A neuropsychologist's advice on looking after your mental health during lockdown

Man anxious on couch
If you feel like this lockdown is taking more of a toll than the last, you're not alone. Photo credit: Getty.

It seems to be a common theme among many Aucklanders that for some reason, this month's COVID-19 alert level 3 lockdown is just hitting harder than the last. 

Maybe it's the fact the rest of the country has more freedom, or maybe it's that a certain level of novelty has worn off this time around compared to the weeks of lockdown in March and April.

Either way, Monday's announcement from the Prime Minister that lockdown was being extended by an extra four days may be tough on the mental health for many. 

Being in isolation isn't easy and it's important to look after yourself both physically and mentally.

Neuropsychologist Dr Kris Fernando, chief of clinical services at Active+, has put together some top tips on how to experience lockdown successfully and come out feeling on top - or at least, not a shell of your former self. 

Dr Fernando's tips for lockdown: 

Acknowledge the negatives but focus on the positives 

It's easy to focus on the negative aspects of quarantine and that can lead to anxiety and stressful thought patterns. It's helpful instead to accept the unpleasant reality of the situation while keeping in mind that it is only for a limited period. Acknowledging the unpleasant reality can help reduce the stress associated with it and gives you power over these emotions. 

This can be a time to focus on the opportunities that quarantine provides rather than what you feel you have lost. It can be an opportunity to get to know yourself and those with whom you are quarantining better without outside intrusions. Write down and think about what you are grateful for each day as this can reduce negative emotions and will help you focus on the positive things in your life.

Maintain connections with others 

Connecting with others contributes to our wellbeing and helps us feel more supported and less alone. It is important to keep in touch with friends and whanau via the phone, social media, video chats and texting. Schedule regular times to contact others so you are in touch with the outside world. 

Be kind and affectionate to those who are with you in quarantine with. Take time to talk and have fun together such as playing cards, board games or watching a film together.

Keep to a routine

Get up at your normal time and go through your normal activities as much as is possible. For example, shower and get dressed around the same time as normal, rather than spending your day in your pyjamas. 

Make a realistic schedule for each day so that your day has structure and you feel as though you are accomplishing things such as learning a new skill and keeping in touch with people. Ensure that you also schedule time for breaks and relaxation. 

Then make sure you're obtaining enough sleep through keeping to your usual routine if possible, winding down before sleep by writing in a journal or reading a book, having a warm bath or shower, and ensuring the room is at a comfortable temperature and dark. 

Focus on keeping healthy and practicing self-care

Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water, and maintain healthy eating by eating meals at regular times and avoiding sugary and fatty foods. Eating mindfully will help reduce binge eating and impulsive eating. 

Maintain your fitness levels or get into an exercise routine - there are several online fitness, Pilates and yoga classes. Staying physically fit helps people feel good about themselves and assists in maintaining a healthy mind. Most of the hotels offering quarantine facilities provide outside areas so people can obtain fresh air and exercise.

Avoid binge drinking and reduce alcohol consumption as people function better in the long-term with less alcohol. Excessive alcohol use can lead to people feeling low in mood and anxious; people need to be as healthy as possible to best manage lockdown.

Learn a new skill

This is probably one of the only times in your life where you have an abundance of time - so ideal for doing something you have always wanted to do but never found the time to.

Start learning a new language, exercise routine, or pick up a course you are interested in via the internet, listen to a podcast or read a book you have always intended to read.

If you are struggling with your emotional wellbeing during lockdown the Ministry of Health has put together a list of resources which can assist people in getting through this time.