Mental Health Check

Tena koutou nga whanau o Play Learn Grow. Kei te Pehea Koutou?

Hello whanau of Play Learn Grow. How are you all?)

We wanted to check in and make sure all our whanau and tamariki are well at this stage of the lockdown.

We want to remind whanau how important it is to look after your mental health! Attached are a range of ideas that could support you to look after your mental health.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup, take care of yourself first.”

(You can’t look after others if you don’t look after yourself).

Some degree of anxiety is normal as we live through a COVID-19 pandemic. Feeling low or down about restrictions on our normal lives is also a normal response. That means it’s more important than ever to know the key steps to managing your mental health.

Resilience is the ability to adapt well to any challenges and stress you may face in life. The more resilient you are, the more you will feel able to bounce back from difficult experiences.

We’re in one of those times now, taking steps now can protect your mood from dropping or your anxiety increasing over the lockdown period and build your resilience for the long haul.

There are 5 key strategies to help take care of your mental health while staying at home:

Look after your physical wellbeing

Taking care of your physical wellbeing provides a good base for your mental wellbeing. Make it a priority to get enough sleep, be active every day and have regular nutritious meals. This is because sleep, exercise and diet are all linked to how you feel emotionally.

Get enough sleep

While stress and anxiety can cause sleeping problems, or worsen existing ones, lack of sleep can also cause anxiety.  

You may not have the routine that going to work provides, so it takes a bit more effort to create one yourself. However, a good routine helps with good sleep. Regular bedtimes and waking times set your body clock into a rhythm, making it easier to get to sleep each night. So, resist the temptation to stay up late streaming movies and go to bed at about the same time each night.

Be active every day

Exercise lifts your mood – especially aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, running, and cycling, or resistance training (lifting weights). People who are inactive are up to twice as likely to have depressive symptoms than active people. Even though options are more limited now, you can go out for a walk, run, or bike ride in your local neighbourhood, so make the most of this and do it every day. If you have a backyard or garden, you have space for more activities, such as ball games with your family or flatmates or catching up on the gardening. Even if you are confined to an apartment, you can still move regularly throughout the day. Do an online fitness class, dance to your favourite music, get into a yoga routine. But if you can get out into nature in your backyard or neighbourhood, make the most of that. Research shows spending time in nature improves physical and mental wellbeing.  

Eat a healthy diet

The link between food and mood is clear – what you eat affects not only your physical health but also your mental health. 

Eating some foods can improve your mood and mental wellbeing, while other foods can have a negative impact on how you feel. 

The key is to choose a diet high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and fish, with smaller portions of lean meat and dairy – and to limit those sugary, salty, and processed foods.

Do the things that boost mental health

As well as taking care of yourself physically, there are a few things we know that build up emotional resilience, making you less vulnerable to anxiety and depression. 

Stay connected

We’re all in this together. You can’t socialise with anyone outside your bubble in the usual way, but you can still be in touch by text, social media, phone calls and video calls. You talk to your neighbours over the fence or on the street – just stay 2 metres away from them.  Reach out to your usual supports over the phone – family and whānau, friends and workmates. Be in touch more often with the people you care about. Make sure they’re doing okay and that will help you too.

Get creative: arrange a morning cup of teatime with your elderly parent while you chat on the phone, read a book to your grandchild over a video call, have an end of day social message chat with a friend each night and a video conference drink on Friday night with all your mates. 

Accept the situation 

Knowing what you can control and what you can’t control helps to cope through times like this. Focus on what you can do in a challenging situation helps to make you stronger. Some things are out of your hands – and in this case, you can’t do much about the existence of COVID-19. But there are things you can do: stay at home and save lives, wash your hands often and cough or sneeze into your sleeve so you don’t spread the virus (or other bugs). And when you go out for food, medicine, or exercise, stay 2 metres away from others. Following these rules is doing the most profound thing any of us will ever do help to stop the people we care about from dying. Eckhart Tolle says, ‘Whatever you cannot enjoy doing, you can at least accept that this is what you have to do … Performing an action in a state of acceptance means you are at peace while you do it. That peace is a subtle energy vibration which then flows into what you do.’ (A New Earth, p. 296)

Breathe and be present

Knowing how to use your breathe to calm your nervous system is a key tool in your wellbeing kit. Taking a long, slow breathe in, holding it for a few seconds and then slowly, slowly breathing out really makes a difference. Being mindful helps you become more present to yourself and reduces the build-up of tension, stress, and anxiety. The more you practise being mindful, the more you benefit from it.

Do something for someone else

It seems counter-intuitive, as feeling anxious or depressed can take up all your headspace. But making the effort to be there for someone else is actually a good way to pick up your mood and settle your nerves. There are obviously not as many options in lockdown, but those you are living with will appreciate a thoughtful gesture – taking the kids out for a scooter ride down the street so your partner can concentrate on a work video conference, cleaning up with kitchen even though your flatmates made the mess, calling someone living on their own – even and especially if you are too.

Find the lighter moments

No one’s denying this is a tough time, but even in times like this, there are still moments that can uplift us. Make a point of finding something beautiful in nature each day on your walk or out your window. Give your other senses some stimulation too – stroke a pet, cuddle your children or your partner. Notice smells on your walk or in your garden. Have variety in your meals, including some that really stimulate your taste buds. And listen to music – choose something that will uplift you if you’re feeling a bit low or under-stimulated or pick something calming if you’re starting to feel anxious. And when you’re online, check out the memes and other things people around the world are sharing to lift our moods and remind us we’re all in this together.

Seek spiritual comfort

Turn to your cultural or spiritual practices that connect you to a sense of purpose and meaning. It may be the care you take of the others around you, or pets or the environment you’re in. It may be a formal practice, such as meditation. You may need to find online services to replace your usual community gatherings. And remember, you are showing Manaakitanga in a shutdown by taking care of people by staying away from them! 

He oranga ngakau, he pikinga waiora.

Positive feelings in your heart will raise your sense of self-worth.”

Avoid the things that harm your mental health

Avoid news overload

You need to stay informed, so you know what alert level we are at and what that means you need to do. However, you do not need to track infection numbers and death rates around the world, or even here in Aotearoa. And you don’t need to watch every briefing, just look out for the summary of any key changes. 

Stay informed, not overwhelmed.

Limit alcohol

Having a drink can be great for a temporary soothing of your nerves or boost of mood. But doing that too much and too often has a big risk in terms of your ongoing mental wellbeing. Alcohol disrupts the balance of chemicals in your brain, including serotonin – a chemical that helps to regulate your mood. Therefore, if you drink too much or too often you can end up feeling worse. 

If you use alcohol as your main way of relieving stress and anxiety, there is a risk that you may become dependent on it. Clearly, the same is true for use of any other recreational drugs.

Reduce screen time

The internet is a lifeline at a time like this: many people can continue to work at home and earn a living, you can find information about the COVID-19 situation and access help or support through it. And of course, you can entertain yourself with streamed moves, gaming, YouTube videos and so on. But you can have too much of a good thing! Researchers have found that the amount of screen time can predict the depression level among adults, for children and adolescents, more hours of daily screen time were associated with lower psychological well-being, and teenage high users are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Take regular breaks from the screen and help others in your bubble to do so as well: suggest a board game or a card game, make something, bake something, fix something, organise something, clean something – anything that gets you moving and gets you off the screen.

Whāia te mātauranga hei oranga mō koutou | Seek after learning for the sake of your wellbeing.”

Know when and how to get help if you need it

If you’re struggling, that’s understandable. Don’t try and soldier on alone. Get help as soon as you notice signs you are becoming anxious or depressed. 

If you are concerned about your own mental wellbeing, or that of someone else, you can call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor. They have interpreters if anyone needs one. They’re available for free, day and night.

Other phone lines include: 

You can also get medical help at any alert level, including emergency care if needed. Your doctor and practice nurse are also still available, although sometimes this may be via a virtual consult (by phone or video).

Remember the reason we’re all doing this together

He waka eke Noa – we’re all in this together. Sometimes it helps when we’re doing something tough to connect to the purpose to it.

We’re doing this to save lives. Our main job right now is staying home in our bubbles to break the chain of COVID-19 infection. 

This time will pass, and you will be able to look back and know that you played your part in a nationwide effort to save the lives of people in families/whānau and communities all around Aotearoa New Zealand.