Day by day, the Coronavirus pandemic is getting worse and worse. The news is occupied by new cases and deaths all over the world. Governments are doing everything they can to flatten the curve. Social distancing is the new norm. For the most part, most of us are doing this and realize this isn’t just about us, but the whole community. The new norm is a completely different way of life. The last couple of blogs we have discussed how to stay sane working from home and how to survive social distancing. We’ve included tips and tricks to make this whole situation bearable. Some of these are lighthearted distractions, but one thing we find ourselves asking of ourselves and others is are you okay? Like, really okay? The seriousness of this situation cannot be underestimated, and the effects of this virus are far reaching, even for those who do not have it. This affects all aspects of life from work, rent/mortgages, mental health, social contact, the list goes on. With this in mind, we’ve put together some information on topics that matter to help you and make sure you are okay. Looking after your wellbeing in these troubling times is tough, but hopefully we can help!
Work and unemployment
For those of you fortunate enough to be able to work from home whilst still being paid, count yourself lucky. Sadly, for so many people this is not possible. Think hospitality, events, tourism, the arts and day by day, retailers are shutting up shop. So what are you supposed to do? We all need money to survive and have bills to pay. Fortunately, the federal government has several measures put in to place to look after those out of jobs. The first measure was to make it easier to apply for the JobSeeker payment and the Youth Allowance for Jobseekers payment on Centrelink, and to double the payment rate to $550 a week. This is open to all employees who have been stood down, sole traders, self-employed, casual workers or contract workers who now earn less than $1,075 a fortnight. Centrelink will waive asset testing and make it much easier to apply for the payment plus the obligation to search for jobs has been reduced to 4 jobs a month. This can all be done by the mygov website. This is a huge relief for many, especially as this higher payment has now been made available to students. In addition, the government has now introduced the JobKeeper payment, a wage subsidy scheme which gives affected businesses $1,500 per fortnight per employee to help pay the wages of an estimated 6.7 million Australians for six months. Now you can’t apply for this yourself, your place of work must do this and its only available to full-time, part-time, or long-term casuals (12 months or more) who were employed by the 1st March 2020. If this does not apply to you, then the JobSeeker payment from Centrelink is the way to go. There are options thankfully and even if if it’s not as much as you would usually get, you will be okay.
If you are not working due to coronavirus, there will be financial implications. Even for those on Government payments, bills may be building up. Rent, mortgage payments, electricity, water just to name a few. So what can you do if you are struggling to pay your bills? Well, the good news for renters (both residential and commercial), there is a moratorium on evictions for the next 6 months. This was announced by the federal government but will ultimately have to be put in place by the state governments which is in the process of happening. So fear not! You will not get booted out of your rental for financial hardship. The key things to remember are to have honest conversations with your landlord or rental agency and get whatever you agree to in writing. For mortgage holders, it is possible to defer payments for up to 6 months. Different banks have different requirements to get this mortgage holiday but they are sympathetic to the current environment. However, you will have to pay off the interest accrued during this time which would make your whole loan a bit bigger. Not ideal but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. You can also renegotiate a lower loan rate as well. In terms of bills, most states have put a hold on increases in rates such as electricity and water. Some have even said they will not cut off people who cannot pay their bills due to coronavirus. Well done! In terms of other bills, most companies have provisions for financial hardship so if you contact them and explain your situation, they can make arrangements for you (defer payments or make smaller payments) and help you out until you are in the position to pay. Phew! That takes away some stress.
Looking after your mental health
Mental health issues can be overwhelming at the best of times. But during a global pandemic? This is going to have a significant effect. Even on those without mental health issues. It is a natural response to feel stressed, confused and frightened. We have never known a situation like this so how do we cope? Well we all cope differently. Some people will distract themselves whilst others will devour every piece of news and information they can get. There is no right or wrong way to deal with things but one recommendation that I have seen repeated is to choose one trusted source of news and follow that. There is a lot of scaremongering/apocalypse now thinking that will distress you. In times of unemployment and financial hardship, this could exacerbate unhelpful thinking and elevate it in to problematic behaviour. This has been seen in the community with the panic and stockpiling of items like toilet paper. One of the big problems is that behaviours such as social withdrawal and isolation, a common sign of depression, is almost necessary due to social distancing. This is unavoidable. But what can you do about it? There are plenty of resources out there if you feeling you are anxious, depressed or worried about your behaviour and mood. Good nutrition, adequate sleep, avoiding alcohol & drugs and stress management techniques such as mindfulness and meditation are recommended for good mental health. Beyond Blue has an excellent resource on looking after yourself during the coronavirus outbreak and online forums that are great to discuss feelings and thoughts during this difficult time. Lifeline’s number is still active 24 hours a day if you need help (13 11 14) and also have great information on their website. For those who cannot manage their feelings on their own (this is perfectly okay), the government has now allotted $669 million dollars for telehealth services, meaning you can get access to your GP, psychologists, psychiatrists and others by phone or video call, all covered by medicare. When in doubt, speak to your GP who can give you a referral to psychologist (under Better Access to mental health scheme/Mental healthcare plan) which is covered by Medicare as well as a referral to a psychiatrist. Both are invaluable resources, especially in this difficult time. There is no shame in reaching out for help, I do and I’m better for it!
Getting fresh air
With all the social distancing measures in play, it could easily be excused to stay inside, sit back, watch Netflix all day and avoid going outside. Tempting, yes, but getting fresh air is vital to your wellbeing and could actually keep you connected to your pre coronavirus life. Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t stay inside all the time so why now? There are no rules or instructions to not go outside and fresh air is invigorating, even vital to feel alive (just ask those idiotic influencer wannabes in isolation in 5 star hotels who are complaining about not getting fresh air or allowed to leave their rooms, saying it is worse than prison). We usually take it for granted so why not lap it up as much as possible whilst you can! How do you ask? Going for a walk or run somewhere lovely will boost your mood significantly. Have a coffee, wine or meal outside or on your balcony. Same goes with reading a book or doing something mundane like doing your nails. Plant some veggies in pots or a patch and tend to them lovingly (regretting not doing this last year but now is the time). There are so many activities you could do, you are only limited by your imagination, but staying connected to outside will help you gain a sense of control and freedom over this uncontrollable situation. Do it now whilst the weather is good.
Video calling to stay connected
With social distancing, staying connected to friends and family has been so much harder. No longer can you go grab a coffee or wine with your bestie, or catch up over a family meal (I haven’t been able to see my nieces and nephew for 3 weeks, I miss their hugs). We all know that this is in the best interests of everyone, especially if we have vulnerable friends and family. But the isolation can have a huge detrimental effect on your wellbeing, especially if you live alone. But I cannot stress enough the importance of staying connected. This is crucial for your mental health. Yes texting, social media and phone calls are all great but nothing beats face to face contact. Which is why video calls are so important in this time. There are so many apps out there for this (Skype, Whatsapp, Messenger, Houseparty, Zoom to name a few). Doesn’t matter which you choose, just do it. Set aside regular times daily or weekly to get that face to face contact. Make it a priority.
Checking in on others
Sometimes it can be hard to think of others when you are struggling but it is important to look out for others and check in with them. With social distancing this can be hard, but as previously mentioned, video chats co go a long way. This may not be possible with some people (the elderly) or those who simply aren’t up to it, but it is important to do so by any other means, be a phone call or a simple text. Check how they are going physically and mentally. Everyone is affected differently. For some, it might be difficult to get out and about to do simple things like grocery shopping because they are at a high risk of contracting coronavirus or they may not have a car. Others might be isolating alone and need to all the social contact they can get. Whatever the situation, it is important that we reach out our nearest and dearest as well as those vulnerable.
Getting some exercise
We all know that exercise is good for both our physical health and mental health. Crucial in fact, especially for mental health, but what do we do when all gyms and classes are cancelled? This can spell out the end of an exercise regime for some, but it doesn’t need to be. There are so many ways to get exercise in to your daily routine. I think the more you do it, the more control you’ll feel you’ll have over the situation we are in, which we have no control over. Plus it’s self-care at it’s best! As previously mentioned, there is nothing stopping you going out for a walk or a run. Be it around the streets, by the beach or down by the river. It will get the endorphins going and instantly lift your mood. Listen to your favourite tunes whilst you are at it, even better! For those who prefer classes, there are so many apps/online classes/videos of every different persuasion that will suit everyone. Yoga, cardio, weights, even barre! Some are paid and some are free. Now I wouldn’t know where to start in recommending apps/classes/videos, but some there are a few that are quite popular. One app that seems to cover all the bases (workouts, nutrition and mindfulness) is Chris Hemsworth’s Centr. It is usually a paid app that caters for all levels of fitness but for now, you can get a free 6 week trial. If it can help me get a body like Thor’s, count me in! Another great one (paid though) is 28 by Sam Woods (former Bachelor). With a focus on 28 minute workouts, this feels achievable and it comes with meal plans and motivation by experts. These are only a couple of programs but just search! There is so many out there, it is a very important aspect of self-care.
Engaging in things you enjoy and giving yourself purpose
A lot of you may now find yourself with a lot of free time on your hands due to sudden unemployment or reduced hours at work. Not having a purpose can be tough and impact your mental health. Sure you could sit on your couch watching Netflix and Stan (Tiger King is a must watch), eating all the naughty things you usually don’t eat (carbs anybody?) but in the long term, this is not good for you. You need to do something that engages you and brings you joy. I’m not talking Marie Kondo cleaning or anything like that, I’m talking activities. Rediscover old hobbies, learn something new like a language or musical instrument, be creative and get drawing or painting, get back in to the kitchen and master a cuisine, start a blog, do an online course, the list is endless. Whatever you choose, it will make you feel better and give you some purpose and structure, vital for good mental health.
So these are just a few practical tips and info to help you in this challenging time. It is important that you check in on yourself and pay attention to your feelings and needs and those of others. If you are struggling, reach out to friends and family, helplines and professionals. You can get through this. We are all in this together.