Illustration of a woman cooking, meditating and watching tv
 Illustration of a woman cooking, meditating and watching tv

Managing your mental health – taking control in uncertain times

There are a range of measures people with existing mental health conditions can put in place to support their health and wellbeing through the COVID-19 pandemic. This article looks at the importance of trying to manage uncertainty.

As humans, we’re hardwired to crave stability. Our brains don’t like uncertainty.

It’s perfectly natural to feel unsettled and anxious about current world events.

And it can be easy to get caught in a spiral of ‘what ifs’, worrying about our health, our family, our financial security, and how and when things will return to normal.

But there are ways to manage this period of uncertainty and reduce stress to help us cope.

Psychologist Sabina Read said it’s important to remember that this disruption is temporary and to focus on what we can control.

Rather than projecting into the future, break each day down into manageable goals and focus on each small task.

We spend so much time brooding and agonising over all these things that are out of our control when the bit that we can control is what I do today, and what choices I make that impact on my behaviour,
she said.

In these times of uncertainty, it can be tempting to be constantly plugged into the news to look for answers.

But while it’s important to keep up-to-date with the latest public health information, too much exposure to news can increase stress and make it harder to cope.

Ms Read said limiting our coronavirus news and social media intake to twice a day at set times for a limited period, and only relying on reputable sources such as the World Health Organisation or the Australian Government , was a good way to alleviate anxiety.

If we constantly have Twitter and Facebook going and the news on and the radio on, we just continue to hear repeated news bulletins or headlines and the mind doesn’t know that it’s just the same thing on repeat. The mind hears it as another onslaught of fear and crisis so we need to reduce our exposure because there’s a repetitive, cumulative nature that is not helpful.

Focusing on our own behaviour – how our individual actions can help slow the spread of the virus – is one of the things we can control.

We can also create routines to build structure into our day, stay connected with loved ones and look after our physical health.

The brain is hardwired to pull us back to the ‘what ifs’ and the not knowing and the fear because it thinks that’s what we need in order to survive,
Ms Read said.

But instead of asking, how long will this last for, ask yourself, what do I need today in order to feel satisfied, safe, fed, and connected?

If we each were able to attend to our own needs and those of our inner tribe or community, whether it’s family or neighbourhood, then the ‘what ifs’ become less loud. Because we know what today looks like and what tomorrow looks like, and that’s all we need to focus on.

Follow the links below for more information on the other key measures Beyond Blue has highlighted that will help strengthen and support your mental health through the coronavirus pandemic.

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