Lockdown and Mental Health: A checklist for your wellbeing

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It is a difficult time for everyone in the community. Lockdowns, restrictions and the stresses of not being able to socialise. In this article, we look at the impact lockdowns can have on our mental health and some practical strategies and tips to help you cope.

Being stuck in a lockdown can drain your energy. It is a burden on the mind, body, heart and soul. Truly, it is of Allah’s tests that He in his infinite wisdom has chosen to test us within this day and age.

At the MWA, we have been dealing with people feeling the impact of this incredible tribulation day in, day out for the past 18 months. The stress affects us too. We are not beyond it and as community service providers we vicariously tend to share in the trauma of and impact on our community. 

Which is why some of these tips are so important. They have been critical in our own staff being able to maintain balance in their lives and perspectives in their day to day. 

We share with our community in the hope that people will implement them and, in the process, be able to make it through this challenging time where otherwise they may have struggled much more.

Part of that struggle is inevitable and natural. But what we’re all trying to fight is letting that struggle dominate and consume us. There is help available, and we hope that these tips are part of that. 

As we are cooped up indoors for a second wave of lockdown here in Sydney (and for those reading from elsewhere, maybe for the third, fourth or fifth time!), it’s more important than ever that you keep your mental health top-of-mind.

While we had a taste of normality seeing family and friends after the initial COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, the return to lockdown rules means that we need to consider the support networks we have around us in a different context.  Socially isolated or dealing with intense fatigue and isolation, the pandemic has affected everyone.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that COVID-19 has created a ‘parallel pandemic’ of poor mental health. 

It’s therefore critical that we stop and address how we can best look after ourselves and encourage others to do so.

Here are our 10 key pieces of advice to best look after our mental health.

1. Be kind to yourself

None of us expected to be living through a global pandemic in our lives. Yet here we are – self-isolating, working from home, sticking to lockdowns and adjusting the way we live our lives.

That’s a lot to take in. And that’s why, first of all: we need to be kind to ourselves.

We’re going through a difficult time and it’s okay to find it challenging. So let’s not be too hard on ourselves if we’re not feeling our best. Let’s instead take one day at a time. And of course, let’s also try and keep up hope.

After all: all bad things come to an end and as Allah (SWT) tells us in the Holy Qur’an: “… with hardship comes ease” (94:5).

2. Make time for self-care

When we don’t make time for ourselves, life can seem overwhelming. And this is all the more true when we’re working and living in the same space and everything seems to merge together.

We must set aside time for ourselves – even if it’s just 30 minutes a day – to focus on us and ourselves only. Our feelings, thoughts, and relationship with Allah. 

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Pray and meditate in solace if possible: Take some time to reflect and to decompress
  • Relax: Watch your favourite TV show or pick up a book you’ve been meaning to finish for ages
  • Reward yourself: Take time in the small moments of the day to enjoy something small but refreshing: a longer moment to yourself, a hot shower, an extra long walk or a coffee take away outside (this is still allowed!)

Whatever it is, the important thing is that it’s something that you enjoy and something for YOU only. So relax, take some time out and reward yourself because this time is tough on the best of us.

3. Eat well (healthy)

As the saying goes: “You are what you eat”. We all know that eating healthily and avoiding food that’s high in fat and sugar is good for our bodies. It’s important to understand that what we eat affects our mood as well as physiology. 

Eating better helps improve mood, give us more energy and the ability to think more clearly. When our blood sugar drops, we become tired, irritable and low in mood.

By eating regularly and choosing foods that release energy slowly, we can steady our blood sugar levels.

We can improve our diets by:

  • Having a good breakfast
  • Eating smaller meals at regular intervals (as opposed to fewer larger meals)
  • Choosing slow-release foods such as nuts, seeds, pasta, rice, oats and wholegrain bread and cereals
  • Avoiding foods which are high in sugar: sweets, sugary drinks, desserts and biscuits
  • Keeping hydrated – drinking lots of water
  • Ensuring a regular intake of fruit and veg – rich in vitamins and minerals
  • Limiting intake of caffeine to regulate energy levels and sleep patterns.

4. Keep a routine, even if it’s hard!

Keeping to a regular routine is a must when working from or confined to the home.

For parents (and especially many of the mothers in our community network) now home-schooling and caring for children pretty much 24/7, the old daily routine has changed dramatically.

Of course, we’re not where we were before physically, but daily life still carries on. And with that: so too must a routine.

Sticking to a daily routine is critical for maintaining a sense of “normality” and ensuring that we don’t get side-tracked by our beds, the sofa or our own thoughts. It reduces stress levels and can stop us ruminating.

By sticking to a routine, we can gain some sense of a regular “working week”/day amidst the madness of the pandemic. With less stress, a good night’s sleep, regular breaks and meals, we can look after our minds and keep healthier.

5. Get active outdoors

Getting fresh air out in green spaces is great for your mental health. And the perfect way to do this is by going for a walk

Physical activity is great for our mental wellbeing. Just 10 minutes a day of brisk walking can improve our mood, energy and alertness according to verified scientific research. Power walking, jogging, a long walk or even cycling are great ways to get out of the house and beat the blues.

What’s even better though, is if we can do this in a lovely green space such as a local park.

So, at a time when we’re feeling trapped, unhappy and fed up, put on your walking or cycling shoes and head to your local park for some exercise. Remember though that at the moment, you can only do this alone (and this may keep changing!)

6. Connect with others virtually

With Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype and lots of other ways to keep in touch, do connect with loved ones!

For people who are living on their own, maintaining contact with friends and family is one of the most important things we can do at the moment. This is crucial to fight loneliness.

Loneliness is often short-term and by keeping in touch with those outside of our home, we can expand our social life – albeit virtually!

You can even make an activity out of it. Why not set up a weekly film night with a friend or host a Zoom party? With a little bit of creativity and a lot of technology, there are many ways to connect and do something fun with other people.

It’s critical that whatever you do, you do it with other people. Long-term loneliness is damaging to our mental health and can even lead to depression, anxiety and increased levels of stress.

Even if you’re living with family and friends, it’s important to maintain our regular individual social relationships. You can still feel lonely if you feel disconnected, even if you’re not physically on your own.

Talking to our loved ones who we can’t see face-to-face but can chat with over video, gives us back some sense of control over our life and a change in the working-at-home schedule.

7. Seek help if you need it!

Medical professionals are here to help us when we need care.

Given the pandemic and the effects it’s having on all of our lives, feeling sad, lonely or unsure of the future is completely normal. We all feel this way from time-to-time.

However, if you’re finding your mood is affecting your ability to work and/or you’re struggling significantly with your mental health, please do seek professional help.

Speak to your doctor or reach out to a mental health charity for specialist advice. There is absolutely no shame in doing so – in fact, it’s an incredibly brave step.

8. Watch how much you or your loved ones work!

For those of us who are working from home or whose family members are, the good thing is that keeping busy gives us a sense of purpose – and helps ease financial worries. 

However, we mustn’t run the risk of overworking. And that’s all too easy when our home and office merge into one physical space. This has been well documented during the pandemic. 

By reminding ourselves of our work duties, sticking to our working hours and prioritising self-care (see above!), we can help reduce our stress levels.

One great way of ensuring that you separate work and “home life” is by dressing for work as you would do as if you were going to a workplace. 

9. Accessing community and financial support

For those who are doing it tough financially, financial worries are incredibly stressful and sadly this is something that’s been affecting a high number of individuals and families across Australia.

But you aren’t without help. Get in touch with the MWA or other helpful organisations to see how they can help. There are several government schemes and community organisations that are ready to help: through funding, emergency food support and more. 

You don’t need to suffer alone; in fact, you must make it a point not to! 

10. Speak out if you are suffering from domestic violence of ANY kind!

For women living in abusive homes, the pandemic is making it even harder to leave.

In addition to the deadly threat of Covid-19 on our lives, one of the worst outcomes of the pandemic is the negative effect of Coronavirus on women, which is well documented. 

For women stuck in abusive relationships, lockdown has increased the risks and/or frequency of being abused. Stuck at home, potentially financially insecure, socially-isolated and cut off from friends and family, these women are incredibly vulnerable.

Research has found that the pandemic has “exposed” a domestic abuse crisis. Quite notably, this isn’t due to a greater number of abusers but the social and economic pressures that have arisen as a result of Covid, which have in turn made it more difficult for women to leave abusive relationships.

Remember that your safety remains the number one priority in any situation. If you or anyone you know needs support, please do not hesitate to get in touch, and if you are in threat of violence, please call the police 000 as soon as you can.

The MWA is here to support the community. If you are facing struggles now or have any particular issues of concern that you would like us to raise further, please get in touch with us via info@mwa.org.au or 02 9750 6916.

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