With COVID-19 restrictions easing around Australia, many people are keen to get back to the structure and predictability of pre-pandemic life.
But as you adjust to the new normal, you may need to focus more energy on one important aspect: your emotional health.
The emotional toll of the pandemic
As you recover from a pandemic or traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, it’s normal to feel a range of thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms. You may experience a rollercoaster of emotions, including sadness, anger, frustration, relief and even guilt.
If you’ve noticed the pandemic has impacted your emotional health by making you feel more anxious during these challenging times, you’re not alone.
Around one in three people experience high levels of worry and anxiety during pandemics, suggests a review of behavioural responses during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
But the impact of COVID-19 seems to have taken a greater toll on our emotional health. As many as 57% of Australians reported feeling stressed because of the lockdown in April 2020.
While those anxious feelings usually diminish over time, some people may experience higher levels of anxiety and an increased risk of mental health issues.
Those who are more at risk include:
- Healthcare workers
- People in quarantine
- People with life-threatening cases of COVID-19
- People with pre-existing mental health conditions.
If you feel you have an increased risk of developing a mental health condition due to high levels of anxiety, it’s important to make an appointment with your healthcare professional.
As you adjust to the shock of sudden lockdown and the dramatic lifestyle changes that are here to stay, stay aware of your thoughts, feelings and actions.
Taking steps now to support your emotional health can improve your ability to function and help prevent long-term health issues.
Tips to help you cope and stay resilient during challenging times
Take care of your body
Staying in good health will help reduce the impact of stress and anxiety. To take care of your body, eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly and aim to get eight hours of sleep every night.
Allow time to relax
Relaxation activities can help to calm anxious feelings and thoughts. Try yoga, meditation, mindfulness or a daily calming ritual like a soothing bath or quiet music.
Incorporate activities you love into your daily routine
Spending more time on the activities you enjoy – exercise, hobbies – can help you to feel happier and more content in life. Don’t be afraid to prioritise your interests and put yourself first occasionally.
Limit your exposure to news
Too much exposure to news and media can increase feelings of anxiety and worry. Make sure you get your information and updates from credible sources.
Maintain meaningful social connections
Stay in touch with the people who matter most to you. Loneliness increases your risk of developing a range of mental health conditions, while increasing your meaningful social interactions helps reduce the loneliness associated with isolation.
Remember that your loved ones may be feeling anxious and worried, too. To support others, reach out, listen and be a consistent friend.
Be patient, and give yourself time to adjust
Adjusting to your new normal may take longer than you realise, so focus on supporting your emotional health – now, and in future. Recovery from any sort of disaster or traumatic event takes time, and the pandemic is no exception.
The good news is that humans are resilient beings who often thrive in the face of adversity. While you may find it difficult to cope now, you can stay on the road to recovery by taking steps to look after your emotional health.
Remember, seek help if you’re struggling to cope
If the state of your emotional health is impacting your work, home life, school and activities, make an appointment with your healthcare professional.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or you are struggling, call Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
If it is an emergency, dial 000.
 Bults, M., et al., Perceptions and behavioral responses of the general public during the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) pandemic: a systematic review. Disaster Med Public Health Prep, 2015. 9(2): p. 207-19.