/or are feeling very sad and hopeless. In these situations, it is important to reach out.

Talk to your family and friends and make a time to talk to your GP. There are telehealth options so if you are feeling unsure about visiting your doctor in person, telephone services are available. Your doctor can also refer you to a psychologist or mental health care professional. 

There are also several support services available, such as The Mental Health Foundation, that
can guide you through how to seek help.

Best Doctors’ Mental Health Navigator service can provide a confidential, thorough review of your mental health condition and treatment plan, with recommendations for improvement and ongoing support – all done remotely so you don’t need to leave home.

Accuro members with Specialist cover have FREE access to Mental Health Navigator.
You can call on 0800 425 005 and talk to someone now.