During the COVID-19 pandemic, governments in countries across the world have been doing what they can to help their citizens, keep them afloat, look after their mental health and attempt to mitigate some of the emotional, financial and psychological havoc that this virus has wreaked. There are a group of people that have fallen through the cracks, however. These are the numerous international students and graduates living and studying in a country that is not their own and unable to get support from either their home country or their host country.
In Australia, as of September 2019, there were some 720, 000 international students studying across Australia. Of these students, over 50% hail from China or other Asian countries. The export income generated in Australia from international students is $37.6 billion. Unfortunately, when the pandemic broke out, this group was overlooked and only recently, have Australian states made changes to assist international students and graduates living on the temporary graduate visa, which allows international graduates to work in Australia for 1-2 years to gain practical experience in their field.
If you are an international student in Australia and you are struggling, it is completely understandable.
Not only do you have the stress of financial difficulties, considering all the jobs cuts as a result of this pandemic, but you are far away from family and friends and your core support network. You have the added emotional stress of knowing that you can’t be near loved ones if they fall ill and even if you have the possibility of returning home, which in many cases is not an option due to border closures, you have the fear of jeapordising your studies and the even bigger fear of potentially contracting the virus while travelling and bringing it home to your families. It is absolutely normal that your mental health would be taking strain during this pandemic.
Before we get lost down the road of despair, let’s look at the things you can do to help yourself and the resources that are available to you.
Financial support by state:
Queensland International Student Crisis Assistance Package
Queensland has put aside $10 million to support international students who are experiencing severe financial hardship due to COVID-19. Check if you are eligible here. If you are a student and you pay separate utility bills (in your name and not as part of your rental payment), you are eligible for the Queensland Government’s $200 household utility bill relief, which should automatically be taken off your bills.
New South Wales
NSW have put together a $20 million package to fund temporary crisis accommodation for international students. The NSW Government will fund up to 20 weeks of accommodation at approved student accommodation and homestay providers for international students with no home or means to pay for one .To apply, visit Apply for international student COVID-19 crisis accommodation There is also a 24/7 international student support service, which you can access through the NSW Government COVID-19 hotline (13 77 88). Here, you can get free advice and information on other support available, such as the moratorium on rental evictions and medical, mental health and legal support. Foodbank and the Rapid Relief Team, along with the NSW government, are delivering emergency relief packages and food boxes to those who are being instructed to self-isolate.
StudyPerth Crisis Relief (SPCR) is a program aimed at looking after the needs of international students during COVID-19 by providing support services such as food, shelter, and health and wellbeing and legal rights support. Be sure to first contact your education provider to check how they can support you before you apply to SPCR, as students who don’t get support from their institution will get priority.
If you are an international student in Victoria and have lost wages and work due to the COVID-19, the Victorian Government’s $45 million International Student Emergency Relief Fund may be able to help you with a one-off payment of $1100. Other measures being taken are one-off rent relief grants, utility relief grants and assistance in finding work through Working for Victoria. Victoria has also set up a dedicated COVID-19 online support hub, where you can find support programs and services such as food relief. You can get free advice and support from the Study Melbourne Student Centre, including information about mental health services and referrals to other services.
South Australia is helping international students through their International Student Support Package. The South Australian Government have teamed up with the University of Adelaide, Flinders University and the University of South Australia to match the funding they provide to international students. For international students not enrolled at one of these three universities, a $500 emergency cash grant may be available to those who meet the criteria.
You can get low-cost food with your student card at the Baptist Care Community Food Hub.
If you have been in Australia for longer than 12 months, you may be able to access your superannuation early. Login to myGov website and following the intention to access coronavirus support instructions.
If you are a temporary visa holder, you may be eligible for the Pandemic Isolation Assistance Grants to help with financial hardship. To access this service, call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.
Ask Izzy helps people in crisis find services available to them in their area. These services include emergency housing, food, health, counselling and more.
Australian Red Cross is providing an emergency fund for international students who are in crisis without support. International student visa holders should first contact the Red Cross by email to access the support.
International Student Support Network ISSN
If your education provider confirms that you are vulnerable as a result of COVID-19, you may be eligible for a heavily discounted ISSN homestay placement, include a private room, meals, utilities and host family support.
Counselling services available for free:
eHeadspace provides free online support/counselling to young people 12 – 25, based in Australia. They also have free resources on their website. Their app, ‘Weathering the Storm’ gives you access to meditation, sleep, and movement exercises.
In NSW, international students can access mental health support from the Mental Health Hotline, which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. PH: 1800 011 511
The ASKPEACE Project provides counselling and support for people from non-English speaking backgrounds. PH: 08 8245 8110
- Beyond Blue
This non-profit organisation can help you with things like depression, suicide, anxiety and other mental health issues.
Online coronavirus forum
Phone: 1300 22 4636
Lifeline provides a 24-hour support & suicide prevention line and can help anyone who is in personal crisis.
COVID-19 Phone: 13 11 14
Getting a Mental Health Care Plan
The Australian Government requires health care providers to cover the benefit amount listed in the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) for out-of-hospital medical services. This means international students are fully covered for sessions with general practitioners (doctors) and psychiatrists. But students are only partially covered for up to 10 sessions per year with psychologists, having to cover the remaining fee by themselves.
In most cases, students must pay the full amount up front and will only get the part payment back by going to the office of their insurance provider. To see a psychiatrist or psychologist you must first be referred by a GP and there’s a two month waiting period for pre-existing conditions. Further coverage is available at an increased cost.
Learn more about how to get on a mental health plan here.
R U OK? is a non-profit organisation dedicated to suicide prevention. Their vision is a world where we’re all connected and protected from suicide.
Their mission is to inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with people around them and support anyone struggling with life.
Their goals are to:
- Boost your confidence to meaningfully connect and ask about life’s ups and downs
- Nurture your sense of responsibility to regularly connect and support others
- Strengthen your sense of belonging because we know people are there for us
- Be relevant, strong and dynamic
Here’s how you can initiate a conversation that could save someone’s life:
1. Ask: Are you OK?
Be relaxed, warm and concerned. Help them open up by asking open ended questions like “How are you going?” or “What’s been happening?”
Mention specific things that have made you concerned for them, like “You seem less chatty than usual. Is everything okay?”
If they don’t want to talk, don’t push them. Tell them you’re still concerned about changes in their behaviour and you care about them.
2. Listen attentively without judgement or interruption
Take what they say seriously and don’t interrupt or rush the conversation. Don’t judge their experiences or reactions but acknowledge that things seem tough for them. If they need time to think, sit patiently with the silence. Show that you’ve listened by repeating back what you’ve heard (in your own words) and ask if you have understood them properly. Sometimes just the act of having someone listen non-judgmentally can mean everything.
3. Encourage Action
Trying asking the following:
- “What have you done in the past to manage similar situations?”
- “How would you like me to support you?”
- “What’s something you can do for yourself right now? Something that’s enjoyable or relaxing?”
If they’ve been feeling really down for more than two weeks, encourage them to see a health professional. Their GP is the best person to start with. Be positive about the role of professionals in getting through tough times. If money is a concern, remind them that there are many community centres who offer free counselling for this exact reason.
Remember to call them in a couple of weeks. If they’re really struggling, follow up with them sooner.
You could say: “I’ve been thinking of you and wanted to know how you’ve been going since we last chatted.”
If they haven’t done anything, don’t judge them. Stay in touch and be there for them. Genuine care and concern can make a real difference
Try to Avoid:
- Arguing or debating about their thoughts of suicide
- Discussing whether suicide is right or wrong
- Guilt tripping them
- Trivialise their problems by telling them others have it worse
- Say things like “don’t worry”, “you have everything going for you” or “cheer up”
- Interrupt with stories of your own
- Attempt to give a diagnosis of a mental illness
Losing something or someone is hard. Letting go and accepting it is even harder.
During this pandemic, many of us have experienced losses—of jobs, of family members, of friends, of security, of relationships, of our sense of who we are and how our world works. With every loss, grief is a natural reaction that needs time and space to work through our systems.
Psychologist at Uplift Psychological Services, Dr Katherine Stewart, notes:
‘Loss is a natural consequence of life. The loss of your house in a bushfire, the loss of a loved one to Covid-19, the loss of a beloved pet, a career, a marriage, cultural identity, or the loss of health. At the heart of loss sits grief, the emotional territory that has no map that clearly defines the nature and guidelines of the grieving process. While researchers, including Swiss-American psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, have attempted to identify the stages of grief, their models are often seen as general, linear and limited. They can miss the uniqueness of a person’s own expression of grief, whether it’s personal or cultural. People can grieve for days, years or a lifetime. Some people express their grief by crying endlessly, while others hold their breath and swallow hard, and others use their faith to calm the waters. Whichever way grief is expressed, it is all part of the human process’.
There is no one way to grieve and no quick-fix balm that will ease the pain indefinitely. Many times, your grief will subside only to reappear uninvited when a trigger or experience sets it off. It is said that time heals all wounds but some wounds are healed in waves. In the realm of losing a loved one, the current situation of social distancing and the inability to carry out the normal funeral processes can make it even more difficult to work through the maze of grief.
To help you, we have put together some ideas of ways to deal with the loss of a loved one and to grieve in a healthy way. These will not take away the pain, but they may help you to manage it in a way that does the least damage to your psyche.
Say goodbye in your own special way
If you have experienced the loss of a loved one recently, you probably wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye in the usual way that your culture dictates due to social distancing. If that is the case, try to create a space to say goodbye in a way that is meaningful to you. Whether that is lighting a candle and thinking of your good memories of the person, or going for a walk in nature and speaking out loud to them, or perhaps creating a tribute of some sort to them. Saying goodbye will help give you the closure you need.
Plan a memorial service
As funerals cannot be carried out in the traditional manner at the moment, see if it’s possible to livestream the service and send digital messages to be shared with others. Plan to have a proper memorial service when COVID-19 is done so that you can have some peace in knowing that, for now, you are doing the best you can in the circumstances to honour the person.
Allow Yourself to Grieve
As we have mentioned, there is no right way to grieve, no set timeline that is acceptable, and different people deal with things in different ways. Grief is a natural process and you are completely entitled to move through it at your own pace and in your own way. Try not to judge yourself too harshly if it takes you longer to get back to ‘normal’ again because that normal no longer exists. Your world has changed irrevocably and what you go on to create is a new normal.
It’s important to reach out to your support system. If you cannot see them face-to-face, the beauty of technology is that you can still video call and message. If you need time alone, let them know. If you need daily messages of moral support, let them know. Part of being human is our need and sense of community and you can and should draw on your community in times of loss.
When you are going through a loss, remember to give yourself simple pleasures and distractions to keep yourself afloat. Physical nurture like massages, exercise, good food, and mental nurturing like meditations, praying, reading books or articles that either inspire you or help you to process your feelings, can all help you to get through the most painful times. Sometimes writing things down can help. Journaling may take the turmoil out of your mind for a while and put it onto paper instead. None of these will eliminate the grief, but they go a long way to helping you to take breaks from it so that you can survive it.
Overall, give yourself time and allow yourself to feel what you are feeling. You are not alone in your experience but it can sometimes feel that way. If you are struggling to get through it on your own and find that friends and family do not know how to help you, perhaps consider talking to a grief counsellor or psychologist (see blogs on how to find a psychologist and how to get a Mental Health Care plan). You can also find support in bereavement groups here: https://grief.com/group-resources/
Body image is a subject that causes many people a lot of emotional and mental stress.
We are constantly inundated with images on all forms of media of celebrities and models airbrushed to perfection and we are plagued by unrealistic expectations of how our bodies could or should look. To exacerbate this problem, many of us are now confined to our homes due to Coronavirus, which means that our routines for maintaining a healthy body and mind have been disrupted. It also means we are more likely to indulge in unhealthy eating habits stemming from feeling down or stressed, or just out of pure boredom.
With all the hype around the Quarantine 15—the idea that many people will gain around 15 kg during the pandemic—it is understandable if you are struggling with body image issues and are preoccupied with negative thoughts about your body.
If this resonates with you, here are some helpful tips to try refocus your mind and help your body during this time.
Curate your social media
Social media is useful for helping us to feel connected to others even though we may not be able to physically be in their presence. Certain aspects of social media, however, are not helpful and are possibly even harmful to our mental well-being. Luckily, you have control over what you do or don’t see. On any of the platforms, such as Instagram or Facebook or Tiktok, unfollow things that make you feel inadequate or lead you to start unfairly comparing yourself with others. Rather, find accounts to follow that inspire, motivate and uplift you. Perhaps it’s an account of motivational quotes or positive body image stories or something completely unrelated that piques your enthusiasm. Be selective about what you take in and your mind will feel the positive effects.
Here are some accounts worth following:
Do exercise videos at home that you enjoy
There is a myriad of videos on platforms such as Youtube on almost every subject you can think of. If you enjoy yoga, you can find a yoga video. If you prefer HIIT, there are numerous videos to work out to. The important thing is to choose something you genuinely enjoy and then commit to doing it a certain number of times a week. If it makes you feel good and you like what you are doing, you are more likely to stick to it. Incorporate it into your schedule.
Set a schedule
This leads to the next tip. Get a routine going with meal times, workout times, work times, relaxation times and social times. The stability a routine provides means that you are less likely to listlessly make your way to the fridge and snack unnecessarily. Having set meal times will help you to monitor your food intake, and planning around these will help you to make healthier decisions on what to eat.
“If you spend a lot of time online, finding social media accounts to follow that inspire, motivate and uplift you can be an incredible for learning body positivity.”
Learn to cook healthy meals
Most people have a bit more time on their hands right now. This may be a good time to learn a new skill and healthy cooking has the added benefit of improving your physical and mental health. Your body image can only improve if you feel good about what you are putting into it.
Meditation is a useful tool to calm the mind and practice controlling negative thoughts. Again, Youtube is a good source for learning to meditate. There are also numerous apps such as Insight Timer and Calm, where you can find guided meditations to get you started. A good idea is to start your day with a meditation to set you intentions and put your mind in a positive state.
Start practising self-love habits
We are often very quick to criticise ourselves but slow to offer any positive self-affirmation. Try to look at your good points—the things you love about yourself and the things that others love about you. Remember you are so much more than just a body and be grateful that your body can function in the ways that i does. Start talking to yourself like you would to a friend when he/she is having a bad day. As hard as it can be, learn to appreciate your flaws—they are what makes you human.. If self-love feels unachievable, focus on self-compassion. Be kind to yourself and your body.
Finally, if you are struggling to cope, there are sources that can help you. The Butterfly Foundation specialises in helping those who are struggling with an eating disorder. You can also call their national helpline on 1800 33 4673 or chat to them online. If you want to see a psychologist who specialises in Eating Disorders then it might be worthwhile to go on a Mental Health Plan by first going to your GP.
As we have seen in Melbourne, there have been a rise of new COVID-19 cases.
Anyone who has been to any of the current hot spots or has been in contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 must self-isolate. Even if you are tested and it comes up negative, the Government still wants you to self-isolate for 14 days in case the virus begins to show.
If you are currently self-isolating here a few ways to stay mentally healthy.
*For all Coronavirus related questions call the National Coronavirus Helpline at 1800 020 080. This line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Maintain a routine
Having some kind of daily plan, even if it is small, can help you feel like you feel a sense of control and satisfaction. Try to set an alarm if you know you oversleep, and force yourself to get up and do something. Getting out of bed will help you avoid falling into a slump.
Learn a new skill
The good news is that this virus has forced everything online. This means that you have the world’s knowledge right at your fingertips. There are literally hundreds and thousands of things to learn, whether a short course on Udemy or a longer term course through The University of Sydney.
Self-isolation is not a prison sentence (although it may sometimes feel that way). Stay in touch with friends. Call people and set up virtual hangouts. You are not alone.
Get lost in a book
Find a good story and immerse yourself in it fully! Books are one of the most healthiest forms of escapism. It will keep your mind active, your eyes away from a screen and a time for feelings of anxiety and worry to subside. If reading a book doesn’t feel manageable, try audio books – there are many free ones available online.
Nothing beats going through Netflix and watching every possible show, and re-watching your favourites!
DIY Home Spa
Self-indulge and soak in a bath with a face-mask and spa music. Pamper yourself!
If you have access to a garden, go out and pull out the weeds, mow and rake the lawn, trim the hedges, transfer plants, get your hands dirty. If you don’t have a garden then what about changing up your indoor plants?
Get fancy in the kitchen
Try your own MasterChef at home. Challenge yourself to create something that takes a lot of extra time.
Take time-out from social media and the news
This can be a major buzzkill. Try to find moments in the day when you are not connected to the internet. The news and media in general has become a great source of anxiety at the moment, and there is evidence of people either entirely disengaging or developing almost obsessive tendencies around keeping updated and informed.
Keep a journal
Studies have shown time and time again of the importance of journaling to release our thoughts. It’s almost as good as having your own therapist. Maybe by the end you’ll have some drafts for a book.
Try out meditation
Maybe this could be a good time to tap into your inner self. Try out some meditations to calm your mind. These are some skills that will help you ride the waves of anxiety well beyond your time in self-isolation.
Try out some drawing, or adult colouring books. Drawing has been proven to reduce anxiety and relieve symptoms of depression. It also gives your mind a chance to focus on one thing.
Book an online appointment with a counsellor
If all of all the above is not helping then check our online counsellors page here to learn more about booking an appointment with a mental health professional.
If you’re in need of mental health support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
For resources and up-to-date information for COVID-19 in Australia, check out health.gov.au, call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080 or speak to your GP.
Uncertainty. More than anything else, this word sums up what most of us have been struggling with during this pandemic.
Uncertainty about how long it will last, uncertainty about money, uncertainty about safety, uncertainty about the future.
What this equates to is a lack of control. This is unsettling and anxiety-inducing to most people but to those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), this can lead to an unravelling of all the good work you’ve done on yourself to calm your obsessions.
What is OCD?
According to Health Direct, OCD is an anxiety disorder that is made up of two parts:
• obsessions – unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images or urges that repeatedly come into the mind
• compulsions – repetitive behaviours or rituals, that are difficult or impossible to resist doing, which are carried out to reduce anxiety¹
According to Dr Katherine Stewart of Uplift Psychological Services in Redfern, Sydney,
“If you’ve ever thought about falling off a ship in the middle of the ocean without a life jacket, you would know how it feels to experience OCD. Profound fear. The accepted model of treatment is based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which views the problem as obsessions giving rise to anxiety, and this anxiety is then reduced by certain compulsive behaviours, for example ‘checking’. Certainly, the Covid-19 pandemic would be a nightmare scenario for many people suffering from OCD.”
Examples of compulsive actions are excessive hand-washing, checking locks multiple times, walking in distinct patterns on the street, turning doorknobs multiple times, to name a few. This can all be very time-consuming, exhausting and debilitating.
OCD & COVID-19
If you’ve been working on your OCD, going through CBT and beginning to convince yourself that these compulsive actions are not necessary to combat your irrational fears, a global pandemic that suddenly makes these fears a reality can be destabilising, to say the least. Many of your compulsive behaviours have now become World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended actions to prevent the spread of this virus.
People with OCD have reportedly reacted in one of two ways to this pandemic. Some have continued as normal because their everyday ‘norm’ has now become the new norm for everyone else. Their compulsive hand-washing is now a compulsion of the larger population and this makes them feel safer in general. On the other hand, some OCD sufferers are spiralling. All their irrational thoughts have now become rational in terms of the situation and this can be very hard to reconcile in their mind, especially if they have been receiving treatment.
Here are some signs to look out for:
If you notice that the amount of time you’re taking to complete the compulsions is increasing, this may be cause for concern.
Notice if your behaviour is having an impact on other areas of your life. Maybe you’re having relationship issues, struggling at work, battling to sleep, or your exercise or eating routines have been affected.
• Health focus:
You’ve been obsessing over your health and that of your loved ones and your hand-washing or sanitising compulsions have increased.
• Information overload:
You follow the news updates, social media and the COVID-19 statistics websites constantly, to the point that your daily life is affected.
Even after performing your compulsive actions, your anxiety level is unchanged.
People closest to you have commented on your compulsions. You’re feeling out of control and at the end of your rope².
It’s not an easy time, but there are things you can do to help yourself cope until this pandemic eases off and you can go back to your regular treatment to work on your OCD.
Here are some ideas to help you cope:
Be strict with yourself about how much news/social media you view each day.
Give yourself a certain time slot where you are allowed to check the updates on the pandemic. Once the time is over, switch off and continue your life. Constantly checking media can exacerbate your anxiety and your OCD.
Setting a routine
The lack of control and disruption of our routines that this pandemic has caused has unsettled a lot of people. Try to set yourself a daily routine so you feel in control of your life, which can then translate to control of your impulses.
Remember to self-care
We are all going through an unprecedented experience. Go easy on yourself. Many people are struggling at the moment and it’s important to do things that you enjoy, take moments to give yourself happiness and give yourself a break. Activities such as exercising, taking a bath, reading a book, building a puzzle or watching a feel-good movie are examples of self-care.
Monitor your obsessions and compulsions
Keep a journal of your thoughts, actions and the time of day and frequency with which they occur. This will help increase your awareness of patterns, triggers and loops and help you to take steps to reduce these.
Follow recommended advice
There are tips on how to stay safe on the Australian Department of Health website. Follow the advice to the best of your ability and you can rest assured you’ve done everything you can to prevent contracting the virus or spreading it to others.
Reach out digitally to family and friends. It is important to stay connected with your support systems so that you remember that you are not alone. And chances are, those who support you are also needing support right now. Make use of video calls, messaging and voice calls to connect with those you love.
Don’t stop your medication
If you are on medication, do not stop it during this time. This can lead to a strong regression and a spiral into compulsive behaviours. You need to keep your neurochemical balance, especially in this trying time.
Get professional help
If you feel like you are not coping and need professional help, you have options. There are multiple 24-hour free helplines that you can call for immediate advice and help. If you are not already on a Mental Health Care Plan, head to your GP and get a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist. While a face-to-face consultation might not be possible at the moment, counsellors are conducting sessions over video calls to assist their patients.
Finally, control what you can and try to accept what you cannot. Uncertainty is not a comfortable feeling, but if you can differentiate between the aspects of your life that you can control, it will help you to accept the things that are out of control and will, hopefully, help you to manage your OCD until this situation passes. Dr Stewart notes, “It it is always helpful to know that a thunderstorm becomes insignificant when considering that the vast sky has plenty of space to cope with all kinds of problems”.
We are currently living through an unprecedented time of crisis. COVID-19 took us all by surprise and we were unprepared for its implications and its duration. Most people have found this time challenging for various reasons, be that social isolation, frustration at being locked in or a lack of job security, to name a few. By far, one of the most stressful results of this pandemic is the financial stress it has placed on countless people. Worrying about how to pay your rent or debts can put immense psychological pressure on you and with no definite end in sight, this can wreak havoc on your mental health.
For this reason, we’ve put together some practical options and tips for managing your finances and your mind during this chaotic period so that you can come out the other side with a healthy life and mental state. The first step to improving things is to consider whether financial stress is having an effect on your mental health.
Signs your finances are weighing on you:
- Insomnia or sleep difficulties.
Money worries can adversely affect your sleep, keeping you awake at night or leading you to wake up at 4:00 am witching to ruminate over all your financial (and other) problems.
- Depression or anxiety.
Having ongoing money concerns in the back of your mind can leave you feeling hopeless with a constant knot of worry in your stomach. This will weigh on you and can lead to depression or ongoing anxiety.
- Physical symptoms and delayed treatment.
Stress often manifests itself physically. Perhaps you’ve been having stomach issues, constant headaches, indigestion, high blood pressure or heart disease. Unfortunately, when money is tight, we often delay medical treatment for physical conditions until things are financially easier and that only makes the symptoms worse.
- Weight changes.
We often find comfort in food. Weight gain can be an indicator of mental stress and anxiety. On the other hand, if your stress is causing you stomach issues such as gastritis, you may avoid food and notice a decline in your weight. You may also be eating less or food with less nutritional value to save money.
- Relationship problems.
Arguments around finances and financial stress are one of the main topics that cause strife in relationships at the best of times. In this pandemic time, this is likely to happen more frequently. The financial pressure can make you irritable, short-tempered and less compassionate with your loved ones.
- Unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Sometimes it’s easier to escape reality than to face the stress of reality. Sometimes you just need a break. Unfortunately, this can lead to the abuse of alcohol, drugs, gambling, and addictions such as sex or other vices to distract us, but these can also ultimately destruct us.
If you have noticed any of the above in your life, perhaps it’s time to get help. You don’t need to cope with this alone. Many people are going through a similar experience. You don’t have to worry about the financial aspect either as there are options for free or heavily subsidised mental health support.
Here are a few free or subsidised mental health care options:
Perhaps you prefer not to meet with a counsellor face-to-face and retain complete anonymity. Perhaps you have reached the end of your rope and need some urgent support. There are various free helplines you can call where you can speak to trained mental health professionals.
1300 22 4636
Beyond Blue offers free help and advice on anxiety and depression. They can talk you through a crisis and point you in the right direction for finding solutions and ongoing support. They have options for support via phone, webchat, an online forum and also offer suicide and crisis support.
13 11 14
Lifeline offers a free helpline for adults in distress or who just need to talk to someone. They have many resources on their website for ways to manage your mental health and cope with the current pandemic.
1300 78 99 78
Mensline provide support specifically aimed at men by taking a practical, solutions-oriented approach to counselling.
All three helplines are available 24/7.
Getting a Mental Health Care Plan
If you would like to get ongoing support with a dedicated counsellor, a Mental Health Care Plan might be for you. This would usually give you face-to-face sessions, but due to the current pandemic, session may be via a Telehealth system using phone or video.
In order to qualify for government-subsidised mental health assistance, your first port of call is your GP. They will give you a questionnaire to fill out and if you are suffering from anxiety, depression or related mental health stresses, they will put you on a Mental Health Care Plan and refer you to a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Under this plan, you get six subsidised sessions with a mental health professional per year, but if you need more, you can return to your GP for a referral for a further four sessions. If you are worried about the gap (the difference between what the government will subsidise and what remains of the charge for the session), you can find numerous bulk-billed providers of counselling services that have no gap.
The National Mental Health Commission
The commission has brought together experts from many of Australia’s leading mental health organisations to give practical advice and tips on maintaining good mental health during COVID-19. The campaign is called #InThisTogether and you can watch their videos on Youtube for guidance and support in this time.
As many people are struggling financially right now, the government and numerous institutions and providers have put in place measures to assist Australians with their finances.
Financial assistance, ways to lower debts and survive the crisis:
Many banks are offering concessions such as home loan pauses or reductions, credit card payment deferrals or plan reductions, and personal loan pauses or reductions. Check with your bank on how they can help you reduce your expenses at least until the situation improves.
- Balance transfer credit card
Having to think about paying off a credit card when you’re trying to pay expenses and put food on the table just adds to financial stress. If you move your debt to a balance transfer credit card, you get an introductory interest-free period which can last up to 26 months. See link below for more detailed information.
Health, life and car insurers are doing their bit to help in this time. Many of them are offering options to clients who are struggling financially. Contact your providers to see if they can do anything for you, even if it means suspending your cover for a period or changing to a different insurer.
- Energy, internet and mobile providers
Many service providers are also being lenient in order to help their clients come through financially. Contact your providers and ask what options are available to you to reduce your costs.
As of 22 March 2020, anyone affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and battling financially can withdraw from their super to a maximum of $10,000. You can check with your super provider if you are eligible.
- Centrelink support
Centrelink has eased its eligibility requirements for support for JobSeekers and Youth Allowance. JobKeepers, who have lost their job or had their hours reduced due to COVID-19 could be eligible for fortnightly payments of $1500 through their employer. Visit your local centre or have a look on the Centrelink website to see what options are available for you.
For more tips and links visit Finder – Coronavirus Financial Help
Free financial tools
Finally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and at a loss as to where to start with managing your financial stress, head over to Money Smart for advice. They are offering free financial counselling services to get you back on your feet and feeling positive about the future. This is not an easy time for anyone and there is no shame asking for help or advice to get through. This is a time where we need to pull together and support each other to keep safe and healthy, both in body and mind.
Did you know that Dry July is a fundraiser encouraging people to alcohol-free to raise funds for people affected by cancer?
The funds raised provide invaluable services for cancer patients, their families and carers – whether it’s a lift to a life-saving appointment, guidance from a specialist nurse, connection to an informative voice, access to therapy programs or a bed close to treatment.
Not only that, but a month off no alcohol has great health and financial benefits.
If you’re thinking of signing up, but find the thought of a month without alcohol is a little daunting, you aren’t alone. Many people find the prospect of one month of no alcohol a little intimidating.
Here are a few ways to get through an alcohol-free month.
Remember why you are doing this
Sticking to any commitment is always easier when your goal is attached to an important personal value or cause. Perhaps you are doing this because you know someone who is living with cancer or maybe you know someone who struggles with alcohol.
Either way, it’s unique to you. Values are personal and there is no right or wrong. The important thing is to know why this pledge is important to you.
Be prepared for difficulties
Let’s face it, alcohol is a major part of our culture.
Going for drinks is a normal and even encouraged activity that is perpetuated by popular culture. It’s often easier to go with the flow rather than be the odd one out who doesn’t drink.
If you find your friends encouraging you to drink, it helps to have planned in advance how you will politely decline or enjoy a non-alcoholic beverage with them instead.
Remember that you don’t owe anyone an explanation, but you owe it to yourself and your supporters to keep your commitment. It can be extremely tempting to give in, but remember why you’re doing this!
Have a secondary goal
Sometimes people find having another goal (on top of being dry all of July) helps to increase their motivation.
While you’re at it, you might as well eat healthier, go for daily walks at sunset, or try yoga everyday. It can add to your momentum and make you feel incredible at the end.
Manage cravings with mindfulness
Having a glass of wine, or a beer can be our go-to for relaxation.
Perhaps Dry July is your chance to re-evaluate why. Often we fear cravings and cave into the. But all a craving really is, is a combination of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. All of which are all harmless and transient. Instead of acting on the urge, breathe into it and give it space. Don’t judge yourself or try to get yourself to stop feeling it, but just let it be and observe. Before you know it, the craving will subside.
Going alcohol-free can save you a significant amount of money so why not reward yourself at the end of the month?
Knowing that you’ll be saving money for something at the end will make it all the more easier for you.
Did you know that one of the best ways to relieve stress is completely free and everyone can do it?
That’s right – conscious breathing is one of the most effective ways in activating the body’s natural relaxation response. Deep, mindful breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Breathing techniques can help you feel connected to your body and quiet your mind.
The good news is that breathing exercises are easy to learn and can be done whenever you want, and you don’t need any special tools or equipment to do them. Also, it’s worth pointing out that if you have been a shallow breather, this might initially feel strange and even somewhat difficult. But just like anything, controlled breathing does take a bit of practice so be patient with yourself.
Here are a few exercises to try out, you can them out and see which work best for you.
This exercise also uses belly breathing to help you relax and can be done either sitting or lying down. Taking a deep breath is actually linked to the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the fight-or-flight response. While exhaling is linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is in control of the rest and digest response. If you have ever experienced a panic attack you might be aware that taking too many deep breaths too quickly can cause you to hyperventilate. Hyperventilation decreases the amount of oxygen-rich blood that flows to your brain. Longer exhales help to signal to the brain that it’s time to relax.
How to do it: Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest as in the belly. Take a deep, slow breath from your belly, and silently count to 4 as you breathe in.
Hold your breath to a count of 7.
Breathe out completely as you silently count to 8. Try to get all the air out of your lungs by the time you count to 8.
The idea of this exercise is to lengthen the exhale. Repeat this four times or until you feel calm.
Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
Abdominal breathing technique
The abdominal breathing technique can be particularly helpful before experiencing a stressful event like preparing for a job interview or giving a big presentation.
How to do it: Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a deep breath in through your nose, allowing diaphragm (not your chest) to inflate with enough air to create a slight stretching sensation in your lungs. Slowly exhale.
Taking 6–10 deep, slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes each day using this breathing technique can help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure. In effect, this will also reduce anxiety and stress.
Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
This technique can be done sitting or lying down. If you are feeling particularly stressed at work, or at school, you can even do this quietly in a room full of people.
How to do it: Start to inhale and exhale normally. Take a few moments to mentally scan your body for any tension. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose.
Notice your belly and upper body expanding.
Do this for a few minutes, paying attention to the rise and fall of your belly.
To maintain focus on your breath, it can be helpful to choose a word to focus on and repeat in your mind during your exhale. Words like “calm” can be effective.
When you get distracted, gently bring your attention back to your breath and your words.
Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
Let’s face it, managing ourselves in the face of a global pandemic can be extremely stressful.
If you feel like your mental health is slipping, there are many things you can do to make sure you are staying mentally healthy.
First things first: What Is Mental Health?
There is so much talk out there about mental health, it’d become kind of a buzzword. But what exactly is it?
“Mental health refers to the state of our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we feel, think and behave.”
Many people are reluctant to talk about their mental health because it’s associated with a disorder. But having good mental health doesn’t always mean you live without a diagnosable condition. It means that you’re able to cope effectively with the curve balls of everyday life.
Our mental health impacts every single element of life, how you perform at work, how happy you are in relationships, how connected you are socially, and how you feel about your own self-worth. Let’s face it, being a human being is difficult. Life is a series of ups and downs, and so much is out of our control. Having good mental health is like having the tools to bounce back from whatever life inevitably throws at us.
Also, because mental health is still so stigmatised, people often don’t even know what signs to look out for.
Here are some warning signs that your mental health could be declining:
- Feeling anxious or worried
- Feeling depressed or unhappy
- Emotional outbursts
- Sleep problems
- Weight or appetite changes
- Quiet or withdrawn
- Substance abuse
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Changes in behaviour or feelings
If you feel like any of those signs are relevant to you, then here are some ways to improve your mental health. You can do all of these whether you are currently under lock-down or not.
1. Get the right amount of sleep.
Sleep is absolutely critical for mental health. It’s as important to our bodies as eating, drinking and breathing. Sleeping helps us to recover from mental as well as physical exertion. Not getting enough sleep per night not only makes you more tired and irritable, but it exacerbates any emotional and psychological problems. Unfortunately, it’s usually those emotional and psychological problems that tend to keep us awake.
If you’re struggling to sleep, try a meditation app. There are so many to choose from: Headspace, Sleep Cycle, Calm, Insight Timer, Noisli, Pzizz, Slumber – to name a few. Also, try to keep your bedroom dark and quiet, and refrain from using your phone just before bed. The blue light from your phone mimics daylight, tricking your brain to stay awake. Also, any emotionally charged content makes your brain work even harder to wind down.
If you continue to have sleep problems, it’s possible there may be an underlying issue and you may need to see a GP.
2. Connect with your friends and community.
As social animals, strong social networks are extremely important for our mental health. Sometimes when we feel our mental health declining, a common reaction is to withdraw from social events. But it’s when we stop interacting and isolate ourselves that our mental health plummets. It’s important then to build strong interpersonal connections with positive, supportive people.
Feeling like we’re part of a community gives our life meaning, a sense of belonging, and helps us feel accepted. If you don’t have supportive, positive people in your life then join activities, clubs or classes where you can meet new people. There are also tons of online virtual activities you can find on Eventbrite and Facebook to help people stay connected.
3. Stay active
It can be difficult to motivate yourself when you’re feeling low but it’s so important that you do. Exercise increases your body’s production of endorphins (feel-good hormones) which helps to improve your mood, gives you better sleep, and makes you feel relaxed. All you need is 30 minutes of walking each day to improve your mood and reduce stress.
Yoga is also great for reducing stress, increasing muscle tone and balance. It can also be easily done at home via a free YouTube video. If you aren’t into yoga then try out other forms of exercise. It might take a bit of time to figure out what you like best, but it’s important to find something. Exercising for mental health is about sustainability, not about short-term results.
4. Eat nutritious meals.
We’ve always known that eating well is good for our physical health, but now we are seeing that a healthy diet can actually improve mental health. Eating high-quality foods with lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes and protects the brain. Sugar and processed foods have been proven to lead to inflammation throughout the body and brain, which may contribute to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Probiotics, on the other hand, help to maintain a normal microbiome, and therefore can potentially play a role in the treatment and prevention of anxiety and depression.
To boost your mental health, focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables along with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Try to avoid processed foods or sugar-filled snacks. Consume plenty of healthy fats, such as olive oil and coconut to support brain function.
5. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is simply being aware and present to the current moment you are in.
It can be done anywhere, anytime; during a meeting at work, on the bus, washing dishes. All it requires is being fully engaged in the here and now. Most people go about their daily lives with their minds jumping around to the future or past, worrying about what ifs, rarely ever engaged in the present moment. While meditation is usually practiced for a specific amount of time in a specific place, mindfulness can be applied to any situation throughout the day.
6. Try some Meditation
Unlike Mindfulness, Meditation is an intentional practice where you sit or lie down, close your eyes and focus inward. Meditation is not the absence of thought, and there is no such thing as being bad at meditation. It’s essentially training your brain.
During a meditation, you might practice noticing stray thoughts, and then bringing it back to your breath. Or you noticing your emotions, and learning how to be non-reactive to them. All of this helps in real life, when an anxious thought grips us, meditation brings us back to the moment and helps us respond rather than react.
7. Keep alcohol to a minimum and avoid drugs.
This one goes without saying. In times of increased stress, it’s best to keep alcohol use to a minimum and avoid drugs. Often people use alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate but in this only aggravates the problem. Try your best to replace the urge to self-medicate by going for healthier options mentioned above.
8. Don’t be afraid to seek help.
If you have done all of the above and still don’t feel better, then it’s time to get professional help. This is nothing to feel embarrassed about. It can be as simple as having a chat with someone outside of your group of friends to gain some perspective on a situation. Have you ever noticed how it’s so much harder to see the bigger picture when you’re entangled in something?
A counsellor will not only help you make sense of what you’re going through, but will help build your emotional toolkit to bounce back easier. People see a counsellor for so many different reasons, there is nothing too trivial or silly.
9. Be kind to yourself.
Last but not least, treat yourself with kindness and respect. This can be difficult to do, it’s often so much easier to love and forgive other people. But we tend to be most critical and judgemental of ourselves. Pay attention to the voice in your head, is it the sort of stuff you would say to a friend?
Also, make time for the things that make you feel happy, even more so if you are struggling. This is the time to pamper yourself however that looks to you.
For many of us, the return to ‘normal’ brings about a new layer of stress and anxiety.
During the lockdown, life everywhere around the world was forced to slow down. The streets were left bare while everyone hibernated in their homes. For once, all of us were forced to take time away from our busy schedules and hectic workdays. Eventually, we found our own rhythm. Maybe we learned to find peace in our new routine; replacing work commutes spending more time with our children, or trying out new recipes.
But now the rules are loosening and the thought of transitioning back to a full-time job, commute and traffic can be overwhelming.
Life has been forever changed and unfortunately the virus very much still there. Understandably, there’s still a lot of fear around contracting the virus and how to manage ourselves under these unusual circumstances.
Here are few ideas on easing the transition back into the world.
- Give yourself time to adjust
It will be normal to feel equally disoriented, frustrated (now by the traffic) stressed and suffocated by “old” routines and start to long for a simpler life again. Getting your head around it starts now, as small steps are allowed: the limited visits to friends, staged school returns and so on.
- Reflect on your old life priorities
What are the things you learned about yourself during this time? What should stay and what might you choose to discard? Many people are talking about having more appreciation and gratitude for new elements of their lives and relationships and want to preserve more home investment. Rather than assume this is a pipe dream, start to ponder how you could make this happen.
- Decide how you want to live
Perhaps you now are aware that you didn’t see friends, or don’t have enough of them. Maybe you now appreciate quiet time or getting out into the sunshine. Perhaps you now worry about your elderly relatives when before it was hard to find time to even give them a call. You should seize this new information and make some decisions about how you want to live from here. How might you now distribute your time and other resources on the home and work fronts?
- Be kind to yourself
This is a truly difficult and confusing time. The entire world felt the shockwaves of this so be kind to yourself as you adjust. Show yourself compassion, a global health pandemic is an unbelievable time to live through.
- Take it day by day
Life will not return to normal overnight and it may never be the same. Try not to plan ahead too much or get caught up in the details of it all. Simply treat each day as a new day and do what you can. This is all we can do.
If you need to talk to someone call Time 2 Talk on 1300 022 966 for a chat.