How To

How To: Stay mentally healthy in isolation

People cope with isolation from regular routines and their friends and extended family in different ways.

For many it is a welcome respite from the pressure of the outside world, but an extended period at home with most social options on hold will put pressure on mental health.

This situation is exacerbated by anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus and uncertainty about the future, including the stability of our employment and the general economic outlook.

Mental health experts tell us that these feelings are perfectly normal. No one should think they have failed or that they are weak because they have doubts and insecurities at a time like this.

It is important for all of us to keep tabs on our own mental wellbeing, as well as that of those around us.

The Black Dog Institute, a mental health advocacy organisation, reminds us that we are in physical isolation, not social isolation. It is important to stay in touch with people we would normally talk to or confide in.

Black Dog’s advice is that when we’re at home, we may need to be creative about adapting the strategies we normally use when interacting with friends or work colleagues.

For example, if socialising helps your mood, schedule a virtual coffee. If going to the gym helps you reduce stress, try an online workout. If taking time out helps, find a quiet place, take a few deep breaths, go for a walk or listen to music.

The most important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t suffer in silence. If you are feeling anxious, the best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to reach out to someone you trust or a professional service.

Mental health support service Beyond Blue has some simple tips to keep you on track mentally.

  • If the constant stream of news about the virus is causing you or your family anxiety – switch it off. While it’s important to stay informed of public health announcements, you don’t need to be plugged in 24 hours a day. Consider seeking news updates only once or twice a day and for a limited period.
  • When you do seek information, go to reliable sources such as the Health Department and Federal or State governments, to make sure you’re getting the facts, not speculation or misinformation.
  • Focus on activities that lift your spirits – that might be spending time with a pet, watching your favourite TV show, going for a walk or chatting to a friend on the phone or online.
  • Taking care of your body can help build mental and physical resilience. Try to maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, seek support to quit smoking, get enough sleep, avoid drugs, reduce your alcohol intake and practice regular deep breathing or meditation.
  • Keep things in perspective. Remember that while it’s normal and reasonable to have concerns about this pandemic, some of the best scientific and medical minds in the world are working hard to keep us safe. And this period of isolation is not going to last for ever. We can all look forward to a future of normal activity and social interaction.

There will always be challenges when we face a period of upheaval and uncertainty, but it’s how we deal with them which shows how we’re coping.

The Black Dog Institute says warning signs of your declining mental health might include frequently snapping at those you love, finding it extremely difficult to focus, or depending on things like alcohol or food to cope.

If these sorts of things happen regularly, it is time to prioritise your mental wellbeing and take some positive steps to help yourself.

Make a self-care plan Draft a plan of action and enlist a supportive person to help you stick to it.

Do activities to help reduce your anxiety This might include regular physical activity in the fresh air or things that give you pleasant, such as reading, listening to music or small tasks around the home.

Get professional help when you need it If you are feeling very anxious or sad for more than two weeks, it is time to get professional help.

There are free and low-cost online programs that you can access from home, a range of online resources and phone support services available 24 hours a day. These resources include:

Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 (24 hours)

Lifeline 13 11 14 (24 hours)

Black Dog Institute