As Melburnians take slow but steady steps toward normality after their extended isolation period and more Australian borders reopen, England is, from today, back in lockdown. How is the ongoing uncertainty affecting our mental health, and what can we do?
If you’re yet to reach the ‘I can’t do this anymore’ stage of the Covid-19 pandemic, then you’re one of few. Months after it made its way across Australian borders, the country has made great strides to contain the virus, with most states reporting minimal new cases each day. And although progress is being made, the harsh reality is that until a vaccine is available, we remain in limbo, and as long as this era of uncertainty reigns, our mental wellbeing will inevitably suffer.
Before this year, statistics showed 20 per cent of Australians aged 16-85 experienced a mental illness; but since the beginning of 2020, the combined impact of the bushfires and Covid has seen this increase to 25-33 per cent.
Dr Judith Keith of Whyalla Integrated Mental Health Unit said it’s completely normal for people to experience heightened levels of stress during such unpredictable times. The newly qualified psychiatrist found herself thrust into the deep end this year, when demand for mental health resources reached an all-time high. While intense, this experience has proven her ability to succeed in the role, which has seen her work to equip patients with achievable ways to cope with Covid-induced stressors.
“Stress is one of the main causes of mental illness including anxiety and depression,” Dr Keith said.
“Some people already have a predisposition for mental illness, so when there is stress on top of that it can be enough to tip them into a clinical depression.”
Unfortunately, the signs for mental illness are not always easy to identify. According to Dr Keith, some tell-tale signs include impulsivity, indecisiveness and engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcoholism or substance abuse.
So how can we combat this?
Achieving mindfulness can be one of the most effective ways to cope with stress or anxiety brought on by significant life changes. Instead of engaging in harmful coping mechanisms that only provide short-term solutions, mindfulness teaches individuals to remain ‘present’ by exercising gratitude.
South Australian Caitlin Zygmant has been practising mindfulness for the past six years. As Intercontinental Adelaide’s Marketing Manager, this year has been particularly testing, however she said mindfulness has given her an ability to persevere through Covid induced anxiety, especially while working from home.
“I’ve always believed in practising CBT [Cognitive Behavioural Therapy] techniques like mindfulness,” Caitlin said.
“When Covid was at its worst here and I started feeling really hopeless, I chose to listen to a five-minute mindfulness recording to pump myself up for the day.
“I truly believe that consistency and persistence with practising mindfulness is key to achieving positive outcomes in stressful situations.”
While there are certainly a variety of ways to achieve this state of mind, here are just a few you can easily do while in isolation.
Meditating for just 10 minutes each morning can completely transform your day. Specifically, mindfulness meditation works to enhance one’s awareness of their innermost thoughts and emotions, in a way that doesn’t deem them ‘unworthy’ or ‘wrong’.
“Negative thoughts and emotions are an inevitable part of life,” Dr Keith explained.
“But by labelling our emotions as good or bad, we subconsciously begin to view ourselves as a reflection of our emotions – when we feel ‘bad’, we view ourselves as such.
“Meditation is a fantastic way to view our emotions as objectively as possible, so when we do have a negative experience, we are able to remain strong and resilient.”
The internet is home to a diverse range of meditative content, available anywhere from Youtube to Spotify, and even phone apps such as Headspace and Calm.
With restrictions on social gatherings having been in place for most of the year, human connection as we knew it became but a memory. Dr Keith encouraged the use of technology to help stay connected with family and friends, either by Zoom or FaceTime.
“We’re so fortunate to exist at a time where technology is at its peak,” Dr Keith said.
“Just hearing the voice of a loved one can be so cathartic, especially if you’re struggling in their absence.”
If you’re not able to communicate with your family and loved ones for whatever reason, and the impact of Covid has left you feeling isolated, there are plenty of resources to help you: BeyondBlue (1300 22 4636) or Kids’ Helpline (1800 55 1800) just to name a couple – don’t be afraid to reach out.
Be kind to yourself
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but don’t be too hard on yourself. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, so if you’re feeling a little lazy, guilty or unmotivated, you’re not alone. Take it one day at a time and focus on keeping your head above water – this too shall pass.