Coronavirus pandemic: Ways to look after your mental health in the time of COVID-19

By Eleisha Foon for RNZ

The Mental Health Foundation has noticed increased concern about how to manage mental wellbeing since the pandemic, with more people seeking advice on how to cope with stress and anxiety.

People are being encouraged to listen to the advice of mental health professionals. The World Health Organisation has also released a document on how to prioritise mental health - including for those needing to self-isolate.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said there had been a rise in panic and worry.

"Concern and anxiety are mounting for a number of people. The impression is that it is kind of across the board. It is not a particular age group," he said.

Robinson said, although this pandemic was a major disruption to most areas of life, staying positive and focusing on mental wellbeing was key.

Canterbury DHB public health specialist Lucy D'Aeth wanted to thank people for honouring the 14-day self-isolation public strategy.

"It is going to take an entire community response and you are the ones who are helping to protect us all."

She suggested the following:

  • Maintain a routine
  • Keep exercise up (perhaps have a boogie around the kitchen - music will be important)
  • Try reading
  • Do something that brings you joy
  • Go for a walk, run or bike ride (just keep a 2-metre distance from people)
  • Journal and process your feelings
  • Stay connected (make a phone call, write a letter, video chat)
  • Once you are out of self-isolation, she recommended that people get a flu jab and pass on wisdom their to their community.

"That is the kind of experience we need to foster across the country to get through this together."

Robinson wanted to remind people to be kind to one another.

He said it was very easy when people were stressed, worried and a bit frightened to "lash out" and an antidote to that was to look for opportunities to take the focus off ourselves and put us in a positive mindframe.

He said we could not forget those living with clinical anxiety and OCD as many would need support, connection and help topping up their medication supplies.

Age Concern fundraising, communications and marketing manager, Natasha Muir, agreed, and said the elderly were important to remember.

"Ringing someone up, or using Skype, leaving notes or sending postcards, leaving food on the front door. Be innovative of how you connect with people. Please make sure no one is left sitting in silence in a time that we want to be connected."

Wesley Methodist Church chaplain Frank Ritchie said many people turned to faith and religion to combat fear and gain peace of mind.

"In a world where information is coming at us all the time, through our devices, TVs, radios... turning those things off and taking a chance to pause, to sit in silence is a good way to relax. If you are connected to a religion in some way, being reminded of the bigger story provides a lot of hope."

Meanwhile, The WHO said health workers too must prioritise their own mental health by resting between shifts, eating healthy, exercising and regularly connecting with friends and family by phone when possible.

It also warned against using tobacco, alcohol or other drugs to cope with stress, which can worsen your mental and physical well-being long term.