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4 ways to look after your health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak

Staying at Home Wellbeing Connectedness Health
09 April 2020

The global pandemic that is COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we all live and older Australians are no exception.

Visits to the local café, cinema or hotel are off the agenda, social gatherings with friends are out and even a trip to the supermarket can be fraught.

In particular, the Australian Government has urged people over 70 and those over 65 with chronic conditions to stay at home and avoid contact with others, given the risk of serious illness is much greater for people in those categories.

As we all adjust to this ‘new normal’ it’s critical we take steps to look after our physical and mental wellbeing, regardless of our age.

Remember, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will pass but authorities are warning it is a marathon, not a sprint, so we need to take steps now to establish good habits and routines that are sustainable.

We’ve compiled this simple guide to help you through these difficult times.

1. Access reliable information

First up, it’s really important to stay informed about the coronavirus outbreak but it can be a trap to get caught up in the 24/7 news cycle. The news can seem very overwhelming and contribute to greater fear and anxiety.

It’s critical you get accurate information from credible sources, as this will help you maintain perspective about the problem and also feel more in control.

Here’s a few of the sources you can rely on:

If you need more information on coronavirus, you can call the National Coronavirus Hotline on 1800 020 080. The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Each state or territory government is also putting out information online about how COVID-19 can be managed and how restrictions are being enforced.

2. Focus on your mental wellbeing

If you’re feeling anxious about the COVID-19 outbreak, you are not alone.

Across the globe there’s heightened anxiety about the virus itself and the restrictions it’s putting on our lives.

Beyond Blue is just one organisation responding to the growing demand for mental health support as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

It has built a dedicated COVID-19 Mental Health Support Service, funded by the Australian Government. The service offers free counselling by mental health professionals for all people in Australia 24/7, both online and over the phone.

Beyond Blue offers valuable advice on maintaining wellbeing during the pandemic. A key recommendation is to try to maintain a practical and calm approach. It says that widespread panic can complicate efforts to manage the outbreak effectively. Do your best to stay calm and follow official advice, particularly around observing good hygiene habits.

It also offers advice for people who are staying at home and struggling with self-isolation.

These include staying connected, eating well, maintaining a good routine, getting exercise and doing things you enjoy and find relaxing.

Another article highlights the importance of mindfulness as a coping mechanism. It outlines the warning signs for anxiety, how to take healthy ‘brain breaks’, and the value of good sleep.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has also prepared information to help you manage your mental health during the pandemic.

APS President Ros Knight says it is reasonable and understandable that people are concerned, but panicking is not a helpful way to respond.

“As humans, we are hardwired to be afraid of the unknown and of something that appears random and uncontrollable. If you find yourself becoming anxious about coronavirus, try to remember that medical and scientific experts are following strict protocols to contain the virus and treat those affected”

“Exposing yourself to a constant stream of negative information takes a huge psychological toll. Avoid reading social media posts that warn of an apocalypse and don’t get drawn into doomsday discussions. Sticking to the facts and relying on scientific sources for your information is the best way to maintain perspective and manage your feelings positively.”

The APS has a number of useful information sheets with tips on coping with coronavirus anxiety and managing your mental health, which you can find here.

Some other resources with tips to improve your mental health include:

Lifeline – mental health and wellbeing during the Covid-19 outbreak

Headspace – how to cope with stress related to COVID-19

3. Stay connected

One of the most important tools for coping with this crisis is to stay connected with family and friends, although that can be difficult given the advice to stay home and limit face-to-face contact.

But don’t despair, you can keep in touch by phone, text messages, social media or video calls.

Even letter writing is coming back into vogue, with young children discovering the joy of sending letters or cards to elderly relatives or neighbours to brighten their day.

There are also lots of grassroots campaigns springing up to help people young and old stay in touch and to check on vulnerable people in our community.

For some it’s as simple as dropping their phone number in a neighbour’s letterbox so they can stay in touch. Driveway drinks and barbecues are taking off in some neighbourhoods, across the nation many people are putting teddy bears in their yards and windows so children can go on a bear hunt and there’s been a huge take-up in WhatsApp and Facebook chats to communicate with immediate neighbours.

All of these are ways to remind each other that we care and are in this together.

If you’d like to get more involved in the digital world but don’t know where to start, check out Be Connected, an Australian Government initiative to help people thrive in a digital world.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant says there are great resources on the Be Connected website for older Australians to develop online skills and navigate the digital world with confidence.

“At a time when video calls and online purchasing are encouraged, we need to ensure older Australians receive the right advice and support to help them interact online safely,” she says.

The Be Connected website offers over 45 free online courses plus interactive training tools and resources. You can learn how to:

  • Make video calls
  • Use popular social media services
  • Use Facebook

Be Connected has also prepared a COVID-19 article on how to stay connected, as well as how to shop online. It also includes an important warning on recognising scams

4. Physical health

Staying physically active is critical but hard during these times. It’s easy to become a couch potato, spending hours in front of the TV watching your favourite programs or movies. Of course, the temptation is to eat too many unhealthy snacks or have one too many beers or wines at the same time.

That’s why establishing and maintaining a good exercise routine is so important. Under the current restrictions, you can still get out to exercise, even if it just involves a walk around the block. You’re bound to meet some of your neighbours doing the same thing. Just remember, if you stop for a quick chat, maintain the required 1.5m social distance.

If the weather’s poor or you simply don’t feel like going out, you can do your exercise at home.

The Australian Government’s Department of Health has general guidelines on the activity people 65 and over should be doing. It says four types of activity are needed:

  • Moderate Activities– for your heart, lungs and blood vessels
  • Strength Activities– to help maintain bone strength
  • Flexibility Activities– to help you move more easily
  • Balancing Activities– to improve your balance and help prevent falls.

It suggests including at least one activity from each group and although some, such as water aerobics, probably can’t be done at home, most of them can. You can see the complete list here.

Australian Seniors has an article on exercises you can do at home to strengthen your bones and stay healthy, and it includes links to other relevant sites.

YouTube also offers lots of videos on workouts for older people. One from the Go4Life Campaign from the National Institute on Aging in the United States focuses on encouraging older adults to make exercise and physical activity a part of their daily life. You can watch a 15-minute sample workout here.

Of course, it is a good idea to check with your doctor before embarking on any new exercise routine and it’s very important to listen to your body and not to push yourself too hard.

There’s no doubt adapting to the sudden change in our lives dues to COVID-19 is challenging but there are many resources available to guide us all.

In the words of one international meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, “moment by moment we can find our way through”.

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