How to keep calm in the age of COVID-19

Living Well | Larissa Dubecki | Posted on 26 March 2020

Seven ways to keep calm and carry on during the COVID-19 crisis.

So you’re trying to keep calm and carry on, when at times you feel more like panicking and hiding under the blankets until it's all over. Welcome to the club. The coronavirus has already proven that a stiff upper lip isn't the cure-all panacea for uncertain times. It’s natural to be anxious, and while the notion of holing up at home can sound like a luxury when things are normal, these are anything but normal times.  

The prospect of self-isolating for an uncertain period of time can be lonely and confronting, let alone the fear of losing your job or falling seriously ill. But take heart: as those balcony-singing Italians have shown, there is light to be found amid the gloom. (Plus, five of the best apps to give your mental health a boost.)

Woman and puppy doing yoga together in living room


Clinical psychologist Dr Kate Taylor from Valley Family Health says the key to maintaining good mental health in these socially distancing days is to identify what makes life meaningful in an everyday context and replicate that in self-isolation. 

“Things that normally give people positive mental health are having meaning and purpose, a sense of achievement, and finding joy and connection with other people,” she says. “People in isolation should think, ‘What can I adapt, what new things can I put in place, to still meet those needs in this situation?’.”
 

How to keep calm and carry on in the age of coronavirus



Limit your news intake

The 24-hour news cycle has already led to a spike in generalised anxiety disorders over the past decade, so it’s best to divorce yourself from the constant drip-feed. “Obviously you need to know you’re getting the right information to exercise precautions but constantly scanning the news is likely to make you more fearful,” says Kate. Try to limit yourself to checking a reputable, non-sensationalist news source such as the ABC, or go straight to the source with the Department of Health and Human Services (LINK), and do it no more than twice a day. 

Open up the online world

No, we’re not talking about reading endless reams of invective on Twitter. Instead, focus on embracing the utopian possibilities of the internet. “Keep socially connected to others via social media, email or Skype,” says VicHealth chief executive Dr Sandro Demaio. “It’s important to not completely cut ourselves off from our loved ones and our community.”

Join a community of readers on a site like Goodreads or start a new online book club (at least you don’t have to fight over who has to bring the biscuits and cheese). And arrange to ‘meet’ your friends online and enjoy an evening aperitif with them via Zoom or Skype. You don’t even need to drink alcohol. Sometimes a friendly voice is all the tonic we need. 

Downward dog

Exercise can be an excellent stress-relief. If you can’t get to your local yoga studio a yoga mat in the living room is a good substitute. YouTube has plenty of tutorials in any branch of yoga you can imagine (although we don’t recommend Bikram, aka ‘hot’ yoga, unless you can afford the scorching heating bills). Think laterally: use bags of rice or tinned goods for weights. Explore something new, like Pilates or even laughter  yoga which uses laughing exercise to boost your mood. The benefit of self-isolation is there’s no one to judge you (and you can dance like no one’s looking too). 

Look deep inside

As our action-packed, stressed-out, 24-hour lifestyles grind to a temporary stop, find the silver lining by embracing the stillness (remember, it won’t last forever, we’ll be back to the daily treadmill before we know it). Meditation has been proven to lower stress and boost immunity: try an app like Smiling Mind for guided meditation. Even simply focusing on regulating your breathing is one of the best ways to avert the fight-or-flight response. 

If you’re brave enough to really go down the rabbit hole, take your cues from English philosopher Alain de Botton, who wrote recently in the Financial Times that corona-aloneness can be an opportunity to interrogate your life’s direction. Taking this mental time-out might lead to insights allowing you to “abandon a relationship, leave a job, ditch a friend, apologise to someone, rethink our sexuality or break a habit”.

Person holding paper that says phone a friend
Mug of coffee sitting on table


Stay connected

Random acts of kindness are springing up like mushrooms after rain. For every negative story about people hoarding goods and being general prats there are a dozen more showing that humanity is actually pretty good after all. Try hooking into a local Facebook group providing essential services like grocery shopping for the elderly or infirm, or get the kids to become pen-pals with the old-age pensioner next door. Share your excess garden produce and, if you can afford it, cook double that lasagne and leave one on your neighbours’ doorstep. And when all this is over, keep doing it. 

Find the hygge 

The Danish concept that took the world by storm in the past few years has taken on a new and potent meaning. Meaning cosiness or contentment, it’s tied up in the notion of taking satisfaction in the everyday small things. Cook yourself a hearty pot of soup and eat it by candlelight – that’s hygge to the max. See also: a long bath, a cup of tea brewed in a pot or a soft woollen blanket. 

Or take your self-isolated inspiration from Japan’s Marie Kondo. Her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is really a treatise on Zen Buddhism disguised as a household cleaning manual. Say what you like about her command to toss any item of clothing that hasn’t been worn in a year (has she not heard of fashion cycles?), tidying is an act of being in the present and that can only be healthy. Plus, you get more cupboard space at the end of it, so it’s a double win. 

Ask for help 

Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for help. “Take stock of your emotions: it’s completely normal to feel concerned or upset about what is happening,” says VicHealth’s Sandro Demaio. “If you feel anxious, talk to a trusted friend or family member or seek professional help.” 

You can phone Lifeline on 131 114, BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636 or Headspace on 1800 650 890.