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COVID-19 and mental health

Managing stress and anxiety during COVID-19
For many people, the COVID-19 crisis is causing a lot of anxiety and stress. Here are some expert tips and our latest mental health research to help navigate these uncertain times.

Symptoms of anxiety

Psychologist, and Clinical Research Officer at the Brain and Mind Centre, Alissa Nichles, says anxiety is a very normal human experience. Given the current sense of uncertainty, isolation and the rapid change to our routine as a result of COVID-19, anxiety symptoms may be more noticeable.

“It’s your body’s way of preparing you to manage situations that you may perceive as difficult or dangerous."

Anxiety symptoms may present as physical changes such as feeling tense or having muscle aches, an increase in your heart rate, ‘butterflies’, feeling on edge or shaking, and faster breathing. It can also impact how you think and behave. It can lead to an increase in the time you spend worrying, it may be difficult to relax, and it can impact on your ability to focus and concentrate. You may also feel more irritable and impatient.

Rhianne Scicluna, School of Psychology, PhD candidate.

Rhianne Scicluna, School of Psychology, PhD candidate.

Study and work during COVID-19

Meet Rhianne, a psychology PhD student who works at the Brain and Mind Centre. She shares her mental health tips during these times:

  • Increase your sense of control 
    Channel any anxiety into action through planning and preparing: follow government advise, clean your house, sensibly stock your pantry with essentials and develop a contingency plan if one of your family members fall ill.
  • Don’t obsess over productivity  
    During the transition to online learning and work, we will all be taking a hit in productivity and most of us will experience guilt. You will eventually transition and adapt to the new normal and once this happens, you will then begin a higher level of work.
  • Focus on your wellbeing
    Looking after your body has never been more important. Waking up early, exercising, meditating and eating wholesome foods is critical. Start taking note of what’s going on in your environment when you feel good, and increase these situations. 
  • Remember, its spatial distancing not social distancing
    Focus on creating a virtual network to avoid social isolation. Importantly, identify those who might be vulnerable in your network and reach out. 
Professor Sharon Naismith

Professor Sharon Naismith, Leonard P Ullmann Chair in Psychology, Charles Perkins Centre.

Sleep during COVID-19

“We know that sleep is important for our immune and cardiovascular system, and our brain health, but it’s also important for mental health and wellbeing, Professor Sharon Naismith explains.

"Besides the immediate consequences poor sleep has on our levels of alertness and irritability, studies have shown that sleep disturbance can precede the onset and recurrence of mental health problems including depression." 

  • It’s not just the quantity of sleep but the quality of sleep that’s important. Keeping mentally and physically active in the day and early evening will help facilitate deep sleep. 
  • Allow time to relax and wind down during the evening. Avoid too much social media, or TV or radio regarding COVID-19 before bedtime. 
  • Try to get out in the early morning for a walk and ensure you have access to sunlight during the day. Similarly, keep the lights dim in the evening so the brain can secrete melatonin which helps us to feel sleepy. 
  • Avoid the use of sleeping pills for prolonged periods. Sleeping pills are only effective in the short-term. Alcohol interferes with our sleep significantly and should be minimised.

Digital health support during and post COVID-19

Facilitated by Professor Ian Hickie, these DigiHealth webinars explore a 'Flip the Clinic' model of healthcare: 80 percent digital and 20 percent face to face.

'Flip the Clinic': Experts in mental health service delivery, mental health lived experience, clinicians, policy writers, researchers and providers discuss this model.  Listen to the podcast.

'No more waitlists': Leading service funders and administrators, clinicians and system modelling experts explored how DigiHealth solutions could lead to immediate efficiencies in mental health service delivery. Listen to the podcast.

Modelling shows path to suicide prevention in covid-recovery

Research done by the Brain and Mind Centre combines productivity and suicide data, demonstrating the benefits of acting urgently and effectively to flatten the mental health 'curve'. Find out more.

Substance use and mental health

The Matilda Centre is working actively with state and federal governments, foundations and other groups to identify a strong and effective response to the mental health impacts of coronavirus. They are adapting research studies to collect vital information about COVID-19 (and other recent national events, e.g. bushfires) to examine the impact of these on the mental health and substance use behaviour of Australians. They are also aiming to track and share research being undertaken on COVID-19 and mental health by Australian researchers. 

Helpful links

The University of Sydney's counselling and mental health support services: (02) 8627 8433 or (02) 8627 8437

If you have immediate safety concerns for yourself or others, call triple zero (000) for emergency services (fire/ambulance/police).

If you need help outside of Counselling and Psychological Services hours, the following community resources are available:

Mental Health Access Line: 1800 011 511

Lifeline (24 hours): 13 11 14

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