At the beginning of the year, so many of us had high hopes for 2021. We’d done the hard yards (particularly in Victoria) and we now knew how to beat the virus. Unfortunately, we were unrealistically optimistic – not knowing Delta was madly evolving on the sidelines. Seven months down the track and we’ve realised that we still have a few more difficult times to manage – although hopefully not too many.
The mental gym is always open, so use it.
Victorians have had five (at the time of writing) lockdowns and Sydney is struggling with a significant outbreak. For some, it is difficult not to get overwhelmed by the uncertainty, the inability to plan, the financial distress and the feeling that the world as we knew it is some way off from returning.
If one good thing has come out of this pandemic, it is how talking about mental health issues has become accepted. The understanding of the difficulties people are facing is universal, and many business owners are putting in place approaches to help their teams maintain their resilience.
Working on your mental health is really important. It’s not something we are used to doing, but it’s something we do need to embrace. Here are a few simple strategies that can help us to survive the uncertainty and build our mental resilience.
- It’s easy for the mind to wander down a dark alleyway looking for the worst outcomes, imagining new threats. When you find yourself doing this, drag it back to a more positive path. Have a list of good things in your life to think about, have an anchor word – a word that you can say out loud or in your head, that will stop these dark thoughts in their tracks, and give you the time to redirect them in a positive direction.
- Work on a positive mindset. Spend time listing what is good in your life – find at least three things to be thankful for, and write them in a notebook. They don’t have to be worthy of celebration – even simple things such as “went for a walk in the sun” or “saw a wedgetail eagle flying overhead” or even “great zoom catch-up with my best friend”. Do this every day and review them every now and then, to remind yourself that there are things for which to be grateful.
- There’s usually a physical manifestation of the fact that we are stressed. It might be clenching our jaw, loud puffing breaths – most people know what their outward sign is. As soon as you notice it, stop what you are doing (if you can) and take the time to relax. Move away from whatever you are doing and sit and close your eyes, lower your shoulders, relax your jaw and eyes, and just focus on loosening every part of your body.
- Go for a walk. Put some music on or an audiobook and stride out. Take a different route each day (variety is the spice of life) and make it a regular part of your day, weather permitting!
- Turn off the news alerts. Catch up on those case numbers and restrictions just once or twice a day. Don’t be captive to every headline. And more importantly, get your news from a responsible and reliable source.
- If you can’t cope, ask for help. There’s no shame in it. It may be from a family member, a friend or even an organisation like Beyond Blue or Lifeline. The act of sharing how you feel is cathartic and works to lessen your mental stress.
- It’s been amazing to see communities pull together during this pandemic. The gifts in letterboxes, the teddy bears in windows during the first lockdown, the donations of gifts and money to those who needed it. Helping others is a great way to take your mind off your own problems. If you can afford it, give some money to the local grocery shop to pay for the food of someone who is struggling; volunteer; help an elderly or struggling neighbour, for example.
Stay physically fit
- Whether that’s going to the gym (when allowed), walking, doing online yoga classes, riding that exercise bike or playing golf, it’s really important for your mental health to be physically fit.
Working on your mental health is probably one of the most important things you can do right now (apart from getting a vaccination). It will help you cope with your circumstances whatever they are; it will help keep your relationships healthy; and your mental strength will put you in a good place to help others if necessary.