This is a tough time for everyone, with physical distancing from others and anxiety about COVID-19. There is a lot to deal with – the loss of our usual routines and activities, the loss of income for many as our superannuation goes down, and some the loss of jobs. For those living alone, the loss of physical contact or a simple hug is particularly hard. It’s important to acknowledge the feelings we are having in this situation. One important point is to stay up to date with the latest information, but only watch or read about it once or twice a day.
What other strategies can we use to cope positively with this stress? Research by Dr Judy Moskowitz found that a variety of strategies can help you cope with most forms of stress, and even improve immunity in some cases. Strategies included:
• Savouring – Notice something good each day. Pay attention to this small event and all its details. Write about it in a journal. Tell someone about it (e.g. by phone).
• Gratitude – Start a gratitude journal or write down 3 good things about your day. Even little things like seeing a flower out your window.
• Kindness – Do a small act of kindness each day. For example, ring a friend or neighbour who lives alone.
• Having Goals – Set small attainable goals each day, such as making soup, cleaning one room, or doing an online lesson in something you’ve always been interested in.
• Relaxation – Practice mindfulness, or a relaxation exercise each day. There are free online mindfulness recordings to learn through the UCLA Mindfulness website, or through apps such as Calm, or Headspace.
More specific to the current social distancing and isolation, keeping in touch with friends and family is vitally important. Yes, do phone them frequently. Try video calling through Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, or Zoom – there are lots of handy tutorials on the Internet. The Red Cross also has a service called Telecross which will call you daily for a chat if you are alone and isolated. You can call 1300 885 698 to check if you are eligible.
Hang in there, these are tough times, but we can get through it. Take the time to look after yourself. It’s also beneficial to remember how you’ve overcome stressful situations in the past. Use that hard-won wisdom to guide you now! As Thomas Paine said, “I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.” However, as The Beatles said, sometimes we “need a little help from our friends.”
Beyond Blue has a Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service on 1800 512 348. Lifeline is always there to help too on 13 11 14.
Dr Sue Ferguson is an Honorary Associate Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Macquarie University.