Managing your mental health as we transition out of isolation

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a global health crisis affecting the lives of millions. As Australia’s restrictions slowly lift, health experts are warning of the mental health effects of coming out of isolation.

Academic Leader of Psychiatry and IHMRI affiliate, Professor Nagesh Pai says the impact of social isolation could have ongoing health consequences.

“Social isolation has been associated with a significantly increased risk of premature mortality. It’s comparable to, or greater than, other well-established risk factors such as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.”

Professor Pai says the most common stressors in relation to COVID-19 include the amount of time in isolation, fear of infection, frustration and boredom, the lack of available protective clothing and groceries and inadequate information about the virus.

Professor Pai says there are growing reports that health care workers have been negatively stigmatised during the pandemic which has led to an increase in alcohol abuse or dependency, as well as avoidance behaviours.

“Many experienced stigma from colleagues, family members, and the general public, as they were assumed to be contagious and hence dangerous,” he added.

He went on to say that people with a history of mental illness are also more likely to be impacted by social isolation and fear of the pandemic.

“There is a limited amount of research at present, but a recent review has recommended reducing quarantine periods to minimise psychological effects and providing reassuring updates about the need for isolation, physical distancing and hygiene.”

Professor Pai advises individuals to take hold of their own health anxiety. He says we should avoid negative news, Google searches and instead confront anxieties with a rational counter-statement.

“Engaging in exercise and doing some breathing exercises can alleviate some of the anxiety.  Allocate yourself a daily ‘worry period’. Give yourself half an hour to worry about this to your heart’s content, and then go and do something else.”

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