Ways to look after your mental health during hotel quarantine
Spending two weeks in hotel quarantine when you arrive in Australia may have become standard procedure thanks to COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Here’s some advice on how to cope with life in hotel quarantine.
Hotel quarantine is one of many new circumstances the pandemic has delivered since early 2020. If you’ve recently arrived in the country, it may be a reality for you right now.
And while it’s a critical measure for the health of the community, there’s no denying it’s challenging.
“Suddenly you’re living in a hotel room for two weeks, which means completely changing the way you’d normally engage with day-to-day life,” says Rebecca Frost, Clinical Manager in Medibank Health Solutions’ Mental Health Team.
This team provides telephone and web-based mental health counselling and health support services, including those recommended to people in hotel quarantine.
“Your normal routine is thrown out the window, so you don’t have access to your usual supports, and you lose the freedom to go about your day as you usually would. That can have a significant impact on someone’s mental health,” she says.
This situation would be challenging for anyone, but people with a mental health condition are even more likely to be affected by the impacts of hotel quarantine than others.
“If you have a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, you might find your symptoms are exacerbated by going into hotel quarantine,” says Frost.
“The isolation and feelings of loneliness might be heightened. Even just the change in routine could be crucial, given routines are often so pivotal for the ongoing wellbeing of people living with a mental health condition.”
Setting yourself up to stay well
According to Frost, it’s important to acknowledge what you’re experiencing from the offset.
“It’s vital to recognise that while you may be committed to coping as best you can, this isn’t your usual situation. It’s tough, and emotions and reactions like feeling stressed or lonely are an expected, normal response.”
Taking steps that support your mental health and wellbeing are also key, which can start with something as simple as sticking to a routine.
“Giving your day structure, so that you shower, get dressed, do some sort of exercise and – as much as you can – eat meals at regular times can be really helpful. Likewise try to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day, too,” adds Frost.
In addition to daily exercise and getting enough good-quality sleep, staying connected to your loved ones is also crucial for mental wellbeing.
“Keeping in touch with family and friends is vital in this situation, where loneliness can start to have an impact,” says Frost.
“Maintaining communication and connection with others outside of quarantine will help you share the experience, so you don’t feel like you’re carrying it on your own.”
Frost recommends adopting the same strategies if you’re in hotel quarantine with your children.
“Providing children with some structure and encouraging them to keep in touch with friends – particularly for teenagers, where social connection is everything – will help them cope and offer some protection from the impacts of quarantine,” she says.
And if you or a family member have experienced anxiety or depression in the past or are living with a mental health condition, it’s important to be aware that this experience might be particularly challenging.
“You can then be extra mindful of proactively drawing on effective strategies you’ve used in the past, or may be continuing to use, to manage day-to-day life.”
Recognising that you might be struggling
Remember, feeling stressed or lonely in response to hotel quarantine is a very normal response.
“It’s about trying to recognise the difference between those reactions and signs that you’re not coping well,” says Frost.
“That can be more difficult than usual given the circumstances, but some signs to look for are if you have persistently low mood no matter what. If small things that are usually comforting, like reading or enjoying a cup of tea, no longer bring you any joy. Also, if your sleep is persistently affected, so that you either can’t sleep or you’re sleeping all the time.”
Frost warns that constant feelings of stress, anxiousness or worry not only about the immediate situation but about the future may be a sign that you’re starting to catastrophise.
“Given the nature of hotel quarantine, it’s less about noticing any of these signs in isolation and considering if you’re experiencing a combination of them.”
And if you’re quarantining with your children, be aware they might express their stress or the fact that they’re not coping well in unexpected ways.
“As adults, we can sometimes miss the signs, so that we just see their behaviour as acting out or being overly clingy,” says Frost.
How to seek support
Drawing on your immediate support network, such as friends and family – including someone you might be in quarantine with – is a good place to start.
“As long as it’s someone you trust, opening up and sharing the load can help,” says Frost.
“But if you recognise that you’re not coping well, or if your children are struggling, reaching out to a support service so that you’re speaking to someone who will not only listen and validate your experience, but can offer advice and help, is a vital step.”
And don’t put it off by thinking “things will be better tomorrow”.
“If you feel like you need support, reach out for it sooner rather than later,” advises Frost.
“This will help while you’re in hotel quarantine but also moving forward, so that you can access any support you or your children may continue to benefit from once you’ve left quarantine.”
“Remember that ongoing support may be critical if the experience has triggered something for you in terms of your mental health.”
Contact a Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service counsellor 24 hours, seven days a week on 1800 512 348.
You can also talk to a Parentline counsellor or encourage your children to call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 to talk to a qualified counsellor.