Looking after yourself during a worldwide pandemic.
I originally wrote this piece about the Australian fires in December 2019 - January 2020, and feeling like it wasn’t quite right, I put it away in my drafts thinking I’d never have to pick it up again.
Unfortunately, we’re only a couple of months on from that devastation, and it’s once again become relevant with the current worldwide pandemic of Covid-19.
The Covid-19 pandemic is like nothing we’ve experienced before in Australia. Although a worldwide crisis, I make this distinction because, as a first world country, we’re extremely lucky and privileged to have never faced a disease or virus like this before, that has completely changed our lives.
Right now in Australia, we’re currently facing a much lower level of infection (and ultimately deaths) than many other countries are. But just because other countries have it worse right now, doesn’t mean our current reality isn’t taking a huge toll on our mental, physical and even financial health.
We’re facing unprecedented levels of unemployment, a constantly updating news cycle that is often anxiety inducing, forced physical distance from people we love, and instability in many areas of our lives.
For many of us, this pandemic has meant an abrupt end to our work, and therefore financial income. Or if we are able to work, many of us are working in roles serving the public and exposing ourselves to possible infection, often while facing levels of abuse from the scared, panicked public we’re trying our hardest to assist.
For our vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, those with existing respiratory or health conditions, and for those with mental health conditions (including eating disorders), this pandemic can be a whole new level of restriction, worry and impact.
For a minority of us, we’re minimally impacted. We’re young, with no immunocompromisation, we’re able to work from home, and we can exist in a safe environment.
No matter how impacted we are, it’s easy to feel guilty for trying to go on with some level of ‘day to day’ life while others are hurting or under threat, and no matter how much you donate or try to assist, it may feel like you’re never doing enough.
So how do you continue on in a healthy way when the world around you feels apocalyptic? Here’s some ways we can all look after ourselves and our mental health right now.
Do what you can, but recognise you can only do so much
Everyone has something they can do during national disasters.
It might be donating to a charity or emergency service that is assisting in this time of crisis, or it may be donating your time volunteering.
Donating comes in all shapes and sizes. You may have savings you can dip into and can share a significant amount with a cause, or maybe you can dig through your pantry for items you don’t use, and give it to someone who has less. Maybe you can offer to complete the errands or shopping your elderly neighbour needs done, keeping them safe from possible exposure.
It sounds cliche but every item, gesture or dollar that can be shared will assist someone or a service in need right now.
If you’re eligible you could also donate blood or plasma to help those in need.
Maybe you’re suddenly unemployed (or under-employed) and don’t have any money you can spare. That’s okay too.
You can always reach out to those isolating alone or without a strong support system. Send a message to someone who seems a little down too, reach out to someone who is working in a public role, or who may have family or friends that are and see how they’re coping.
If there’s nothing else you think you can do, you can always be there for those around you.
You can’t do it all.
Don’t beat yourself up or compare your ability to help to others abilities, just do what you can.
Take a break when you need to
The constant news can be exhausting.
The stories and articles can follow you from newspapers and TV, social media, events and into your work chats on Zoom or your phone calls to friends.
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed at times.
When you need a break, take one.
Switch off your phone, or scroll past the new updates for a couple of hours. Tell your friends you need a topic change. It’s important you provide yourself and others with respite from the sadness around us.
While it’s important to remain updated, constantly taking on negative content can wear you out emotionally, and affect your ability to care, help or react appropriately.
This virus will continue on for months to come, and it’s important we don’t use all our emotional energy now.
If we lose our ability to reasonably view and react to the tragedy unfolding, we will become unable to process or care as much as we want to, we risk sad stories becoming a new type of ‘normal’, which isn’t beneficial to anyone.
Keep going with the ‘day to day’ while you can
It’s okay to keep moving forward during tragedy.
If you are not personally affected, working from home, being social (within restrictions, and preferably virtually) and doing fun things is not being disrespectful. It is vital to maintain as much routine (and as much of your comfort zone) if you want to be in a position to help others longer term.
Continuing on doesn’t mean you don’t care.
You can sympathise with those under threat, either here or worldwide, and keep progressing forward without the need for anxiety or guilt. You won’t be in a position to help others if you’re not looking after yourself first.
Financial and emotional stability may allow you to donate money to worthy causes (even if it’s just lending your out-of-work friend some money until their JobKeeper/JobSeeker payments start), or it may mean you have the energy to give up your weekends or evenings to help those around you.
Don’t feel guilty when you’ve done nothing wrong. Continuing on is actually one of the most important things you can do right now.
Stay home, but don’t neglect your physical health
If you’re mentally feeling a little down, this can also impact your ability to look after your physical health.
The restrictions are constantly changing, outdoor spaces and gyms are closed, and the recommendation is always to stay inside as much as possible.
It can be hard to see the point in looking after yourself right now.
Keep your fluids up, avoid going outside when it’s without reason, and always use hand sanitiser, (and if necessary gloves and a mask) when you do.
Needing fresh air and a walk is a good enough reason to go outside. Just remember to keep your distance from others and wash your hands (and clothes depending) when you get home.
Look for ways to exercise that are indoors. If you can’t get outside to walk, swim, run or to do outdoor activities, look for other ways to keep your body moving.
There’s hundreds of personal trainers currently offering home programs, there’s a million no-equipment workouts on youtube, or just put some tunes on and dance around your living room.
Jane Fonda is even sharing more of her iconic 80’s-style workouts on Tik Tok, if you’re that way inclined.
At the very least, try to keep your food intake a little balanced and nutritious. It’s a little hard right now, but try your best to find some fresh foods and whole foods at the supermarket where you can. Your body will be thankful for any and all the loving it can get right now.
That being said, it’s completely okay to eat ‘junk’ food or over-snack right now too, please don’t beat yourself up about wanting some comfort food (If someone tells you differently, you tell them to come and talk to me). There’s no such thing as a cheat meal honey, especially right now.
Eat the donut and have seconds if you want to.
Heck! have a whole damn packet if you feel like it.
Fueling yourself (somewhat) properly, staying hydrated and using more energy during the day can help you sleep better, and help release endorphins to improve your mood while you’re feeling down about the world right now.
Talk about how you’re feeling
It’s fine to feel sad/depressed/angry/confused/hurt/upset about what is going on right now. The important thing is how you use those feelings.
When you’re down, talk it out - Message or call a friend, book a session with a professional or call your mum and ask her to take your mind off things.
When you’re angry, turn it into action - Write to your local MP about supporting our vulnerable populations and the action you want to see. Volunteer, stage an online protest, write your angry feelings down on paper or on social media. Get it out instead of bottling it up.
When you’re confused, look to educate yourself - Read through the statistics and (reputable) articles. Read the wild conspiracy theories that remind you there are people out there even more confused than you feel right now. Realise we’re all in this together and we need to come together (although not physically), and not push each other away.
Whatever you do, and however you feel, please know that you are not alone. There’s so many people that are hurting right now, and there’s so much we can do to change how we feel.
Look after yourself morally, financially, physically and emotionally however you can.
Your mental health can be affected by any area of your life feeling stressed, so we need to try and find balance wherever we can. This is so much easier said than done, but it’s so important to try.
Do what you can and be kind to yourself. You deserve to show yourself as much love and support as you’re showing to others right now.
This article is advice only, you should research all current restrictions and advice for your Australian state or territory.