Living with Covid, coping with uncertainty
The pandemic strategy in Australia has changed dramatically since the arrival of the delta variant, and feeling anxious about “living with covid” after lockdown is understandable. The previous pandemic normal that we have learned to live with has suddenly disappeared.
The next step in our personal and country’s adjustment is likely to be challenging for everyone. Whatever the future looks like, it’s important to maintain the essential foundations of mental health and wellbeing …. a structured daily routine, clear boundaries between work/study and non-work, a good sleep routine, regular exercise and social connection with others.
Working or studying from home during the covid pandemic can be a mixed blessing…on the positive side it might provide greater accessibility and flexibility and we may feel safer from the risk of exposure to covid. There’s no time spent travelling and no travelling costs. Some people may actually prefer working from home. For many people prolonged periods of working from home especially during lockdown restrictions can be very difficult if it involves balancing many competing tasks in the same space such as work, study, caring and parenting in conjunction with the loss of the daily rituals and social connection when we can leave home. The combination of overload and loss, especially over the long term, can affect adversely our mood and emotional wellbeing.
Although we have little control about the covid pandemic… we have more freedom to exert control in our daily lives.
Routine and structure are essential aspects of mental health and wellbeing. Working or studying from home combined with restrictions on leaving home can lead to a lack of boundary between “work” and our non-work/study life. If we feel that we are doing the same thing every day, with no distinction between different aspects of our day and personal needs then life can feel monotonous and meaningless.
Take the opportunity to re-establish routine in your life. Establish a regular start/finish time each day that mirrors your usual work timetable or study mode, schedule a lunch break, time for refreshment morning and afternoon. Use those breaks to move around, maybe go for a short walk, take a screen break, look out the window, spend time with another family member, a pet or listen to some music.
The key to taking an effective break is to take the opportunity to change the focus of your attention…
Boundaries and routine. Make weekends or non-work days a work-free time and let your colleagues know you aren’t taking calls/emails/tasks outside of your working hours during the week and at weekend, unless it’s a genuine emergency. At the weekend, choose activities which are more enjoyable and relaxing, make different types of food to eat so that it feels more special and break from the weekday.
Talk to the people you live with about your preferred work/non-work timetable and where you will physically be working/studying at home. Discuss how you can support and respect each other’s need for time alone to work/study/relax.
Maintaining a good sleep routine is one of the most important aspects of mental health and wellbeing. Ideally set your alarm to get up at the same time each day, and go to sleep at the same time each night. If your sleep-wake cycle is disturbed, it’s especially important to continue with this routine even at the weekend. Avoid stimulants in the afternoon/evening such as caffeinated drinks, or alcohol, as they can affect your ability to go to sleep and stay asleep during the night. Avoid exposure to activities which will make it hard to relax before bed, such as negative news or over-stimulating entertainment. (e.g. horror movies, hours of screen time).
Get some exercise every day if possible. Exercising early in the day and exposure to sunlight can help us go to sleep and regulate our sleep-wake cycle and exposure to the morning sunlight even better. Exercise also boosts our good hormones and helps us process our thoughts and problem solving.
Finding a way to maintain social connection is vital during the covid pandemic while we look forward to being able to meet up again with friends and family in person. Thankfully, creativity and technology has led to a myriad of ways to connect with others in a virtual space, and these tools will continue to help us in our adjustment to living with covid.
Ultimately, if we can manage to create a sense of control and calm in our daily routines, we are better equipped to cope with the events outside of our control that are unfolding.