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”.
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.
As the world emerges post-lock-down, the lingering effects of COVID still remain.
There has been an enormous pressure on families and couples, many now of which are seeking support. Not only that, but winter in general can be a difficult time. The nights are cold and the days are short, most of us are likely to retreat indoors and spend our time in front of the TV. In fact, the lack of sunlight and overall time spent outdoors can contribute to Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.). While this is more common in Northern Hemisphere countries where the temperature changes are much more extreme, people still do experience S.A.D. in Australia.
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.
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.
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 great for reducing stress, increasing muscle tone and balance. 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.
Reaching out to find a counsellor, psychotherapist or psychologist can be one of the most important, and maybe even the hardest decision you’ve ever had to make.
We recognise how challenging it can be to find the right mental health professional. It can, in some ways, be even more intimidating than going on a date with someone you met online.
Just like in dating, some people you “click” with, and some you just don’t. This is normal. But a relationship with a therapist is not like a relationship with a partner or a friend. It’s a very unique relationship that depends upon the reason you came to therapy in the first place, and what you want out of it. You will be sharing parts of yourself you might not even share with your partner or friend. During an interaction so meaningful and vulnerable, you’d only expect to have some kind of connection to build upon.
Did you know: Research shows that a strong relationship between a client and psychologist is one of the most important factors in determining the success of therapy.
This is actually why Radiant was created. We wanted to solve this very problem because we know how challenging and intimidating it can be to find the right person. Our platform offers a filtering criteria to help you find your match.
How do I find the right therapist?
You can start by clicking ‘Find the right help now’. From there, enter in your location or select ‘online only’ if prefer to only see those with availability online. You can then being to select certain criteria that is important to you. For example whether this is for individual counselling, family or couples therapy, the preferred age and/or gender of the professional, the type (counsellor, psychologists, psychotherapist, social worker), available facilities, rebate options, the preferred religion and language options. After you choose what’s relevant to you, you will find a list of people to contact directly on the phone or through email.
What should I look for?
Just like any strong relationships, it’s important to feel comfortable around them. In order to build a foundation of trust and vulnerability, you need to first feel comfortable enough to be honest with them.
The age or gender of your therapist may not be a huge deal for some, but others may consider this to be an important factor in choosing a therapist.
As mentioned before, the best kind of therapy is built upon strong relationships. That, to some, might mean they can only feel comfortable around people of a certain age or gender. Perhaps some people welcome the fresh perspective of a younger therapist, while others prefer older therapists who have more life experience. Some might prefer to see someone who is the same gender as them, or has an understanding of any LGBTQI related issues.
While most therapists are trained in culturally diverse approaches, it might be important for you to be with someone who truly understands your cultural background in a more personal non-textbook way.
This can increase your feelings of trust towards your therapist and ultimately increase the chance of finding value and making genuine life-enhancing changes throughout therapy.
Religious and/or spiritual orientation
This is quite a big factor to many people. Particularly because religious and spiritual issues can be the very issues that prompted you to find treatment.
Perhaps this could be a conflict over religious values, crises of faith, feelings of alienation from one’s religion, or distortion of religious beliefs and practices. Each one of us have an opinion and/or belief around religious and spiritual matters. Finding a therapist who matches with you on this topic can be an immense source of strength or support to the session.
There are so many different types of schools of thought in therapy. If you are new to therapy you might not know what to look for. You also do not have to have an understanding of all the different approaches before commencing therapy.
It can however, be helpful to understand the different types.
Generally speaking, your therapist will draw from five broad categories:
- Psychodynamic therapies
This approach focuses on changing problematic behaviors, feelings, and thoughts by discovering unconscious meanings and motivations.
- Behavioral therapies
This approach focuses on learning’s role in developing both normal and abnormal behaviors. It can be particularly useful in dealing with phobias and irrational fears.
- Cognitive therapies
Cognitive therapists believe that dysfunctional thinking leads to dysfunctional emotions or behaviors. By changing their thoughts, people can change how they feel and what they do.
- Humanistic therapies
This approach emphasises people’s capacity to make rational choices and develop to their maximum potential. Concern and respect for others are also important themes.
- Integrative/Holistic therapies
These therapists don’t tie themselves to any one approach. Instead, they blend elements from different approaches and tailor their treatment according to each client’s needs.
Remember: you don’t owe anyone anything
If you aren’t comfortable with the mental health professional you’ve chosen, don’t feel bad about changing. It does take time to find ‘the one’.
The important thing is to keep looking until you feel you find someone that matches with you. This might take a few sessions, but it is so worth it.
It takes a lot of courage to go to therapy so make sure you devote enough time and energy in finding the right one for you. You’ll be so much happier you did.
We’re here to help you on this journey.