The World Health Organization recently declared a pandemic in the wake of a global outbreak of a novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).1 And while the majority of patients affected by the disease will recover without any long-lasting consequences, many others may experience the short-term and long-term health effects of stress, anxiety and other mental health complications.2
Feeling stressed, anxious, worried, and overwhelmed is a natural response for many people during these circumstances. Some common signs of distress include4:
- Feelings of numbness, disbelief, anxiety or fear.
- Changes in appetite, energy, and activity levels.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares and upsetting thoughts and images.
- Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes.
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones.
- Worsening of chronic health problems.
- Anger or short-temper.
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.
If you notice any of these common signs of distress, you can help to take control of your mental and emotional health by taking the following steps5:
Take care of your physical health. Exercise regularly and don’t neglect your physical health during this time. Go for a walk, jog, do yoga, or just get moving. Even if you can’t get to the gym or go outside, research at-home workouts and grab a friend to do it together virtually. Eat healthy well-balanced meals throughout the day, including lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and get plenty of sleep at night.
Limit certain foods and drinks. Be mindful of the foods and drinks that you are taking in. Limit junk food and alcohol intake and avoid harmful substances like tobacco and drugs. Now is also a good time to limit your caffeine intake, especially caffeinated beverages such as coffee or tea, as caffeine can trigger anxiety symptoms and interfere with your sleep6.
Take regular breaks from work. If you’re working from home, take frequent breaks and try to stay offline in the evenings as much as possible. Throughout the day, remember to take deep breaths and make time to stretch and relax your mind.
Take a break from the news and social media. With the 24-hour news cycle and constant updates about the virus, watching the news or updates on social media can make you feel more anxious. Take a break from watching the news and limit your use of social media to help manage your feelings and emotions.
Stay connected to your loved ones. If you live alone and feel isolated, set up regular video calls with your friends and loved ones for support. This is especially important if you live alone. You can chat, play games, or watch T.V. together.
Find opportunities to look for positives. Perhaps it’s the joy of being able to help a friend or neighbour who might need some assistance, or the chance to spend more quality time with the kids. You might even try spending 5 minutes in the day to write in a gratitude journal.
Reach out to a professional for help. It is OK to reach out for professional support. We have provided contact numbers to some organisations that can help down below, and, several website links under the “External Resources” section. You can also make an appointment to talk to your doctor or mental health professional either in person or, if available, using telehealth, where consultations are done over the phone or using video chat services.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
- Headspace on 1800 650 890
- Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) on 1800 008 774
In New Zealand
- National Telehealth Service 1737
- Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or free text 4357
- Youthline on 0800 376 633 or free text 234
- Samaritans on 0800 726 666
- 1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Coronavirus Disease 2019 Stress & Coping. Accessed March 16, 2020
- 2. Psychology Today: Mental Health in a Time of Pandemic. Accessed March 16th, 2020
- 3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Coronavirus Disease 2019 Stress & Coping. Accessed March 16, 2020
- 4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Emergency Preparedness and Response Taking Care of Your Emotional Health. Accessed March 16, 2020.
- 5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Emergency Preparedness and Response Taking Care of Your Emotional Health. Accessed March 16, 2020.
- 6. Get Healthy Stay Healthy: When you can’t stop worrying. Accesed March 16, 2020
- 7. Australian Department of Health: COVID-19 National Health Plan Primary care – Bulk Billed MBS Telehealth Services
- 8. Medical Council of New Zealand: Telehealth