Coronavirus: how to stay sane

24 April 2020


The end of the world is not nigh, despite fears sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.​

That’s the reassuring mental health message from Mark Buhagiar, head of clergy health for the Diocese of Parramatta.​

While not downplaying the need for people to obey stringent isolation edicts, he said: “It’s not the end of the world as we know it, though it may seem so at times. It will pass.”​

Anecdotal evidence among the diocese’s 320,000 parishioners suggested the balance between those managing well and those experiencing greater difficulty was “fairly even, perhaps tipped slightly to not coping well”.​

He said priests were doing everything they could to stay in touch, but it was difficult for them to have the celebration of the eucharist and mass “put on ice”, and some older priests, in line with  wider society, were “a bit worried” about their own health.​

CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains is finding creative ways to keep services to the needy going despite the forced closure of drop-in centres at Emerton and Springwood.​

One measure working well is “telehealth”, where health professionals use videconferencing to help people.​

“We are very much open for business,” said executive director Peter Loughnane.​

“If we close down – and we are supporting the most vulnerable people – where do they go? “There’s a heightened sense of worry in the community about what’s going to happen, and we are seeing the effect of people losing jobs. But we are working hard to find options.”​

Health professionals say many people are anxious about increased conflict when forced to live at close quarters while working from home, and by issues like loss of freedom, separation from friends and wider family, reduced income, anxiety, boredom, frustration and fear.​

The Australian Psychological Society (APS), the federal health department, Safe Work Australia (SWA), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) are among a raft of authorities giving reliable advice.​

Here are five tips gleaned from them to safeguard your mental wellbeing during the pandemic:​

1- Keep in touch.

Maintain your social networks by phoning friends and sharing experiences on Facebook.​

You can also “video socialise” using Zoom, Google Hangouts, Houseparty, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and Skype.“Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling,” says the CDC.​

Spend quality time with people in your own household. Cook a meal together, solve puzzles and quizzes, play charades or board games.​

2- Keep work and play apart.

Stick to your usual routines. Take regular breaks as you normally would, and work to defined times. “Change out of your pyjamas each morning to help you get in the right headspace to start your day,” the APS advises. Set up a dedicated and comfortable work space, away from noise and other distractions. Maintain a clear boundary between your work and home life.​

SWA stresses that workplace laws apply to psychological health, too. Employers must consult workers, offer assistance programs and make them aware of their entitlements if they become unfit for work or have caring responsibilities.​

3- Stay physically active.

This is especially important for children denied their normal out-of-school activities such as swimming and football.​

Play backyard cricket or dance to music inside. Teach them a new skill or game.​

Go jogging, take the dog to the park, walk around the block, stretch or meditate. Physical exercise will help you stick to normal sleep patterns without resorting to pills or alcohol, which is a big no-no.​

4- Keep your mind busy.​

Read, listen to and play music, do crosswords and jigsaw puzzles. There may never be a better time to read War And Peace. Watch a TV series you missed. Take up painting, learn a language, clean the house, clear out the garage.​

5- Stay positive.

Maintain your sense of fun and humour. Remind yourself that this period of self-isolation is temporary. Get your information only from official sites, and ignore rumours. “Facts can help to minimise fears,” says the WHO.​

It also urges people to seek information just once or twice a day, adding: “The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried.” Others say over-using social media could draw you into “doomsday discussions”.​

One personal suggestion: ask a neighbor if you can help them. Remember, kindness can act like a virus, too.​


CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains services remain open and operational during the current COVID-19 outbreak. Individual offices have been closed to clients, but the service continues to operate with care and support offered via phone, video conferencing/telehealth and online. Some programs are continuing to run groups via video conference.

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