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While not everyone will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, everyone does need to take care of their mental health. There will be events in everyone’s life that come along and affect their mental health, and the COVID-19 pandemic will be one of those events, for some people.

What we are going through right now is not normal. It is a scary, uncertain time. We are all going to be affected by this in different ways. For many of us, it will have a significant effect on our mental health, particularly those with a pre-existing mental illness.

I was diagnosed with anxiety over three years ago, and have been managing it with the help of a psychologist ever since. I have learnt strategies and techniques in order to live a happy, healthy life. I still go through periods where my mental health gets bad, but I always come out the other end stronger and wiser.

Earlier this year, I was in a pretty good place with my mental health – then the COVID-19 situation got a lot worse. I began to really worry about myself and my loved ones getting the virus; I worried about having to self-isolate. The hysteria reflected in empty supermarket shelves scared me. Having anxiety, I’m not good with uncertainty, and this is about as uncertain an event as you can get. The constant stream of coronavirus content was upsetting me. The general air of intense negativity was making me depressed.

Now, more than ever, we need to take care of ourselves. Self-care has been instrumental in helping me start to manage my mental health during this time. On top of what I usually do to keep my stress and anxiety levels down, I’ve been implementing a number of extra strategies and techniques to keep me mentally well that I would like to share in the hope they may help you too.

1. Remember what is being done

Know the government and medical experts are doing their best to quickly contain and slow the spread of the virus, treat those with the virus, and develop a vaccine. The government is also working hard to support us across the many areas in which we have all been affected, from employment to mental health.

2. Refer to reliable information

Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation is being spread quicker than the virus, particularly on social media. Make sure you get your facts from reliable sources, such as:

  • The Australian government site and app dedicated to COVID-19
  • The Australian government COVID-19 health alert
  • The Western Australian government COVID-19 page
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) COVID-19 page
3. Limit media exposure

While it is important to stay informed, make sure you don’t spend too much time on social media and reading/watching the news. I decided to stop scrolling through my feed and only go on social media to check necessary notifications and keep in touch with family and friends. I also stopped reading and watching the news. Now, my family  lets me know of any significant updates. This has been a huge help in keeping my anxiety, stress and depression levels down, not to mention I’m spending a lot less time on my phone.

4. Follow public health advice and government regulations

A number of protective measures have been put in place by public health and government officials to keep everyone safe. It is crucial you follow their advice and regulations, which will also give you comfort in the knowledge that you are doing the right thing to keep you, your loved ones and your community safe. Government regulations can be found at the top of the homepage of the dedicated COVID-19 Australian government site under the heading ‘essential information’, with public health advice a bit further down the page under ‘health alerts and advice’.

5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle

Eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep and exercise regularly. The importance of these three things in keeping you mentally healthy cannot be overstated. They’ll strengthen your immune system too. Exercise can easily be done from home. If you don’t have any gym equipment, there are plenty of fitness apps (not just paid) that feature bodyweight workouts. Yoga is a great activity to pick up, especially for your mental health, and again there are plenty of great apps out there, as well as YouTube channels. Another important thing to keep you both mentally and physically healthy is to get fresh air. If you can, go walking, running or cycling. If not, even just spending 20 minutes in your backyard can do wonders.

6. Stay in contact with family and friends

To me, this is probably the most significant thing on this list. Especially given we are required to social distance at this time (note social distancing means physically distancing), it is particularly important to keep up contact with loved ones. Thanks to technology, you can message, call and video chat. Talking with family and friends can provide an escape from everything or a chance to share how you are feeling.

7. Keep up or pick up activities you enjoy

My personal favourites include writing, reading, baking, colouring, dancing (the fun, random kind in your bedroom) and mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, has played a big part in keeping me mentally healthy, not just during the COVID-19 pandemic but ever since my psychologist recommended it over a year ago. It’s ridiculously easy to pick up and doesn’t at all fit the frustrating, boring image most people have of meditation. Two mindfulness apps I love are Smiling Mind and Headspace, which are free and include beginner courses.

8. Remember this is temporary

This is not the apocalypse. This is an unprecedented situation that is having a big impact on everyone. While we don’t know when this will all be over, we do know it will be over at some point. And when it is over, we’ll appreciate what we have so much more. Try to stay positive and focus on what you do have control over, such as how you respond to this situation and what you do to slow the spread of the virus.

It’s okay to feel scared, confused, stressed, anxious, sad, frustrated and angry. You are not alone. If you are in distress, please reach out to someone. It could be a trusted family member or friend, or it could be a mental health service, such as Beyond Blue or headspace. If you are in crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. If it is an emergency, call 000.