Mental health advice amid COVID-19 concerns


This is a repost from the Flinders Newsdesk

By  Professor Mike Kyrios, Director, Órama Institute for Mental Health, Wellbeing and Neuroscience, at Flinders University.

As we have seen over the past week or so, Australia is beginning to experience the implications of the coronavirus crisis. The issue is not just a health or economic issue, but it’s also a mental health and wellbeing crisis.

In terms of context, much of what we experience is based, not just on objective experiences, but also on our perception of what is happening and on our attitudes or beliefs and the way that we regulate our emotions.

It’s no different in the current COVID-19 crisis where many people appear to be controlling their fears and their need for certainty or control through panic buying. The resulting pandemonium will not see us in good stead in the long run as panic buying leads to some people, mainly those in need, missing out.

Furthermore, panic leads to further panic and the numerous irrational behaviours that we currently see will not quell fears or lead to a sustainable increase in our sense of control over perceived uncertainties. The current compulsive hoarding of toilet paper, in response to COVID-19, not only doesn’t make sense but is indicative of the mental health challenges we will see at the population level if we don’t take additional actions.

Moving forward, if we end up going down the path of many other countries, then in addition to the medical and public health interventions that the government is already developing, it is necessary to start developing wellbeing, mental health and resilience supports to build individual and community resilience.

If we roll out wellbeing and resilience interventions early, then we avoid people turning up unnecessarily to medical services, and becoming too anxious, developing mental health problems or exacerbating any existing problems such as OCD, anxiety or trauma conditions.

There are already existing upscaleable resources that we could easily adapt for the current situation to help people if they’re stuck at home or are beginning to feel stressed.

South Australia is at the forefront of preemptive and preventative wellbeing interventions that can mitigate the development of mental health dysfunction and improve community outcomes.

Flinders University’s Órama Institute for Mental Health, Wellbeing and Neuroscience and SAHMRI’s Wellbeing and Resilience Centre have been working to develop more effective wellbeing interventions and can easily provide upscaleable adaptations to counter the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.

In the meantime, here are 6 simple strategies that we can all follow in the event of being quarantined or if we are working from home. These strategies can be summarised by the acronym STREAM.

  1. is for Social networking. Social distancing or quarantining may be necessary health-wise but it doesn’t mean we should cease all social networking. Keep in touch with people through social media or a simple phone call. Share your experiences to facilitate support or use the best of Australian humour to lighten the situation. Dinners or dessert and coffee over Skype are always a hoot!
  2. is for Time out from each other when in the home for long periods. It can be particularly useful to timetable in time out periods so as to minimise the ongoing stress of being in a limited space with others for long periods of time.
  3. is for Relaxation, mindfulness or yoga strategies. Managing anxiety can be helped through the use of a variety of relaxation strategies. Breathing and muscular relaxation exercises, mindfulness training, dancing, yoga and playing an instrument are but a few of the available strategies that are effective.
  4. is for Exercise and Entertainment. If you have a yard or a space where you can get some exercise, that’s always a good way to burn off some energy. You can even find opportunities in the home to undertake some exercise. Alternatively, catch up on some reading, streaming services, digital or board games, hobbies, playing music, etc.
  5. is for Alternative thinking. Understand that uncertainty and novelty will lead to heightened tension and stress – Question yourself if you’re angry (e.g. supermarket or car rage) – Are your fears likely to eventuate? What does science tell us about the most likely outcomes? Is your response reasonable? Are there better ways to manage  your underlying motivations, whether they are to organise dinner or manage your personal expectations? It’s often useful to think things through, even by talking to someone else, e.g. a friend or a counsellor.
  6. is for being Mindful of others. Remember, this is just a short-term situation that we can all get through if we work together. This is not new to Australians – we’ve done it before and we’ll do it again – it’s in our blood to work together and maintain courteous and caring interpersonal relationships – neighbours always help each other out and no one gets left behind after fires, floods, other times of need. Check in on your neighbours, making sure you maintain good hygiene practices. The elderly and those with previous medical conditions are particularly vulnerable and may need support. And never forget that simple acts of kindness make us feel good about ourselves, the world and the future.

* Professor Kyrios developed the STREAM framework from the wellbeing activities that he and Flinders University’s Órama Institute for Mental Health, Wellbeing and Neuroscience have worked on with the SAHMRI Wellbeing and Resilience Centre.

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