Looking after your Physical and Mental Health Well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic

On Saturday 18 April 2020, YSPN held its first-ever Webinar: Looking after your Physical and Mental Health Well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic with accredited speakers: Dr Kuljit Singh, General Practitioner, with an interest in preventative and lifestyle medicine; and Jatinder Kaur, Accredited bilingual mental health clinician and social worker.

This post has information split into different modules, for your convenience – click through to any heading to read the sections you are most interested in:

SNAP framework

Dr Kuljit shared the extremely useful and easy to remember “SNAP” framework for maintaining positive physical health, it is summarised below.

  • S – Make sure you get enough ‘Sleep’; When you experience feelings of ‘Stress’ take a moment to be mindful; Make sure you continue to ‘Socialise’ while maintaining physical distancing; Reflect on your sense of ‘Spirituality’; and do things for others as a ‘Selflessness’ practice
  • N – ‘Nutrition’: Make sure you’re drinking close to 2 litres of water a day. Make sure you maintain a meal routine (not adding, changing or subtracting. Try consuming foods that are low in sugar, low in fat, high in protein, and avoid excessive processed foods. Do not smoke or take recreational drugs.
  • A – ‘Active’: Make sure you remain active, go for a 30-45 minute brisk walk or cycle ride, any form of movement at least 5 times a week. This will release positive endorphins, is great for the cardiac system, good for our mental health, keeps our joints going, and it is going to prevent us from putting on too much weight, which is a risk factor for this virus. Also try to find one activity that makes you feel good and implement that if you can, even if it is just for 15 to 20 minutes a day.
  • P – ‘Purpose’ and ‘Physical Problems’: It’s important to cultivate and maintain a positive sense of purpose. For those who may have lost their job due to the COVID-19 pandemic, think of creative ways to use this time from learning new skills through online learning, volunteering and practising selflessness, or picking up a new hobby. And address chronic physical problems, by continuing to remain in contact with your doctor, through telehealth services and other mechanisms.

Managing your emotions in these unprecedented times

Jatinder Kaur and Dr Kulit shared the below invaluable insights into ways of managing feelings of feelings of stress, overwhelm, loneliness and restlessness during these unprecedented times:

  • Introduce structure: Structure helps by giving you a sense of control in a situation which can often feel otherwise. The way to introduce structure is by establishing or maintaining a routine. If possible, try sticking as closely to your pre-COVID-19 routine.
  • Reframe your Situation: If you do not have work, in order to work through the stress of becoming unemployed or reduced hours it may be helpful to change your perspective and rethinking in your mind, “yes I am one of those unfortunate ones but how do I use this time that I have to upskill, to learn a new skill or to diversify my skills so that I am capitalising on this extra time given to me”.
  • Practice Mindfulness: Prior to this pandemic, individuals and collective communities were often operating at a rapid, potentially unsustainable pace and were at risk of burning out. This pandemic offers time to cultivate mindfulness, through taking the opportunity to use social isolation to rest, pause, and reflect. Time spent like this may clear your mind of stressors that had been building up and maybe an opportunity to reset that we never get back.
  • Practice Moderation and Common Sense: Set boundaries on your consumption of media and watch the news at a set time from a reputable source so that your mental energy is not being consumed by constant breaking news updates. Given the amount of Whatsapp forwards being shared containing information and home remedies it is recommended to be careful about the source of information. Ensure the information you consume is reliable, accurate and valid and comes from verifiably reputable sources.

Summary of the Q&A

Below is a collection of the Questions from our audience, including those which we didn’t have enough time to respond to during the webinar, and the responses from our accredited experts. The responses have been edited for concision and clarity.

Is the advice in Australia to only wear a mask if you are sick?

Generally yes, the medical authorities are still saying that you should only be wearing a mask if you are either sick or have COVID-19. There are a couple of reasons for not asking everyone to wear a mask, one being a shortage of masks around the world. Over the past 10 days however, the World Health Organisation (WHO) have started suggesting if you are going out of the home, you could wear your own face mask, even a cloth mask. These can prevent us from touching our faces which can increase the risk of picking up an infection. As long as wearing a mask does not reduce the stockpile of masks for frontline workers, it can be reasonable to wear one.

How do you find the motivation when trying to work from home

Routine, routine, routine! If your brain works best at a particular time of the day, for example in the morning use that time to maximise the amount of work you get done. Your brain also works at an optimal level on 6 to 8 hours of sleep so sleep is crucial. Other tips include:

  • Stay connected: Keep reaching out to colleagues and peers at least as much as you would normally do, using the many options modern technology affords us to collaborate, communicate and interact with each other. If you work in a larger team, consider daily check-ins with everyone to start the day together. And to avoid missing out on the normal chit-chat in the office (which really is the social glue that holds together relationships and teams), why not schedule a five-minute video call to say hello during morning or afternoon tea time?
  • Get out of your pyjamas/gym gear: It may be tempting to slack off a bit on the personal presentation front, but you will make it harder for yourself to remain motivated and in the right mindset to get work done. We don’t only wear professional business attire and keep ourselves looking kempt and tidy to impress others; we are also sending a message to ourselves by modifying our appearance. Being dressed appropriately will help you stay in “work mode” – mentally, emotionally and behaviourally.
  • Don’t sit on the sofa or work from your bed: In other words, behave as if you were in the office. Make sure you have a dedicated and practical working space, ideally in an area of your home that is comfortable and separate from personal activities and family life (especially if you have other family members at home with you). Take some time to set up a suitable workstation if you haven’t worked from home before, and make sure you have access to everything you need to work productively, down to the paper clips and stapler.
  • Make a plan for each day. What do you want to achieve today? Having a plan for the day ahead is always useful because it keeps you on track and accountable, but it may be especially important when you are working on your own. Not having others around you can make it more difficult to stay motivated and follow through with tasks. When planning your days, make use of the flexibility that working from home offers us. For example, it may now be easier to schedule tasks which require your undivided attention and focus during the best time for you to do this, when you are naturally at your most alert. Experiment and see what works, but always do so with a plan. Pro tip: Share your plans for the day with your team or a trusted colleague, this will help you stay on track.
  • Stick to a work schedule. Especially in times of heighted uncertainty and rapid change, having a routine helps to create stability and predictability in our lives. If you always started work at 8.30am, keep doing so. Have your lunch break when you usually have it (even it feels awkward!), and log off at the usual time. Don’t forget to schedule in regular small breaks to stretch, get some fresh air and take your eyes off the screen.
  • Set firm and clear boundaries. This is something that many people struggle with in the best of times, but now is the time to set, communicate and protect your personal boundaries. For example, if you were in an office, you wouldn’t allow your work to be constantly interrupted by personal phone calls and emails, visitors or homework. Don’t change the rules now because you are working from home. On the other hand, just because your new work desk happens to be at your home doesn’t mean you never get off work again. As much as possible, clear your work away (physically as well as mentally) when it’s time to log off, and make sure the line between work and personal life doesn’t dissolve. As much as you need to ensure that you have adequate space and time during the day to work productively, it is equally important to protect your home life from becoming enmeshed with work. Be kind to yourself, be mindful of how much stimulus our brain can handle and where we produce our best work.

With news of restrictions easing in the next month or so, how realistic do you think this is?

We may see an increase in numbers as a result repatriating citizens, thus it is a very fluid state. There may be a relaxation in the restrictions in 4 weeks, but we also need to prepare our mindset for that not occurring – and that is okay as well. We also do not want to be too euphoric that Australia is doing really well too quickly or relax too quickly because we have winter coming up and the flu season, which is not a good mix.

How can you politely tell your family that you need some time to yourself and to leave you alone for a little while?

There is nothing wrong with having ‘me time’. It is important to switch off and to practice self-care for our mental health well-being. Self-care includes putting boundaries in place so that you can come back with a positive mood and positive headspace when you re-engage with others in your household. Also, if you look after yourself better, you are going to look after others better as well.

Do you have any advice or tips for younger children that may be projecting their feelings of anxiety during this time?

Children are out of their routine and younger children really thrive on good routine. We need to be mindful of what their usual routine is, make sure they are eating on time and making sure that we are not just giving them technology to keep them company, we need to stimulate their minds through physical play. It is important to have good quality time with children and to use language that they understand and try to frame this pandemic in a positive way. Make it fun and active for them! Give them space as well so they can speak about what they are worried about.

If you are struggling to fall asleep or have restless sleep and just not able to switch your brain off and then waking up the following day very fatigued, what are some tips and strategies to combat this and get into a good routine?

Some tips for good sleep hygiene include:

  • Avoid stimulants such as coffee, energy drinks, chocolate during the latter part of the day.
  • An hour before bedtime make sure you have stopped any brain stimulating activities or any adrenaline pumping shows or scrolling the news. Give yourself that one-hour time to get into the sleep zone and turn your brain off.
  • Reduce screen time of mobiles, laptops, tablets etc., the light in these devices keep your brain awake.
  • Physical activity during the day can be very helpful for sleep.
  • Having relaxing music playing, having a warm shower or drink can be helpful.
  • There are a lot of Apps you can access to assist with sleep as well.

Recently I’m finding my confidence has been dropping, for a variety of reasons. Furthermore, with the new working from home environment, it feels even more difficult to try and reach out and connect with colleagues (especially because I’m new to the workplace). Do you have any advice on how to approach this issue?

Confidence dropping could be due to many reasons. It could be useful to explore this a bit more i.e. any other symptoms of emotional upset or other stressors that have triggered this. It may also be worth talking to a GP or counsellor first.

Regarding communication with colleagues, check if there are any social media groups specific to your workplace e.g. WhatsApp, Facebook, or a general email group for bulk messaging, or possibly suggest virtual meetings regularly to stay in connect.

How we can let other people know that we too have something important going on in our life? Like I have problem in concentrating on my work.

Communication is key – no one can really read your mind, so keep these channels open and assertively inform relevant people of your concerns/wishes. You are “No 1 Priority”, so you need to look after Number 1 first!

In your profession, what are some of the ways of working that have changed during this pandemic, and how will these continue after?

Our work has changed with the addition of widespread Telehealth and heightened infection control e.g. wearing of masks, gloves and scrubs more frequently in General Practice. I think these changes will remain for some time yet (at least 6 months for Telehealth and probably long term for the infection control measures).

Is there anything we should be thinking of doing to prepare for post COVID-19 life?

The best thing to do is spend this time in social isolation as well as you can i.e. look after yourself mentally and physically. Start planning ahead, regarding career/job, finances, life goals etc. Also, “don’t sweat the small stuff” and don’t worry too far ahead, give yourself small goals to achieve frequently, and always keep things in perspective with a positive mindset 😊

There’s no doubt it’s a challenging time for all concerned. We hope you can implement some of the above strategies to implement healthy mental and physical wellbeing in yours and your families lives. We are all in this together, and we will all need a little extra support during this time, so let’s be kind, stay connected, check in with each other, and encourage people to seek professional support when they need it, as the saying goes, “a problem shared, is a problem halved”.

Information for At-Risk Vulnerable Members of our Community

At risk vulnerable community groups include elderly (over 65 and those who have chronic health conditions, indigenous people over the age of 50), pregnant women, migrants, international students and people in abusive relationships.

How can you help?

Vulnerable members of our society need to know that they are not alone, they do have resources and access to people who can help them and it is our duty as a community to keep our mind open and constantly asking simple questions like ‘are you okay?’ It is really important that people do not feel as if they are alone and know that there is always help and there is always a way out.

Bystanders, neighbours, community leaders all play a role in being a support person in recognising that someone may be experiencing domestic and family violence. We cannot ignore the signs of yelling or screams, we all have the number for 000. During this pandemic, police and hospitals are operating 24/7 and can assist anyone in need of help, they will not turn anyone away.

There may be a cultural expectation of caring for our elderly relatives and feelings of shame and guilt due to having to physically distance from them, however we can still stay in touch via facetime and phone calls to check in. Not physically seeing them does not mean we do not care or love for them, we are showing our love in other ways, by maintaining that physical distance we are protecting them by looking out for their health and well-being.

Do you need help?

There are many industries that have increased employment and seeking additional workers due to an increase in demand. For a list of these industries currently hiring additional employees, please refer to a recent paper published by YSPN: https://yspn.org.au/2020/04/15/looking-for-a-job-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/

Additionally, the YSPN Team has brought our CV Check program online. If you are looking for a job, and believe your CV could use a review, send it to our team by emailing cvcheck@yspn.org.au.

The Different Support Services Available

Support Services in Australia

It is important to remember that feelings of stress, anxiety, restlessness, difficulties concentrating or sleeping and feelings of disconnect or loneliness are all understandable in the face of this significant challenge.

It is also extremely important to seek out help if you feel you need it – it takes a lot of courage and self-respect to be able to take this step and there is an immense amount of strength in vulnerability. Below are some telephone and online counselling supports available:

Medicare Services

  • Medicare has introduced temporary telehealth mental health services for the period 13 March 2020 to 30 September 2020 inclusive. This means people eligible for a range of existing Medicare mental health services can now receive those services via videoconferencing or telephone. The new telehealth services must be bulk billed. 
  • Eligible patients should ask their service providers about their telehealth options, and whether these are appropriate for their clinical care needs. 
  • More information can be found at the Department’s website at www.health.gov.au by searching Bulk Billed MBS Telehealth Services
  • If you are looking for a psychologist, the Australian Psychological Society’s website, Find A Psychologist, provides details about how to access psychologists across Australia. You can also visit the Australian Clinical Psychology Association website to find a clinical psychologist.
  • Details of face to face health services, including other health professionals, are listed on health direct Australia’s health services directory

Crisis support

General counselling and mental health support

  • Beyond Blue – online and phone mental health support. Phone: 1300 22 4636 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Beyond Blue online chat.
  • Care in Mind– online and phone counselling for people living, working, or studying in Melbourne’s northern, central, and western suburbs. Phone: 1300 096 269 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). CareinMIND online counselling.
  • Headspace – confidential mental health and wellbeing support for young people (12 – 25 years) and their families, including information, support, and health services. Phone: 1800 650 890 (9am – 1am, 7 days a week). eheadspace online chat.
  • MensLine – professional telephone and online support and information service for Australian men. Phone 1300 78 99 78 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). MensLine online counselling.
  • Mindspot – free telephone and online service for people with stress, worry, anxiety, low mood or depression. It provides online assessment and treatment for anxiety and depression and can help you find local services. Call 1800 61 44 34 (8am – 8pm, Monday – Friday; 8am-6pm, Saturday).
  • Kids Helpline – Kids Helpline is Australia’s only free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25. Phone 1800 55 1800 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).

Specialist areas

  • 1800Respect – confidential counselling, information and support for people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse via phone or online chat. Phone: 1800 737 732 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). 1800Respect online chat.
  • Butterfly Foundation’s National Helpline (ED HOPE) – confidential service that provides information, counselling, and treatment referral for people with eating disorders, and body image and related issues. Phone: 1800 33 4673 (8am – midnight).
  • Directline – confidential alcohol and drug counselling and referral service. Phone: 1800 888 236 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Directline online counselling.
  • Switchboard Victoria– telephone and web counselling, information, and referral service for LGBTQI people. Phone: 1800 184 527 (3pm – 12am, 7 days a week). QLife Webchat.

Support services in New Zealand

The best place to access accurate, timely and reliable information around Covid19 is on the New Zealand government’s Covid19 website. The website also provides extensive information and resources for looking after all aspects of hauora, the Māori philosophy of health including physical, mental, social and spiritual health. Particularly relevant on the Covid19 website, is information about looking after your mental wellbeing. You can also access a range of free resources (including apps, toolkits and other digital resources) here.

You can find support for the prevention of family and sexual violence on the Covid19 website too. Remember, it is okay to ask for help. Call 111 in an emergency.

For help finding community based health and social support services, call the Family Services Helpline (0800 211 211). They can directly transfer you to a range of services, including, but not limited to:

  • Women’s Refuge – call 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE) for 24-hour service advocacy and accommodation for women and their children experiencing family violence
  • SHINE – free call 0508 744 633 (9am to 11pm) if you’re experiencing domestic abuse, or want to know how to help someone else
  • Shakti New Zealand – call 0800 742 584 for culturally competent support services for women, children and families of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origin who have experienced domestic violence

The Ministry of Health has a variety of healthcare services you can access. Particularly pertinent to this time is Healthline. Call Healthline free on 0800 611 116 for health advice and information.

You can find out about how to access a range of mental health services on the Ministry website too.

Other useful helplines listed on the Ministry website are:

The Mental Health Foundation and The Lowdown are also useful websites that provides links to helplines, FAQs and tips to get through.

Post Event Wrap-Up and Where to Find More From YSPN

For those of you who didn’t get a chance to tune in, were unable to stay for the entire duration of the webinar, or would like to simply re-watch the material to pick up on what you might have missed, you can watch the recorded Facebook Live version of the Webinar here.

It is important to remember that feelings of stress, anxiety, restlessness, difficulties concentrating or sleeping and feelings of disconnect or loneliness are all understandable in the face of this significant challenge.

It is also extremely important to seek out help if you feel you need it – it takes a lot of courage and self-respect to be able to take this step and there is an immense amount of strength in vulnerability. Please reach out to us should you require a full list of support services offering free personal and professional support during this unprecedented time.

If you got value from this webinar, please share it with other people you know so that they can benefit too. You can forward this e-mail, or share any of the links above directly into your favourite Whatsapp Group chat, or e-mail thread.

We would be grateful if you could complete this short 5-minute survey (click here) of your webinar experience as it will help us focus on the most valuable areas to our audience for future webinars.

Also remember to like us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date about our organisation and upcoming events.

Thank you once again and we hope to see you at our next virtual event!

Additionally, the YSPN Team has brought our CV Check program online. If you are looking for a job, and believe your CV could use a review, send it to our team by e-mailing cvcheck@yspn.org.au.