Article written by Ed Weaver, registered psychologist.
People with ABI and their families aren’t strangers to dealing with adversity. Still, this is a new situation for everyone, and it poses new challenges.
Here are 10 tips for looking after your mental health in the weeks and months ahead.
One of the biggest threats to our wellbeing is the need to distance ourselves from people we care about. Connection is crucial for mental health, so staying in touch with friends and family should be a priority for all of us. Fortunately, modern technology gives us more options than ever before. Whether it’s through phone calls, messaging, Facetime or Zoom, make an effort to stay connected.
Don’t fight anxiety
Anxiety is a normal human emotion and a completely natural response to this situation. Because it isn’t pleasant, we usually try to block it out, fight it, or suppress it (including through alcohol – and it’s no surprise bottle shop sales have increased recently). Unfortunately, such attempts to avoid anxiety tend to make it worse or create new problems. An alternative is to simply notice anxious feelings and allow them to be there. Let them pass in their own time.
Focus on what you can control
Dwelling on ‘what if’ questions wastes our time and energy and drives up anxiety. Try to focus on what you can control to keep yourself and others safe, starting with good hygiene practices and following social distancing guidelines.
Find time for fresh air
Too much time indoors can lead to cabin fever, especially in a crowded house. Getting out for a stroll is rejuvenating and puts us in touch with the world around us. The crispness in the air and orange and red leaves dotting street trees is a reminder of the change in the seasons and that this too will pass.
The coronavirus is all over the news and social media, and not all of what is being shared is factual or helpful. To avoid drowning under a tsunami of anxiety-inducing corona-chatter, identify trusted sources of information and check them only as much as necessary (I aim for once per day).
Move your body
Getting your body moving on a regular basis is a great idea for many reasons. We all know it’s good for our physical health, but it can have powerful effects on our mood and mental health. Remarkably, exercise also boosts brain functioning and aids neuroplasticity!
Maintain routines and be productive
Routines provide stability and structure in uncertain times. Also, make the most of additional time at home by investing in things that give you a sense of achievement.
This could be:
- Improving your garden or growing a veggie patch
- Taking up a new hobby
- DIY jobs around the home
- Learning a musical instrument
- Trying some new recipes (this can only help with the next tip, too!)
Make a big effort in your relationships
With so much time cooped up under the one roof, tensions will run high for many families. This is why it’s important to put extra effort into your relationships. Do the little things to help and support your loved ones. Communicate openly and problem solve together. Remember, it’s often more important to be kind than to be right! Finally, reflect on how precious your family is to you. It helps keep day-to-day difficulties in perspective.
Help others (and yourself in the process)
Helping people gives us more than a warm fuzzy feeling; it shifts our attention outwards and acts as a circuit breaker for negative thought patterns. Looking beyond our own troubles to consider others is highly therapeutic. So cook a meal for an elderly neighbour, or reach out to a friend living alone. Don’t be afraid to get creative. I recently came across a sign that said, “Feeling blue? Take a succulent!” and there they were, laid out in a crate on the footpath. Such acts do lift spirits – for all involved.
Relax, it’s important
For my partner it’s a long hot bath with a magazine and calming music. I like nothing better than heading out to the garden with a good book. Relaxing activities can transport us to a new frame of mind. In stressful times, they put us back in touch with ourselves.
If you do find yourself really struggling, there is support available. Psychologists offer telehealth sessions, and your GP can provide a referral. There is also Lifeline on 13 11 14