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Jumping at Every Sneeze & Cough?

Managing your mental health during COVID-19

In a matter of months our worries seem to have shifted from one problem to another. Not too long ago we may have been worrying about using too much water when washing our hands, and now we are washing thoroughly (20 seconds or more) followed by a dousing of hand sanitiser (if you can get your hands on it) for fear of catching COVID-19. On top of that, over-washing our hands can lead to dry and scaly hands potentially causing wounds that make us even more susceptible to infection.

In between all of this, some of us have had the added pressure of the Australian bush fires followed by floods and this has been amongst Christmas and New Year which for some, can carry their own pressures related to finances, family, loneliness and job changes and/or uncertainty.

With all of this at play, it’s easy to understand why we are seeing some strange behaviour such as panic buying and increased levels of anxiety in the community. If you have coughed or sneezed in public recently, you’ll be familiar with the looks of dread from others.

We have all been told to be aware, but don’t panic, but how do we actually put this into practice and get the balance of taking precautions vs staying calm just right?

Take a moment, how are you and your colleagues dealing with this increased set of demands on your mental health and wellbeing? Are you noticing that conversations around the office are spreading some feelings of panic?

It might be time to take a step back, either by yourself or with your team, and take some time for self-reflection. Some question to ask yourself and others could include:

  • Where are your thoughts wandering to throughout the day?
  • Is your behaviour changing or escalating?
  • What mental and emotional challenges are you and/or your colleagues experiencing?
  • Do you have people in your team that are more vulnerable both mentally and/or physically, that may be experiencing higher levels of worry?
  • Do you find yourself absorbing too much information from unreliable sources and the media?

Now you have taken some time to reflect, have a think about how you can balance out these changes in behaviour and thought patterns.

Three self-compassion and resilience hacks
One way to think about this is to be your own ‘perfect parent’. Someone who loves you unconditionally, wants the very best for you, believes in you and who tells you ‘it will be okay’. Here’s some practical tips to think about adopting during this time of uncertainty.

  1. Turn it around
    Track how often you have a worrying thought or criticise yourself vs. how often you have a positive thought & support yourself in a day. If you notice that there are more worried thoughts and self-criticisms than positive thoughts and encouragements, set an intention to shift the ratio towards positivity and self-compassion.
  2. Get practical 
    A daily practice of gratefulness is a great habit to develop to help counteract and balance level of negative vs positive thoughts. Each morning and/or evening make a list of 3 things that are going well for you. Try to incorporate this into your conversations at work, if you notice something positive in the workplace talk to your colleagues about it – try to balance your conversations so you are not only talking doom and gloom all day.
  3. Let go of expectations & plans
    Sometimes we have unrealistic and unhelpful expectations of ourselves and we worry about everything not going exactly how we have planned. You may have been saving up your leave for a holiday that you can’t go on, and you may even need to use that leave if you get sick. Occasionally, it is easier if we just surrender to the uncertainty of life and know that it’s not going to be perfect all of the time but it doesn’t mean we can’t choose happiness in the face of adversity. At home and at work, try to focus on what you can do that is in your control, rather than feeding the anxiety. Focus on being kind to yourself and others.

All this aside, please don’t disregard feelings of distress and seek further professional support if required.

Beyond Blue has fact sheets about anxiety and offers other practical advice and resources at beyondblue.org.au.

The Beyond Blue Support Service offers short term counselling and referrals by phone and web chat on 1300 22 4636.

You can find more information about wellbeing, quarantine and managing self-isolation here.

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Our Message of Support on COVID-19
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