Managing your mental health when you have the coronavirus
Beyond Blue’s Lead Clinical Advisor, Dr Grant Blashki, looks at how you can support your mental health if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Realising that you have COVID-19 may come as a shock. As the months progress though, people will likely begin to anticipate and prepare for the possibility. Either way, having COVID-19 is likely to bring further stress and worry to an already challenging experience.
Statistics tell us that for many, the illness will be self-limiting and the current plan in Australia is for most of these cases to be managed at home as they clear the virus. It’s nonetheless important to acknowledge the wide range of severity associated with COVID-19, from minor symptoms through to a serious condition requiring hospital or intensive care.
While your physical health and doing what you can to minimise your chances of spreading the virus are critical, it’s equally important to manage your mental health throughout your experience of the illness.
If you do have COVID-19 and are one of the many people able to manage your recovery at home, make sure that you are following the direction of your appointed medical professionals as well as the clear government guidelines about isolation.
It’s important for your wellbeing to remember that your efforts to isolate yourself means you are making a contribution. In doing so, you are not only looking after yourself and those around you, you are also protecting the most vulnerable members of our community.
Stick to the facts
While our minds can easily wander to worst-case scenarios at these times, try to stay calm and get your information from credible organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the Australian Government Department of Health.
While social media is great to use for a sense of connection to family and friends, try to limit the amount of information about the pandemic you absorb from non-credible sources, as it is often inaccurate and distressing.
Follow medical advice and try to maintain perspective
For your own reassurance, follow the medical advice you have received carefully. Try to maintain close regular interaction with your medical team, particularly regarding reporting any symptoms if they are worsening.
Fortunately, the new telehealth Medicare items make accessing your health team online much easier. If you haven’t already, speak to your GP about how to access this new service.
While it’s definitely critical to monitor your physical symptoms, it’s also important for your mental health that you don’t become overly focused on them. As best possible, try not to think about worst-case scenarios or whether your symptoms will get worse. Instead focus on what you can control, for instance how to best manage your own comfort and your experience of the symptoms through the illness.
Remember that in most cases, COVID-19 is a virus that will pass and be confident in the fact that that you can and should seek medical advice if symptoms are worrying you.
In a broader sense, it’s important to keep in mind that this pandemic is temporary. Right now, the very best scientists in the world are working on vaccines and treatments and so there is great cause for hope that we will get through this difficult period.
Take one day at a time
For people whose symptoms allow, establishing a routine is important as it lends us some sense of control at a time when much may feel beyond your control. Create a schedule for your days to give them some structure. Things such as showering and getting dressed and planning consistent meal times can help you establish a framework to your day.
If you can get your mind absorbed in a hobby or activity, this can be a great distraction from worrying about the illness. This might involve doing crosswords or a puzzle, reading a book and of course there are many ways to find positive forms of entertainment online.
Think about your strengths
Each day, try to recall times when you’ve successfully managed to overcome something really difficult in your own life. What strategies were helpful to you then? What strengths did you call on? Are you able to apply those strengths in some way, however small, to this situation?
Think about books, movies, music or people that may have inspired you throughout your life. Now is a good time to revisit them if it’s possible. Otherwise look online for pieces – whether a podcast, YouTube video or other – that will inspire you.
Even though you are physically isolated it’s very important to stay socially connected online with your family and friends. Let them know that you are in isolation and schedule regular catch ups with them, preferably on phone or by video chat rather than just text. This more personal contact will help foster a greater sense of connection, which is important for us all in the current climate.
Stick to your mental health plan
Remember that your mental health is important. If you have a pre-existing mental health condition, stick to your mental health plan as best you can.
Be proactive in managing your stress and looking after your mental health by staying in touch with your mental health professionals and continuing with your regular treatment regime using the telehealth options available.
In addition to the useful articles you’ll find on this dedicated Beyond Blue website, we have established a Coronavirus National Mental Health Support Service. Our forums thread, Coping during the Coronavirus outbreak, is a place where you can go to share your story safely and speak to others going through the same issues.
Additionally, there are a wide range of excellent mental health resources online which you can link to from the government’s Head to Health website.