I first found out that I was a close COVID contact just before Christmas and was immediately flooded with anxiety and guilt. What if I had the virus and passed it on to my colleagues? Would they be able to enjoy the end-of-year break and see their loved ones?
How many people on the tram I take to and from work would be exposed to the virus? How do I tell people that I may have ruined their holiday plans?
COVID can take a serious toll on someone’s mental health and wellbeing. These anxieties kept me unsettled and stressed from the second I found out I was a close contact to receiving a positive test result and right up to mid-January, a few weeks after I came out of quarantine.
It was a challenging time and marked by feelings of loneliness. I was frustrated, isolated and emotionally and physically drained. Some days I could barely muster the strength or motivation to get out of bed and take a shower. I lost my sense of freedom, control and physical contact with loved ones – things that play a big role in my usual mental health coping strategies.
Yet I managed to get through it and want to share tips for people isolating or in quarantine to take care of their mental health and wellbeing.
Plan to use your strategies
We have all been through lockdowns and have confronted the challenges they bring. Use this to reflect on what you found helpful during those periods – maybe it was baking or painting.
Get the resources you need to implement your strategies and activities so that if you should enter quarantine (or even if you’re just having a really tough week), you have them ready to support you. If you need help developing strategies to support your mental health, check out the resources on the Mental Illness Education ACT website.
Develop a ‘COVID’ shopping list
Getting food and essential items, such as medication, can be stressful once you are in quarantine. While I was fortunate to have family and friends collect groceries for me, there was always something I forgot to ask for and it felt like a burden having to ask for help more than once. Having a ‘COVID’ shopping list ready for your online order or for a loved one to pick up can reduce some of this stress.
Prepare for indoor exercise or stress reduction activities
When you enter quarantine, you most likely won’t be able to use your normal outdoor exercise or stress reduction strategies. Plan and even practice some alternatives that can be done in the home, such as yoga, dancing or weight training.
Quarantine can be isolating, and you may need extra support or connection. Think now about how you will stay connected to your usual social networks, workplaces and support or service providers to make the transition easier. Remember, you are not alone. There is always someone to talk to. If you are feeling down and need someone to talk to, you can always contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Give yourself a break
Remember to give yourself a break, whether you are feeling unwell or not. Having COVID will impact you – physically, emotionally, or mentally and you might find yourself feeling guilty for not doing your usual everyday activities. Go easy on yourself and practise self-care to support your wellbeing, before, during and after COVID.
Rose Clifford is a Mental Health Educator and Ambassador at Mental Illness Education ACT, helping others with mental health challenges access the right services and support for their needs. She is also an ANU PhD Candidate at the Research School of Psychology and Young Canberra Citizen of the Year 2020.