COVID-induced restrictions are easing for most Australians. Depending on where you live, you may be enjoying new freedoms while adapting to what you can and can’t do. You may also find yourself marvelling at the resilience and creativity of those around you. It’s just as likely you’re feeling teary, hypersensitive, angry, as well as relieved about COVID-19 and its shocks and changes to you and loved ones’ lives and the world in general (?).
Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre recently launched an online survey to better understand our mental health responses during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Preliminary analysis of our Australian survey data is showing a range of depression, anxiety and stress levels,” says Senior Research Fellow and Clinical Neuropsychologist Dr Caroline Gurvich.
It’s important to acknowledge our mental state, and there are plenty of things we can do to stay engaged with the world as we navigate the ongoing constraints and gradual reopening of our social and working lives. Please remember that your doctor or organisations such as Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636) are available for assistance.
“Maintaining a sense of connection and belonging is particularly important,” says Gurvich. Start each day with a call, text or email to a friend, family member or colleague, and invite people for casual meetings or online face-to-face chats if those still work best.
In the still virtual workplace, Gurvich recommends “maintaining regular video conferencing to ensure work colleagues remain socially engaged”; and ensuring regular updates and company developments are communicated to all staff.
Apps such as Words With Friends (online Scrabble) will make you laugh, revealing the smarts and foibles of people in your social circle.
Gurvich says it’s good to be informed about COVID from reliable sources, such as the ABC and science and research-based media outlets. Government updates and balanced debate can boost your sense of control and confidence in your own behaviours and actions. However, do limit your COVID media intake if you find yourself becoming anxious or obsessive about it.
Act with purpose
Although we’re restricted in where we can physically go in the world and around Australia, we still have agency to participate in shaping the future either as individuals, as family or virtual groups.
Say you’re passionate about reducing things that contribute to climate change. Now could be a good time to put in place energy and emissions-saving practices at home. Maybe you’d like to reduce your food waste by using most of what you buy or start composting and growing more on in your garden or on your balcony. Reach out to local groups and you may meet neighbours trying to do the same things.
Another fun thing you or the kids could do is get involved with citizen science. There are lots of projects you and the family can participate in from your backyard or just looking out your window. Visit citizenscience.org.au to find out what’s happening in your area.
And lastly, if you’d like to help professionals provide better mental health support to Australians in times of crisis, take part in the Monash Alfred Psychiatry survey — “We are very keen to learn about the resilience factors that promote good health and the risk factors that contribute to poorer mental health during this outbreak,” says Gurvich.