Global health issues can be very concerning when the occur. Like COVID-19, and other epidemics the world has experienced, alongside the health risks, there are also risks to our mental health and wellbeing that are likely to impact us all at some point. Most of us access social media regularly throughout the day, and our newsfeeds are bursting with stories about the virus and the social and economic affects. It’s even more challenging for us as a community, since for many of us we’ve just experienced distress and worry as a result of a horrible bushfire season in Australia. We’re also seeing more global news coverage of COVID-19 than we’ve ever seen for any other global health issue. Feeling ‘overwhelmed’ is a major understatement.
It’s reasonable to feel concerned about coronavirus, so we won’t tell you not to stress – but, there are some things you can do, in addition to the physical health precautions the Government has recommended (link here) to help ease the health-related anxiety we’re likely all feeling at this time.
What is health-related anxiety?
Put simply, health anxiety occurs when your mental health is affected by feeling really worried about your health and wellbeing. Anyone can be affected by health anxiety, and during this viral outbreak, it’s even more likely, particularly for those of us who work in fields where we’re exposed to people who are unwell, or who have compromised health. Common symptoms of anxiety can include:
· Physical: panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up and edgy
· Psychological: excessive fear, worry, catastrophizing, or obsessive thinking
· Behavioural: avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious which can impact on study, work or social life
The ACTU has provided these guidelines around psychological occupational health and safety you can review here.
 Beyond Blue (2020) Anxiety: Signs and Symptoms https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety/signs-and-symptoms
It’s okay to feel worried; this virus is new and relatively unknown. Things around us are changing daily and we have very little control as individuals over what’s happening to us. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings in times of crisis, uncertainty and change. For a lot of us working in the health and community services sector, we’re familiar with working in crisis situations, however we’re usually dealing with someone else’s life – this time, it’s our lives that are affected. Be aware of how your mind and body are responding and know that you’re not alone in the way that you feel.
From what we know so far, for the majority of people in Australia, the health risk relating this coronavirus is quite low; you’ll get cold and flu symptoms and recover with very little to no medical intervention. However, there are a minority in our community who are at higher risk of experiencing significant health issues as a result of contraction. If you’re in a high-risk category, find out more information on how reduce your risk of illness (link). If you’re not, it’s still important to practice good habits to help protect those who are.
Regardless of your risk, it’s important not to panic and to follow the directions provided by Government officials and initiate measures for social distancing to help protect our community. If you’re sick, stay home, isolate yourself and call your GP, the Victorian Government hotline (1800 675 398) or Nurse On Call (1300 60 60 24) for advice. Practice good hygiene, stay healthy and keep things in perspective – and don’t forget to check on loved ones and neighbours to ask if they are okay.
There are also translated resources available in a variety of languages here.
During times of uncertainty, people tend to feel scared and are motivated by fear. Fear sells papers, gets lots of clicks on Facebook and news websites; fear can also spiral into misinformation and people unnecessarily hoarding toilet paper. Feeling uncertain is okay, but if we know the facts, it can help us to stay calm, vigilant and not to panic.
It’s also important to avoid making assumptions; remember that anyone can be affected by coronavirus, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or cultural background. Avoid making assumptions about those people from countries where the virus is occurring in higher frequencies. Show kindness towards others during this tough time and remember that we’re all people.
Read more about what to do if you are experiencing symptoms here.
You can also find out more information via these websites:
This one can be really easy to implement, but difficult to commit to. When we’re faced with a barrage of news and media relating to something that makes us feel anxious, it’s likely only to fuel our worry. While it’s important to stay informed, it’s also equally important to know how this overstimulation can impact your mental health. Monitor your intake of news relating to the virus and recognise when it’s making you feel worse. Here are some handy tips to help manage your media consumption:
Remember that your physical health can impact your mental health and visa versa. If you’re not able to leave your home or you’re minimising your outdoor time, remember that it’s still important to move your body. You can find great ways to exercise at home, or on your commute to and from work here. As well as exercise, it’s equally important to continue eating well. This can be difficult when supermarkets are chaos and shelves are bare, but you can still make healthy choices by increasing your intake of vegetables and decreasing less-healthy options like fried foods and food and drink with lots of sugar. If, like us, you have a tendency to eat more naughties when you’re stressed, remind yourself where your stress is coming from and take steps to manage how you feel. And – if you’re a smoker, now is the perfect time to quit to help improve your health and decrease your risk of illness.
Looking after yourself also means staying connected to the people and activities that help you feel good. While you might be unable to be physically near people or activities for now, you can call, video call or write to keep in touch. Particularly if you’ve noticed that you’re feeling anxious or worried, it’s important to reach out and ask for support from friends and family.
If you feel like these tips aren’t helpful to you and you’re needing more support, we want to emphasise that it’s important to get help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a profession via your workplace Employee Assistance Program (EAP), your GP, Lifeline (13 11 14), or in an emergency, call ‘000’.
If you’re having issues with your employer during this time or have questions about your rights at work, please contact HACSU Assist on 1300 651 931.