Looking after your mental health in an insane world

April 1, 2020 by Lisa Bywaters

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Updated July 2022

Over the past few years, our worlds have turned upside down and inside out. And just when you think you’re getting the hang of the new ‘COVID normal’, something else changes. This makes it hard to find (and keep) your balance.

So it’s no wonder most of us are feeling anxious, stressed, upset, angry, vulnerable and a host of other emotions. When you also have a painful musculoskeletal condition, especially if you’re immunocompromised, all of these emotions may be heightened.

That’s why as well as looking after your physical health, it’s essential you also look after your mental health.

There are many practical things you can do.

Find a new routine

This will obviously depend on what you need to do in your day, if you have people depending on you, the day of the week etc.

It might help to sit down with the members of your household and create a calendar that includes everyone’s commitments and needs. Things to think about when creating your calendar:

  • Get everyone involved. It’s vital that everyone feels that their needs matter and they’re being heard.
  • Include specific time for fun stuff, exercise and connecting with family and friends.
  • Keep your weekends separate – this allows you the time you need to get your chores done (sadly, the laundry doesn’t stop because of a pandemic), exercise, do creative stuff, socialise, and get a break from the workday routine.
  • Be very clear on your hours. It’s easy to lose track of time if you’re working from home or your work/school routine has changed due to COVID. It’s important to have boundaries between work and home life.

Stay informed

There’s a lot of information out there about COVID, the flu season, Monkeypox, vaccinations, restrictions and mandates – some true, some not so much! This can add to our feelings of anxiety and stress. But we can’t bury our heads in the sand – we need to stay up-to-date with factual, current information so we can protect ourselves. Visit the Australian Government website for the latest health alerts from the government. You can also contact our nurses on the MSK Help Line weekdays on 1800 263 265 or email helpline@msk.org.au for info and support.

And once you’re up-to-date, put the news away for a while. It doesn’t help your mental state to continually check what’s happening. Consider having a specific time (or two) when you check the latest news and then go back to doing other things.

Get some sleep

We often struggle with sleep at the best of times because we live with chronic pain. Unfortunately, anxiety and stress can make this worse. But we need to do all we can to get some decent sleep. Our physical and mental wellbeing is inextricably linked to good quality sleep – and getting enough of it. Read our blog for some practical tips on getting a good night’s sleep.

The Conversation has also written a useful article about the importance of sleep, especially now: Sleep won’t cure the coronavirus but it can help our bodies fight it.

Exercise regularly

We’ve talked and will continue to talk about the importance of staying active. It helps us sleep better, maintain a healthy weight, manage pain, reduces our risks of developing other health conditions, and improves our mood. There’s clear evidence that regular exercise also reduces stress, anxiety and depression, and boosts our self-esteem.

Eat well

Hands up if you’re eating more often and/or more unhealthy food choices at the moment? Food is a comfort to us all…and when we’re feeling a bit lost, many of us reach for the food that makes us happy. But sadly, this gratification is short-lived. Try to get back into the habit of eating healthy, well-balanced meals and snacks – your mental and physical health will thank you.

Be careful with alcohol and other drugs

The temptation may be to drink a little more or use other drugs to make you feel better. But any mood changes you may experience are temporary, and drugs and alcohol have a negative effect on your mental health and wellbeing.

Stay connected

Many of us are worried about COVID numbers and the current flu season. This may be even more so if your immune system isn’t so good, and so you may decide to limit how often you go out. The good news is there are many ways you can stay connected and keep up with your friends and family, even if you don’t want to venture out of your home. The simplest way is to pick up the phone and call. As well as calling people, use tech to connect via social media platforms and apps.

Channel your inner creativity and create something

It’s a great way to relieve stress and distract yourself from the worries of the world. There are a lot of online tutorials and info to help you: write a poem/song/novel/blog; learn a craft/language/skill; grow a flower/herb/vegie garden; paint a landscape/portrait/abstract; organise your home/office/life; cook a new recipe.

The sky really is the limit. So ask yourself – what have you always wanted to do if you just had the time??

Turn off the screens/limit news

Although many of the tools we use to deal with this pandemic are online, we need to set limits. Too much screen time, too much news – it’s just not good for us. As with everything, moderation is key. Turn off the electronics and pick up a book, or go for a walk, weed the garden, do some deep breathing exercises, talk with someone, or try mindfulness. Do anything but look at your screen or the news.

Give yourself a break

Our world really is crazy at the moment, so it’s important to recognise that and give yourself a break. We’ve never dealt with a pandemic on this scale before, so be kind to yourself, and if you have a bad day or a meltdown, that’s ok; we’ve all done it. You’ll brush yourself off and keep on going. And if you feel like you’re not finding it as easy to move on, or get past these moments, it might be time to talk with your doctor about getting professional help.

Get help when you need it

This may be psychological help if you feel like you’re not coping emotionally, financial help if you’re worried about your money situation, or legal help if you have some concerns or questions about your employment rights,  writing your Will or setting up Powers of Attorney. Getting expert advice can help relieve some anxiety.

Take heart

We’ll get through this. We’ve been adapting to our changing world for some time now, and we’ll keep adapting as we need to. Although it may not always feel like it, we’re resilient. We all just need to be patient, follow the advice and guidance of our health professionals and the government, look after each other and be creative with how we live during these crazy times.

Contact our free national Help Line

Call our nurses if you have questions about managing your painmusculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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