World Travel Protection’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Stephen Rashford is here to help you stay mentally healthy during COVID-19.
When it comes to COVID-19, we’re well-versed in the physical health risks it poses and how we can help prevent it spreading to protect our loved ones and the wider community.
But is staying physically healthy the only thing we need to worry about during the coronavirus pandemic and the various levels of lockdown and restrictions its created?
Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr Stephen Rashford, believes managing COVID-19 mental health issues is also incredibly important in our current environment.
Here, he shares his expert advice in recognising the symptoms and how to manage COVID-19 mental health issues…
Skip ahead to read:
- Why mental illness issues are affecting more of us during COVID-19
- What the most common COVID-19 mental health symptoms are
- How to best manage mental health symptoms during the pandemic
- How to stay mentally healthy if you’re in hotel quarantine
- Where to get professional mental health support during COVID-19
- How World Travel Protection can help support your mental health
Why are we more prone to mental illness during COVID-19?
Since the coronavirus pandemic started in early 2020, the terms ‘unprecedented’ and ‘uncertain’ have been used more times than we can count. And while we may have become desensitised to their use, it doesn’t mean the impact of COVID-19 hits us any softer. Yes, even the most mentally fit amongst us are likely to be feeling the effects of the pandemic because what’s going on is like nothing most of us would have experienced in our lifetime.
“Significant life changes can often bring about anxiety and stress, so it’s completely understandable the COVID-19 global pandemic has had an effect on our mental health,” says Dr Rashford.
“Our society has been thrust into dealing with rapid life changes to help slow the spread of COVID-19: from lockdown forcing us to both live and work at home and frequent rule-changing related to physical distancing and social gatherings, to holidays being cancelled or changed and unseen panic over everyday supermarket items.
People are naturally concerned for their own and their loved ones’ health and safety right now, but if you combine this with the information overload and uncertainty the pandemic has created, it’s a recipe for unchecked anxiety and feelings of isolation.
“Even if you are not typically an anxious person, it’s common to feel some anxiety during periods of change or uncertainty.”
What are the most common COVID-19 mental health symptoms?
Given we’re all learning to deal with numerous unknowns at an unusually fast pace, it may not always be obvious if you – or your family or employees – are experiencing mental health symptoms associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
To help you spot the signs of mental health in yourself, your loved ones, and your colleagues, Dr Rashford advises you keep an eye out for any of the following symptoms:
- Anxiety, worry, or fear
- Racing thoughts
- Sadness, tearfulness, or loss of interest in usually enjoyable activities
- Physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate, stomach upset, fatigue, or other uncomfortable sensations
- Frustration, irritability, or anger
- Restlessness or agitation
- Feelings of helplessness
- Difficulty concentrating or sleeping
- Feeling disconnected from others
- Apprehension about going to public spaces
- Trouble relaxing
If you or those around you experienced any of these mental health symptoms prior to the restrictions and uncertainty resulting from COVID-19, it’s also possible they may become heightened.
How to manage mental health during COVID-19 lockdown
If you’ve identified that you or someone you know is experiencing one or several symptoms of mental illness, know that it’s completely normal and you’re not alone.
“It’s normal to have ups and downs in times like this, and it is now more important than ever to talk about how you’re feeling with family and friends,” says Dr Rashford. “It’s possible they are experiencing similar feelings and together you can help each other through your feelings.”
Dr Stephen Rashford’s expert tips for managing COVID-19 mental health
- Acknowledge your feelings
“Whatever you are feeling right now, know that it’s okay to feel that way. Allow yourself time to notice and express what you’re feeling through talking to others or channelling your emotions into something creative like music or drawing. Be kind to yourself and take time just for you, even if it is just a few minutes to take some deep breaths and step outside into the fresh air. Plan your breaks from work or family life and use them to do something that makes you feel calm and happy.”
- Reframe ‘I am stuck inside’ to ‘I can finally focus on my home and myself’
“As dismal as the world may feel right now, channel your anxious energy into action. Doing one productive thing per day can lead to a more positive attitude. Set your sights on long-avoided tasks, reorganise, or create something you’ve always wanted to. Approaching this time with a mindset of feeling trapped or stuck will only increase your stress. This is your chance to slow down and focus on yourself.”
- Stay close to your normal routine and day-to-day activities
“Try to maintain some semblance of the structure you had prior to lockdown or COVID-19 restrictions. Having a routine can have a positive impact on your thoughts and feelings. Do house cleaning and laundry on fixed days, as usual. Go back to basics: eating healthy meals, physical exercise, getting enough sleep, avoiding excessive alcohol and doing things you enjoy. It is tempting to fall into a more lethargic lifestyle, but this can lead to negative thoughts.”
- Limit excessive media consumption and shutout outside noise
“Being exposed to constant, alarming stories convinces us that there is something to panic about, and further perpetuates myths, rumours, misinformation, uncertainty and anxiety. Having more free time allows plenty of time to obsess. If you tend to consult ‘Dr Google’ for every sneeze or itch you have, you may be over-researching the pandemic as well. Choosing certain credible websites for a limited amount of time each day (perhaps two blocks of 30 minutes each) will be in your best interest during this time.”
- Limit the chaos
“A chaotic home can lead to a chaotic mind. With all the uncertainty happening outside your home, keep the inside organised, predictable and clean. Setting up mental zones for daily activities can be helpful to organise your day. For example, try not to eat in bed or work on the couch. Just as before, eat at the kitchen table and work at your desk. Loosening these boundaries just muddles your routine and can make the day feel very long. Additionally, a cluttered home can cause you to become uneasy and claustrophobic of your environment, so keep it tidy.”
- Stay connected with others and have something to look forward to
“COVID-19 has made it difficult to see our friends and family in person and regularly, which makes it harder to keep on top of how we’re feeling. But COVID-19 physical and social distancing and isolation should not mean social disconnection. Try to stay connected to supportive people in your life so you feel less isolated and lonely. It can make a huge difference when you share your worries with others and connect with other people who are supportive. You might need to try new ways of connecting that you haven’t before like FaceTime or Zoom.“With this newfound time, why not do something special during these quarantined days? For example, connect with friends or family over video calls every morning, join an online hobby or special interest forum, or have virtual dinner parties over Zoom, Skype or Teams. Having something special during this time will help you look forward to each new day.”
How to stay mentally healthy while you’re in hotel quarantine
While many of us are experiencing lockdown in our own homes or in familiar environments, some travellers either returning home or visiting destinations for work may have to go through a 14-day hotel lockdown or quarantine period.
Being contained in an unfamiliar, small or confined space comes with its own challenges and limitations, and can exacerbate any feelings of stress, anxiety or even depression.
Whether you’re going through it yourself, or you have friends, family or work colleagues who are, it’s important to understand how to best manage the situation.
Dr Stephen Rashford’s expert tips for managing mental health in hotel lockdown or quarantine
- Choose the right information to listen to
“It’s likely you’ll find yourself spending more time online during lockdown or quarantine, which makes it even more important to stay informed via trusted news sources and avoiding sensationalist news stories. Try to shut down the noise or temptation of social media and excessive news consumption by listening to music, doing brain teasers, reading books, and taking up meditation.”
- Stick to a routine
“Try to keep a healthy routine as if you were at home. Work from the hotel room as if you are able to work from home. Speak to friends regularly and join an online special interest or hobby forum. Get enough sleep, limit or avoid alcohol and do an online exercise routine. If possible, order groceries online so you can receive some of your favourite foods and treats, or get family and friends to deliver a care package.
- Stay engaged
Continue to speak to your partner, friends, family and colleagues. Communication and interaction with others are important for staying mentally healthy. However, it’s also important to embrace the silence and ‘me-time’ when you need it. Why not try catching up on the personal administration you’ve been avoiding?”
- Remind yourself: you are not alone
“It’s healthy to acknowledge you might feel lonely at times during hotel quarantine or lockdown, but remember you are not alone. Family, friends and professional support can still be contacted online or by telephone. Keep looking forward and remember the famous saying ‘this too shall pass’ to keep your thoughts positive.”
Where to seek mental health support during COVID-19
It’s perfectly okay to ask for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed during the coronavirus pandemic. For most, feelings of anxiety or other mental health symptoms will be temporary and will likely reduce over time – especially once lockdown and restrictions ease.
Turning to trusted friends and family is a great first step, but telehealth or in-person sessions are always an option if your mental health symptoms become unmanageable and you’d like to speak to a professional. Thankfully, despite all the changes COVID-19 has created, access to medical professionals is still available.
“If you are feeling anxious or depressed for an extended period or are finding it hard to manage your symptoms, see a health professional such as a GP or psychologist,” says Dr Rashford.
“Most are now set up to perform phone or video consultations, so you can access their help and expertise from the comfort of your own home.”
There are also plenty of other websites, online resources and apps Dr Rashford recommends for mental health support during the coronavirus pandemic.
Useful resources for managing your mental health
- Head To Health
- Beyond Blue: coronavirus mental wellbeing support service
- Australian Psychology Society: coronavirus (COVID-19) information for Australians
- Headspace: how to cope with stress related to Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Black Dog Institute: coronavirus resources for anxiety and stress
- Australian Public Service Commission: coronavirus (COVID-19) – looking after your mental health
- National Coronavirus Helpline: 1800 020 080
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
- Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
- For those at home: Smiling Mind
- For those travelling: World Travel Protection Travel Assist
How World Travel Protection can help support mental health
World Travel Protection is a 24/7 travel and medical assistance provider that helps support its customers when medical, travel and security emergencies arise.
We provide access to Australian-based GPs via telemedicine consults and can help with counselling provided by qualified and accredited psychologists and social workers. This service is available all day every day, and they are here to ensure the people we look after are provided with the ongoing support they need.
To learn more about how World Travel Protection can help you or your business navigate COVID-19 and the mental health risks that come with it, schedule a demo of our Travel Risk Management Tools by filling out the form below.