Ways to manage mental stress during COVID-19

Dr Tracey Gardner from Cancer Council Queensland recently presented at the QCGC Research COVID-19 webcast with some important tips on how manage mental stress.

Cancer is a major life stress and a global pandemic may certainly add to this. Worry and uncertainty during these times are normal.  There are a range of strategies to take care of your emotional health during these stressful times.

Dr Gardner’s main takeaway was to focus on what you CAN control. While we can’t control the COVID-19 situation, you can be proactive about your wellbeing and the protective measures we can take during these times. Dr Gardner suggests:

  • Follow hygiene principles and World Health Organisation methods.
  • Stay connected! Social distancing doesn’t mean social disconnecting. Be intentional about catching up with people – make an appointment in your diary same as under normal circumstances. Spend quality time with those you live with.
  • Practicing self-care. Not only now, but always! Exercise is important to boost mood and reduces stress. Make sure you do things that you enjoy. Try online Yoga or Pilates.
  • Healthy eating. This may sound cliché, but eating the right food increases your ability to cope in difficult times.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine. Caffeine can speed your heart rate up and make you feel jittery rather than relaxed.
  • Practice gratitude. This will shift your focus of attention. Try starting a gratitude journal and write down 3 things you are grateful for each day.  
  • Practice helpful thinking to become more aware of the content of our thoughts. If you have worrying thoughts take deep breaths and ask yourself “Am I getting ahead of myself?” or “Am I underestimating my ways to cope?”
  • Stay in the present. You can’t control the past or future, so think about what you are doing in the present moment.
  • Structure your day and keep to routine. Use a calendar and diary to make appointments for yourself even if you are at home for the day.
  • Limit your media. How much is too much? Keep informed but know when to turn off. Imagine you are looking over the shoulder of a child and think “is this helpful to take in?” If it makes you feel stressed, then turn it off.
  • Remember that thoughts are not facts. Obtain accurate information from reputable health sources including World Health Organisation and the Departments of Health.

If you do feel overwhelmed or don’t feel you are coping then call Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636, Lifeline 13 11 14, or the Cancer Council Helpline 13 11 20.

Overall, try to shift your focus from worry and uncertainty to practical activities and ways of thinking.

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