“If the symptoms are not that serious but you’re just not feeling great, reach out and share how you are feeling.” – Rachel Bowes, Head of Crisis Services and Quality at Lifeline Australia.
If you’ve been feeling unusually low, stressed, anxious or even depressed in the last year, you’re certainly not alone. COVID-19 has shaken the world, completely disrupted our daily lives and affected our physical and mental wellbeing.
Rachel Bowes, who has a long career in mental health nursing and counselling and is Head of Crisis Services and Quality at Lifeline Australia, says that she and her colleagues have noticed a much broader range of people seeking help.
“We’ve seen people across the whole age spectrum finding themselves for the first time having to reach out for support. There’s anxiety and uncertainty. People who may be very social have been cut off from family and friends.”
For people already experiencing loneliness, periods of isolation have been particularly challenging.
“There are fewer things going on, fewer people around. A weekly meet-up with a friend for coffee, a couple of trips to the shops – when you take those things out of the equation, it’s enough to tip the balance,” Rachel says.
And for older people, knowing they are in a high-risk category for contracting COVID-19 can add an extra layer of stress.
If you feel more anxious than usual, fearful or even depressed, or you’re worried about a family member or friend, there are signs to watch for.
“If the symptoms are not that serious but you’re just not feeling great, reach out and share how you are feeling,” Rachel advises. “Talk about it. That sense of kinship, not feeling as though you’re alone, is a really powerful thing.”
There are simple self-help tools on the internet for self-assessment. These can be a good place to start (check the breakout on this page for some tips).
If it’s more serious, reach out for help from a professional. That might be your GP, government organisations or through Remedy Healthcare’s support services.
Keep your mental health in check
Stay connected: Meet up in person, call someone on the phone or chat online via social media and emails. Arrange a weekly phone call with a loved one or call someone out of the blue to catch up.
Establish a routine: Routine sounds boring but it’s important for motivation. Build a routine around meal times or shopping, or perhaps a meeting with someone.
Stay active: Get some exercise – it doesn’t have to be too vigorous. Take a walk. Try yoga. Join an exercise group. Exercise reduces stress and helps us relax.
Get involved: Start a hobby, read a book or sign up for a class. A sense of accomplishment is part of wellbeing.
Embrace nature: Get out in the sun and the fresh air. Research shows that being outside in nature has a positive effect.
Get enough sleep: Try to get to bed and get up at about the same time each day. Try to avoid napping for long periods of the day and reduce your caffeine intake.
Eat well: Avoid processed food and aim to eat more fruit and vegetables.
Some signs of anxiety
• You may feel churning in the stomach and don’t know why.
• You may get tension headaches or even experience a panic attack.
• You may start to avoid certain situations, such as going to a shopping centre, for fear there are too many people.
• You worry excessively about things you can’t control.
Some signs of depression
“Depression doesn’t usually come and go in a day – it tends to be something that has been affecting someone for a while,” Rachel Bowes says. It’s worth speaking to a healthcare professional if you find you’re feeling low or unhappy a lot – even if your symptoms come and go.
Changes in sleep patterns are typical. Are you sleeping more or sleeping less? Changes in appetite can also be a sign. Older people often lose their appetite when they are depressed.
Lack of motivation is another indicator, even the motivation to look after yourself on a daily basis, such as having a shower or getting dressed.
“Some people get a sense of hopelessness,” says Rachel. “That can be a sign of depression.”
Words: Margaret Barca