Ways to manage working solo through the health crisis

By: Dr Kathleen O'Moore   |   The Black Dog Institute   |   www.blackdog.org.au/covid-19

In these challenging times, most of our Foundations, Trusts and NFPs are working from home and dealing with a radical change in the nature of their work. How do we look after ourselves in this new situation and continue to deliver at a time when our communities need us more than ever? Dr Kathleen O’Moore, of the Black Dog Institute, provides some guidance in troubled times.

The isolation weekly mental health check-in

As the news that we will all be staying at home for an extended period of time sinks in, it’s more important than ever to keep on top of our mental health.

Many of us will not be able to catch up with friends and family members for some time. These are often the people who first notice any changes in our ability to cope. For now, we need to do those check-ins ourselves. We should do these check ins weekly. This will ensure our mental health is kept in check and any issues are addressed when they appear.  

Follow a check list: 

  • Feelings: Set an alarm on your phone, or a reminder in your calendar, so at a set time each week you can quickly do a check in on a scale from 0 (‘not at all’) to 10 ( ‘extremely’) of how stressed, anxious or down you are feeling? It is normal for these scores to go up and down but if you notice they are increasing and remaining very high, then it’s time to prioritise your mental health.  
  • Body: Take a moment to check any changes in your body like tight shoulders or jaw, tightness in your chest, dryness of mouth, difficulty breathing or heart racing. These are all signs that you’re feeling stressed. 
  • Sleep: Have there been changes in your sleep pattern? If you are constantly struggling to get off to sleep, waking in the night or waking earlier than usual, and finding it difficult to get back to sleep, these are signs your mind is unable to switch off and relax. 
  • Thoughts: Are you always worrying about the worst-case scenarios? Wondering if things will ever get better or if you will be able to cope? Focusing on the ‘what if’ scenarios is not helpful and it is best to try to limit this as much as possible. 
  • Reactions/behaviour: Many day-to-day challenges are out of our control, but we can control how we deal or cope with these changes. If you find yourself frequently snapping at those you love, constantly having no motivation or interest in anything, or always depending on things like alcohol or food to cope it is time to prioritise your mental wellbeing. 
  • Check-in buddy: Choose a check in buddy. This may be your partner, housemate or even a friend or colleague you’re keeping in touch with via video messaging. Be honest about how you are coping. If you notice you are struggling, you can: 

Make a Self-Care Plan: 
Make a plan of what you can do to improve your mental wellbeing and ask a supportive person to help you stick to it.  

  1. Try to do some physical activity each day (even just an hour of exercise a week has been proven to lower depression and anxiety).  
  2. Every day try to do something that gives you a sense of pleasure (like having a coffee, reading a book or listening to music), and something that gives you a sense of achievement (like cooking a meal, learning a new skill, tidying up around home, or completing work tasks).  
  3. Stop the cycle: sometimes without even knowing we can be doing things that we think will make us feel better but actually make us feel much worse. For instance, speaking regularly with a person who may not be as supportive or helpful as we think, or spending too much time resting or sleeping when we have no energy. Try to notice how different things you are doing make you feel and where possible (and if it is appropriate) reduce those that make you feel a lot worse. 
  4. Try to notice when you are thinking in an unhelpful way. Ask yourself: Is there another, more helpful way I could think about this situation? What will make me feel better? What would I tell a best friend who said this to me? 
  5. Stay connected: even though we are stuck in physical isolation, this doesn’t have to mean social isolation. When we are home, we will need to be creative about trying new ways to connect. If socialising helps your mood, schedule a virtual coffee with a friend each day. If going to the gym or yoga helps you reduce stress, try an online class. If you love to sing and dance, join a virtual choir or dance group. If you don’t know how, or don’t want to use virtual connection try calling a friend or sending letters. If taking time out helps, find a quiet place, take a few deep breaths, go for a walk or listen to music. 
     
  • Use the 54321 technique when feeling overwhelmed: Using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, you will purposefully take in the details of your surroundings using each of your senses. Strive to notice small details that your mind would usually tune out, such as distant sounds, or the texture of an ordinary object.  
    • What are 5 things you can see? Look for small details such as a pattern on the ceiling, the way light reflects off a surface, or an object you never noticed. 
    • What are 4 things you can feel? Notice the sensation of clothing on your body, the sun on your skin, or the feeling of the chair you are sitting in. Pick up an object and examine its weight, texture, and other physical qualities. 
    • What are 3 things you can hear? Pay special attention to the sounds your mind has tuned out, such as a ticking clock, distant traffic, or trees blowing in the wind. 
    • What are 2 things you can smell? Try to notice smells in the air around you, like a recently cooked meal or coffee. You may also look around for something that has a scent, such as a flower or an unlit candle. 
    • What is 1 thing you can taste? Grab a snack and focus your attention closely on the flavours. 

       
  • Get professional help when you need it: If you are feeling very anxious or depressed for more than two weeks, it is time to get professional help. There are a range of free and low-cost online programs that you can access from home and complete anonymously (see below) or with the support of a health professional (such as THISWAYUP or MindSpot). You can visit:
    • MyCompass - an online self-help program for people experiencing mild-to-moderate anxiety and depression. 
    • BiteBack - an online positive psychology program for young Australians between 13-16 years old. 
    • iBobbly - a self-help app for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and above.  
    • Online Clinic - an anonymous assessment tool for common mental health conditions that provides you with a personalised report to discuss with your GP.  You can also contact your GP about accessing bulk-billed sessions with a Clinical Psychologist via video or phone. 

       
  • Crisis support: If you find yourself very distressed and need immediate support contact: 

www.blackdog.org.au/covid-19 

Apr. 08, 2020

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