It’s been a tough year for many Australians: first bushfires, then flooding and now COVID-19, and all the unexpected challenges and changes that have come with it. For many, these events have brought reduced income, job loss and changes to how we live, study or work, along with fewer opportunities to connect with friends or loved ones or participate in favourite activities, as well as health concerns. All this stress and uncertainty can take a toll on our mental health, and in some cases lead to depression or anxiety. If you or someone you know might be struggling, here are some tips to spot the signs and help you cope.
A bad day, or depression or anxiety?
All of us have days when we feel in a bit of a funk. But how do you tell the difference between normal worries and an anxiety condition? Or feeling down or in a low mood, versus depression? One way is the length of time you experience unpleasant feelings or symptoms for. It’s normal to be in a bad mood or feel stressed or anxious from time to time, but if it continues for two weeks or more, it may be depression or anxiety. Another sign? If your symptoms start to interfere with your daily life: for example, if they cause you to avoid people or places, disconnect from friends or family, or lose interest in activities that you normally enjoy. Both depression and anxiety can impact your behaviour, feelings, thoughts, emotions and physical health.
Tips to help manage your mental health
When you’re stressed, unhappy or worried, your instincts are often to do things that ultimately make you feel worse — like binging on junk food, drinking too much alcohol, laying around the house, foregoing physical activity, thinking negative thoughts or avoiding activities. But healthy habits can help boost your mood and manage symptoms of anxiety and depression, so try to motivate yourself even when it feels hard.
- Reduce your drinking. Alcohol has a depressive affect, so drinking can increase the feelings you’re trying to avoid. If you’re using alcohol to cope, it’s a good idea to cut back. Check out this article for tips on how to reduce your drinking.
- Plan out your days. Sticking to a regular routine can help create a sense of normalcy. Don’t forget to schedule in time for things you enjoy doing, some physical activity that gets your heart rate up, and try to keep a regular bed time, especially if sleep is an issue for you.
- Find strategies to help you. Practicing mindfulness can help you understand your emotions better, reduce anxiety and help you feel more calm. Smiling Mind has mindfulness meditations for people of all ages, as well as for families and couples. You could also try breathing techniques or strategies to help you feel more grounded. Beyond Blue has more on this here.
- Move more. Exercise can help boost your mood and improve your wellbeing. Aim to gradually build up to 150 minutes a week if you’re not already physically active. Check out Live Better at Home for ideas on exercise you can do without heading to a gym.
- Prioritise a good night’s sleep. Sleep can have a massive impact on your wellbeing, and if you’re not getting enough good quality zzz’s, your mood, concentration and immune system can all suffer. If you’re having trouble, try to avoid day-time naps, caffeine in the afternoon or evening, and take a break from your phone, laptop, TV or other device for at least a half hour before bed time. You can find more tips on Live Better.
- Stay connected. With the increased isolation many of us are experiencing, it’s really important to make an extra effort to stay connected with friends and loved ones. Video chats, phone calls, group message chats and good old-fashioned emails and letters can help you feel more in touch and supported.
- Eat well. A healthy, balanced diet with lots of fruit, veggies and legumes, plenty of whole grains, lean meats and dairy (or alternatives) can improve your overall wellbeing. Try to limit food and drink that have added sugar and salt — an easy way to do this is to reduce the amount of processed foods and take away you get.
- Get support. Talking to someone you trust (a close friend or family member or your GP or mental health professional) can help to clarify your feelings and ensure that you feel supported. If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety before (or currently), it’s especially important to follow the tips above, check in with your GP or mental health professional if you’re struggling. Many health professionals do consultations over the phone or video conferencing, so ask when you ring. It can also help to let friends or family know you may need some extra support, and ask them to check in with a message or a call.
Know the signs
Common symptoms of depression may include:
- Feeling irritable, sad and/or overwhelmed
- Changes to sleep and/or appetite or weight
- Withdrawing from people and activities you used to enjoy
- Using alcohol or drugs to cope
- Negative thought patterns where you blame yourself for everything or think in absolutes (e.g. nothing ever goes right)
- Feeling exhausted or run down, headaches, muscle pain.
Beyond Blue has a more complete list of symptoms, and a link to a self-check you can do.
Common symptoms of anxiety may include:
- Hot and cold flushes
- Racing heart
- Tightening chest
- Fast breathing
- Excessive worrying
- Obsessive thinking
- Compulsive behaviour
- Avoiding things that make you anxious.
Beyond Blue has a more complete list of signs of anxiety.
If you’re worried about someone else, don’t be afraid to check in and offer support, and encourage them to book a telehealth appointment with their GP or mental health professional. For tips on how to support a friend or loved one, check out this article.
Reach out for support
Don’t be afraid to reach out for support from a mental health professional if you’re feeling distressed, anxious, down or lonely. This is a challenging time and they’re there to help. For more about how to stay mentally well, check out this resource from Beyond Blue.
Medibank Mental Health Phone Support Members with Hospital cover* can talk with a mental health professional over the phone in relation to any mental health or emotional concern, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 1800 644 325.
*OSHC members should call the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.