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As many Australians adapt to the ‘new norm’, living life during the current COVID-19 situation is challenging on all aspects, and it’s more important than ever to support your mental health and wellbeing during this time. Mental Health Month is a good reminder of this.

Here at atWork Australia we support people living with anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions to overcome their barriers, and help them reach their employment and life goals.

We recently asked one of atWork Australia’s Psychologist, Cheong Wong, to broadly discuss the topic of mental health amid the global pandemic and during Mental Health Month, providing some insightful tips and advice.

What is mental health?
Mental health, just like physical health, is the health of our mind rather than our body. When we have good mental health, it is like a mind with a good immune system. We are more resilient, and able to face many of life’s challenges and stressors. We can adapt and function at an adequate level. When we have poor mental health, we are more prone to mental health illnesses, we can be vulnerable to stressors or difficulties, and we can fall into mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

What are some strategies to help support good mental health?
Having a balanced work/life balance, and regular exercise, are important factors in managing stress and anxiety. More general coping strategies that are commonly found to be effective are breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation.

How can working support mental health?
Working provides a whole lot of benefits over and above it being a source of income. Aside from providing financial stability and a financial means to plan for the future, it provides a person with a sense of self-identity, it is a place where social connections are made, and a place where we create a network of friends and contacts. It gives us a sense of focus, a sense of meaning, and it allows us to contribute and give back to society. With all these benefits of working, it is no wonder that it helps to keep mental health conditions at bay.

What are your tips for dealing with anxiety during COVID-19?
It is normal to feel anxiety during COVID-19. This is particularly the case for those who have to make significant changes to their lives. If you have lost employment, or if you are unable to meet up with loved ones. Dealing with anxiety is focused on finding alternative ways to have these needs met. For example, if you have lost employment, you can focus on upskilling and preparing for getting back into the employment market. If you are unable to meet up with loved ones, you can find alternative ways to stay connected, such as video chat and hanging out in “virtual rooms”. Facebook now has a “Messenger Rooms” feature where you can hang out with people important to you.

What are some ways to boost your well-being and mental health in general?
Stay connected to friends and loved ones, exercise, engage in hobbies, learn something new, and work towards a meaningful goal. This last one is very important, and people with no meaningful goal often find themselves feeling down. However, it is important to note that a meaningful goal is not necessarily something that comes looking for you. You need to explore and discover what is meaningful to you, and then pursue it. What is meaningful to one person is not necessarily meaningful to another, and it is important to find out what works for you. This gives you a reason to wake up in the morning, and will keep your mental health in check.

What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the act of focusing on the task at hand, on focusing on the present. It is being aware of what you are doing, and being connected to your five senses. When you are focusing on the present, it prevents your mind from drifting off into the past or the future, it prevents your mind from wondering into painful or harmful thoughts. It allows you to appreciate what you are currently doing. A part of mindfulness is also being non-judgemental while you are focusing on the present. To observe what happens when thoughts arise, to take note of the thoughts without seeing them as good or bad, without judging them.

How can Mindfulness help with stress and anxiety during COVID-19 and beyond?
Mindfulness helps with stress and anxiety by assisting you focus on the matter at hand and preventing your mind from wondering into unhelpful and harmful thoughts. It helps you pay attention to what you are doing. If you have already worked through with a plan towards managing unexpected fallouts from COVID-19, it means you have already taken steps to move towards a positive future. Further meandering of the mind can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. Being mindful of the moment can ease the anxious mind by refocusing on what you are doing and being non-judgemental about whatever thoughts that arises. It keeps the mind grounded in reality.

To find out more information on self-care strategies and tips, read here.

If you are interested in finding out more about atWork Australia including who we support and how we provide practical and holistic support via our Disability Employment Services, contact us today on 1300 192 630 or click here.