With the rapid spread of COVID-19 we find ourselves plunged into a global health crisis. Most likely, we are only in the early stages of the pandemic so it will reshape our economy, society and politics, no doubt permanently. As each day unfolds COVID-19 is affecting our everyday lives in many ways, from the way we access essential grocery and household items in our supermarkets, to changes to our work and travel arrangements as well as our children’s sport and education platforms.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, many families around the world were already spending a lot of time and energy thinking about how they could afford and access food and other life necessities. During the crisis, the most vulnerable in our community, including those in casual employment, face the rapid loss of their income – spent mainly on food and accommodation, causing a great deal of anxiety. For many others, simple access to shops has also become very worrying along with the prospect of isolation for an unknown amount of time.

Given the circumstances, it is ok to feel concerned – but one should not panic. There are things we can do to help us through the situation and improve our social connections in the process.

Why do we panic?

As humans, we are in most cases triggered by our emotions and quite often the behaviours of others. When we are under stress our decision making facilities change, causing us to make impulsive decisions as we are not thinking as clearly as we normally would.

Research shows that our brains are designed as an “anticipation machine”, and preparing for the future is one of its most important roles. In these times of uncertainty, we look for ways to regain this control however we can. We could find ourselves stockpiling, or reacting to those who are stockpiling by buying a few extra just in case, as we fear the coming changes to our way of living. Anxiety and uncertainty lead us to behave more irrationally than normal. This is amplified by what we are seeing in the media, the more we talk to people about the situation, and what we are witnessing firsthand in within our community, as COVID-19 is constantly on our minds.

A great example of this is the toilet paper saga. Many of us still don’t understand ‘why’ toilet paper has become such a sought-after commodity. However, through the media we have been inundated with photos of empty shelves and even videos of physical fights breaking out in supermarkets in order to get some, making us fear we will too miss out, which has led to a widespread bulk buying epidemic throughout Australia and the world.

We recognise that the COVID-19 outbreak has people worried, but it’s important we maintain perspective and look after ourselves, families, colleagues and neighbours during this time.

5 ways to help us manage our wellbeing through the COVID-19 situation

1. Look after your well being

Taking the time to look after ourselves now is one of the best things we can do for our own health and to support those around us.

  • Eat well. Get into a routine of having healthy meals with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and remember to drink plenty of water.

    • Local fruit markets are still in operation and there are lots of other online food services available. To date it is actually easier to find fresh food items, opposed to some convenience foods, that won’t serve our body as well.

    • If you are still employed and can afford to, why not take this time to support your local cafes and restaurants that are being hugely impacted by this situation.

  • Get outside, get some sun and fresh air. These things are not only proven to make you happier, they help your immune system as well as clear your mind. Just make sure you stick to the current social distancing advice if venturing out.

  • Do something you enjoy that allows you to switch off. Allowing yourself time to recharge, will help you cope better. Maybe it’s reading a book, listening to some music, or just taking a little time to yourself away from everything.

  • Having an exercise routine is really important for your physical and mental health. You can do something as simple as going for a walk. Many gym and fitness centres are moving to online services, and there are plenty of fitness videos available on YouTube that you can follow along with.

  • Be kind to yourself, this is an anxious time for many of us and it is important not to be too hard on yourself if you are not achieving everything you normally do. It may take some time to adjust, if you are feeling particularly overwhelmed, talk to someone (Lifeline) or join an online support group (Beyond Blue) or speak to a friend or family member.

2. Enjoy the downtime to (re)connect with family and friends

Take this downtime as an opportunity to spend some time (re)connecting with your family and friends.

  • If you have family at home, pull out the board games, go for a bike ride, do some cooking and have some fun together.

  • Pick up the phone and check in on your family and friends. Although we need to practice social distancing or what we prefer to call physical distancing, it is really important that we check in via phone and video calls which can make all the difference for some people, particularly those living alone.

  • Catch up on some jobs you have been too busy to do around the house.

  • Look for new ways to shop, maybe start a veggie garden. Being more prepared for the future will give you a sense of control now and more organised for the future.

3. Limit your daily news intake

Even with the best intentions, it can be hard to go about your day without being constantly drawn into updates, rumours or conversation about COVID-19. And rightfully so, it is a constantly changing situation, affecting us all and it’s all over the news, radio, and social media platforms.

However, on average 95% of news stories regarding COVID-19 are showcasing anti-social behaviour or untrue information further aggravating the issue and our anxiety levels.

We all need to stay informed, but research shows by not taking a break it can have a big impact on our health and wellbeing, making the situation appear worse than it is.

Instead, try:

Being selective of where we get our information from. Follow a few reliable media resources such as the WHO WhatsApp health alert and take a break from the rest and limit the time you spend on these.

  • Following some good news pages. There are many out there trying to showcase good deeds and uplifting messages to help boost spirits #thekindnesspanademic is just one of many great ones available.

    Many of the media giants are jumping on board to help mitigate the situation with amazon releasing a 20milion dollar investment into diagnostic development to help speed up the detection of COVID-19, as well as upping its online services.

    Google is doing its bit by helping to build an online platform for coronavirus testing and even simplify the message image when performing a google search, by including a handwashing icon within its imagery.

Facebook has created a dedicated Coronavirus page to help people find accurate information, as well as taking extra messages to try and stop misinformation and harmful content.

  • Limit your own sharing of COVID-19 information. Thus preventing the spread of false or misleading information, whist helping others who might be trying to take a break, do just that.

4. Look for opportunities to help others

Research shows that helping others not only makes us feel better, it can boost our mood and our health. We feel more complete when we are contributing, it gives us a feeling of accomplishment and personal achievement.

  • Be kind to others. We are all going through this together and facing our own challenges. There are many people working tirelessly for us in order to keep our critical services running, so instead of getting frustrated with them for things out of their control, why not thank them, you may even make their day.

  • Check-in on elderly neighbours, family and friends to ensure they are doing ok, and have everything they need. By simply checking in could make them feel that they are not alone.

Helping doesn’t have to be hard, by simply being kind, following the government’s guidelines as we are asked, we are all helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.

5. Take the time to learn and grow from this experience

Looking on the bright side is not always easy in times for fear and anxiety. However, taking the time to look at areas that we can control and improve within our lives, while we have the time, will help make life easier now and in the future.

For most of us ensuring we have enough supplies has been our main focus, but what if instead of adding more stress to our days by going to the shops, we use this time to clean out our cupboards, use up what we already have on hand and look for better ways to do things?

A spring clean of our overflowing closets and garages may just be the thing that can help someone else in need. It is also a great way to reflect on what we already have, and can happily live with when we need too.

These actions will not only help save us money, but it will also help us reduce our household waste, whilst finding new and better ways to live and shop. Staying at home will also save lives!

Reports from China and Italy, have already shown the effects the lockdowns are having on the environment, with decreases in pollution and improved water quality already being seen within weeks.

Imagine if every one of us used this time to improve one thing we have been doing in our lives for the better, to make things easier for ourselves, whilst benefiting those around us, our communities and the planet?

We are all in this together, and together we can all make a difference. Let’s share kindness, not panic and learn and grow from this experience.

Authors: Simone Winsch, Dr. Timo Dietrich, Dr. Joy Parkinson