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  • Frances Bilbao

Managing stress and COVID-19

Many families will be feeling anxious about the COVID-19 outbreak and the community measures that have been imposed to reduce the spread.

There is new (and sometimes contradictory) advice every day which has imposed significant changes for Aussie families. The virus and the measures in place can increase feelings of being unsafe, or at risk.

These feelings will be amplified if you are currently pregnant, trying to conceive or have a new baby. The normal worries about yourself and your children are likely to be heightened at this time and this might be impacting on your relationships with your children/ partner, your ability to enjoy this time and your capacity to complete basic day-to-day tasks.

Additionally, many families are facing financial and work stressors that are completely outside of their control. This adds another layer of stress to the situation that can make it difficult to focus on the role of being a parent.

Here are some tips to support good mental health and help keep some of the anxiousness and stress at bay:

  • Acknowledge times when you are struggling with the situation. Try not to be hard on yourself if you are finding this time difficult. Having a new baby is a challenge anyway, however when coupled with the current situation can be incredibly stressful. For some people it can easy to be self-critical if you feel that you should be coping better or if you assume that others are coping better than you are.

  • Try to maintain a normal routine where possible. This includes staying active (in ways that you can) if that is part of your usual routine, having a regular bedtime and eating regular, healthful meals where possible. Some parts of your normal routine might be challenging from a practical sense, but if you can manage to maintain some routine it can help with your mental health.

  • Stay informed HOWEVER, reduce exposure to information if it is increasing your feelings of fear and worry. There may be times when you don't feel like reading any more about COVID-19. You do not need to read every article that is disseminated and can opt out of virus-related content for a period if it will help you. Be sure to stay informed with reputable content when required. Sources like social media can be unreliable and inflammatory which can lead to an increase in feelings of stress or anxiety.

  • Talk to supportive people about how you are feeling. This includes friends and family who can provide the emotional support you need.

  • Avoid making any major life decisions during this time. The world will currently feel scary and dangerous and it is therefore not an environment where good decisions can be made.

  • Continue to do things that you enjoy like reading, writing, drawing, painting, singing etc. These can help to feel somewhat normal during the imposed changes.

  • Use relaxation strategies if you are finding you are unable to switch off thoughts of the situation. Guided meditations can be helpful (check out the Insight Timer app). This can be particularly helpful if your sleep has been impacted by the current situation.

  • Identify ways to stay connected to important people in your life. Regardless of your support network, a crisis like this can exacerbate feelings of isolation and/or loneliness. You might have to use different ways to stay in touch like Skype, Zoom or FaceTime with family members.

  • Try to avoid unhelpful coping strategies like an over-reliance on alcohol or withdrawing from friends and family. These can create longer term issues that persist once things return to normal.

  • Explain the situation to children in age appropriate ways. They may have questions about COVID-19 especially as schools close, however children do not need to know all the information. Ensure you consider the age of your kids and consider what information they have been exposed to through media or other adults talking about the situation. Here is a useful link for information about talking to children.

  • Stress and anxiety can lead to physical symptoms like headaches, muscle aches and stomach complaints. You should monitor these symptoms to help identify which are stress related pains or physical changes and which symptoms might indicate you need to seek medical support.

  • Use the professional support in your community including telehealth options that are now becoming more accessible for people who are in isolation.

  • For individuals who have a pre-existing disorder (like anxiety or depression), try to:

  • use strategies that have been helpful in the past,

  • continue with prescribed medication and/or,

  • reach out to any mental health professionals you already have a relationship with.

See also this page on the Australian Psychological Society website to access information about managing your own feelings and also talking to children about the COVID-19 outbreak. See Resources for the public- click on View information sheet.

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