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Photograph: Dan Meyers/Unsplash

How to maintain your mental wellbeing during lockdown

We get some expert advice on how to stay calm and collected during Sydney's latest stay-at-home orders

By Maxim Boon
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In many ways, Sydney has been incredibly lucky over the past 18 months. There have been surges, periods of increased restrictions, and moments when the public was put on high alert, but the Harbour City hasn't experienced a significant citywide lockdown since the national shut down last March. Until now, that is. 

Despite going into this current lockdown with the advantage of knowing what it's like – a luxury none of us had when stay-at-home orders were first issued last year – there's still a dark cloud of uncertainty, stress and fear lingering over us as we collectively wonder how long we may have to live like this and when we might regain some semblance of normality in our lives. 

The loneliness, unemployment and financial hardship that have been a hallmark of lockdown life can be devastatingly damaging to a person's mental wellbeing, and indeed, many people experienced depression and anxiety on a scale that they had never encountered before during the first lockdown in 2020. The good news is, there are ways to mitigate these feelings and support services to make sure you get the help you need. You can play your part by being attentive to your own psychological and emotional wellbeing, and by being alert to the signs of a mental health struggle in those around you.

We spoke to Dr Grant Blashki, the lead clinical advisor for Australian mental health charity Beyond Blue to learn more.

Should we be worried if we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed at the moment?

These are uncertain times, and it’s perfectly understandable that people will be feeling more stressed, anxious and nervous than normal. However, it’s important to remember that these times will pass and most people do recover from this disease.

We’re bombarded by a lot of information every day, and it can feel inescapable and often pretty scary. How can we avoid these feelings?

It’s important that you keep informed through official sources and follow the advice and guidelines we’re being given. However, moderating your news and social media intake is wise, especially if it’s causing you stress. Try changing your phone settings to switch off notifications or limit yourself to checking the news just once or twice a day. Make sure to take time to do things you enjoy: eat well, get plenty of sleep, exercise and maintain a good routine.

What are the signs or symptoms of depression and anxiety that people should watch out for in themselves and in others?

It’s normal to feel down from time to time, especially in current circumstances. However, if your feelings become persistent and start interfering with your everyday life, you may benefit from some additional support. Depression and anxiety will be different for each person, but there are some common signs and symptoms to look out for. You may be depressed if, for more than two weeks, you've felt sad, down or miserable most of the time, or have lost interest or pleasure in usual activities. I encourage people to check out our website for more comprehensive information on these symptoms, and there is also an online checklist, which may be helpful if you’re feeling this way. Anxiety conditions are more than feeling stressed in relation to a difficult time in our lives. The difference is that an anxiety condition impacts on our day-to-day lives, is more frequent or persistent, and is not always connected to an obvious challenge. Some common symptoms of anxiety include panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up and edgy. Symptoms can also include excessive worry or catasrophising, and avoiding situations that might make us feel anxious. Again, our website has helpful information about Recognising the signs and symptoms as well as an anxiety check list.

What should someone do if they do find themselves in a mental health crisis like a panic attack?

What works best will differ from person to person, but there are some helpful methods people can use when they find themselves in a state of panic. Breathing exercises and mindfulness can be really useful tools to break those spiralling thoughts, and there are some great apps that people can access whenever and wherever they need them. I encourage people to try different methods and think about what calms them before they need it. 

If you are already living with depression and/or anxiety that is diagnosed, are there any useful behavioural tips that can be put in place preemptively to help with additional stress?

If you’re living with a mental health condition, you should continue to follow your mental health plan and keep in contact with your GP and any other supports you have. If you need to make other arrangements because of [being unable to go out], discuss this with your clinician in advance to make a plan for how this might work. Stay active, mindful, and most of all, remain connected to friends and family and let them know if you feel like you may be in need of greater support.

For more advice and details of how to access support visit the Beyond Blue website.

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