8 ways you can manage stress, anxiety and grief during COVID-19

Written by La Trobe Student Health & Promotions Co-ordinator Rose Wimbush.

If you’re feeling anxious or stressed at the moment, you’re not alone. Lockdown and COVID19 continues to affect our lives in ways we never thought possible and it’s common to feel a range of different emotions.

Feeling stressed and anxious is quite normal and for some can be helpful and spur you to action – for example, when you have an assignment due the next day and you’re only halfway done. However, often these feelings can be unhelpful and during periods of prolonged stress and anxiety, and you might need to consciously practise techniques to stop yourself feeling overwhelmed. Keep reading to find out what some of these techniques are.

Another common feeling we may have is one of general discomfort. This discomfort could be attributed to grief. While we might think of grief as a response to losing someone we love, it can be more complex than that.

There can be many reasons why we feel grief – the world is changing, our lives have been disrupted and we know things are going to be different. We grieve the loss of normalcy; the economic toll; the loss of connection. We’re all grieving together. Anticipatory grief can also play a part by giving us a lingering sense of more loss to come and uncertainty about the future – for example we don’t know really know when lockdown will end.

Here are some signs that you might be experiencing grief:

  • You’re on edge, but you’re not exactly sure why
  • You find yourself withdrawn and avoiding others
  • You may feel flat, quiet and unmotivated
  • You’re often exhausted
  • You feel angry at things you can’t control

Thankfully, there are things we can do in our everyday lives right now to manage our grief and they also help with stress and anxiety too.

1. Acknowledge your feelings

When you block your emotions because they are overwhelming or conflicting it tends to cause stress on the mind and body and can make those feelings stronger. It can be helpful to acknowledge the feelings and thoughts you are having and not “beat yourself up” about them. Sometimes this asks us to embrace a new level of honesty, stopping and simply saying or writing down what we’re feeling. Once you’ve acknowledged what’s happening in your heart, mind and body, then ask yourself, “What can I do to take care of myself at the moment?”

2. Be kind to yourself, you DON’T need to be productive during this time

If you’ve been on social media lately you would’ve seen the posts. Fitness challenges, freshly baked bread and Dalgona coffee. People kicking goals and seemingly always productive, clean and happy. If you’ve felt pressure to jump on the productivity bandwagon, you’re not alone.

While these things are nice if they’re something you want to do, looking at them all the time can put pressure on us to always be achieving something and then make us feel guilty when we don’t. Be mindful that living through this pandemic is a very challenging situation for so many of us. Being at home all the time doesn’t give us endless time, energy and motivation, and it is okay to just get through the day. Sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning is a success. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be productive – prioritise you and how you feel.

3. Look after your body

Your body and mind are strongly linked. By taking care of your body you give your mind the tools it needs to be clearer, more focused and happier. Taking care of your body is essential for strengthening your immune system and looking after your overall health and wellbeing.

  • Move your body through exercise; walk, run, stretch, yoga, cycle.
  • Sleep well by having a structured bedtime routine where you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Eat well.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol as it is a depressant.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Check in every now and then and just ask, how is my body feeling?  The make your next choice loving and supportive of the body, then see how the mind and heart responds! (See tip No.1 for more on this!)

4. Be mindful

Being mindful is about being present in the moment. This could mean being aware of your thoughts and feelings, your body and how it feels, or just your surroundings. The aim is to focus on the now and if you are focusing on how you feel or are thinking in the moment, try to sit with and understand these thoughts and feelings objectively. The more you do this the more you will come to understand them and how they influence each other. It has numerous benefits such as decreasing stress levels, increased focus and can help you improve your mood and also how you interact with the world.

Meditation is just one way to practise mindfulness, and there are many apps and online guides you can use to start your practise. You can also be mindful just by going on a walk and noticing your surroundings, or just sitting quietly in a comfy spot. It’s about bringing your focus to the ‘now’.

A good tip is to choose one part of your body (e.g. your hands, feet, spine, shoulders etc.) and for ten minutes whilst walking or typing away at your studies, keep bringing your mind back to that part of the body.  Your mind will go wild, but you can tame it, just gently bring it back and keep feeling that part of the body.  Practice that for a week and see what happens!

Mel from the SHE blogs talks about how she practises mindfulness.

Feeling stressed? Mindfulness might help

Ever wondered what all the fuss is about mindfulness? We caught up with La Trobe Associate Lecturer in Psychology, Rachael Heckenberg, to talk about the science behind mindfulness, how it works and the ways you can practise it every day. In Australia, 64% of students report high levels of stress.

5. Keep things in perspective and focus on the now

Try to remember that the grief we feel from not knowing will end. This is a temporary situation. History does tell us that we will get through this pandemic and lockdown will end. This is a time to protect ourselves and get through as best we can. The key is to focus on what is happening now, try not to guess or stew-over what the other side will look like and work on our ‘go-with-the-flow’ skills.

6. Take a break from work and study

Just because you’re at home all the time doesn’t mean that we don’t still need a mental break from our everyday activities. Allow yourself time to take a break from work and study by taking some leave or enjoying your mid-semester study break. Take a stay-cation holiday and do something relaxing.

7. Smile and laugh

Do you know that forcing yourself to smile can trick your brain into happiness? Smiling can lift your mood in an instant by triggering some strong chemical reactions in the brain. Sometimes just having a good old laugh can vastly improves our mood too. Find something funny to watch on TV, find some hilarious cat on You-Tube or ask your housemate to tell you their best joke.

8. Stay connected and if you’re not coping, seek professional help

Brene Brown defines connection as: “The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued”. The science around having strong social relationships is huge but essentially having someone you can turn to or even who you know is there for you, has strong physiological impacts on our minds and bodies, lowering stress reactions and regulating hormones. Feeling connected to others also helps combat loneliness and isolation, which is especially important during the current pandemic and lockdown.

Remember if you don’t have someone you can talk to or if you feel like you can’t cope anymore, seek professional help.  That’s what we’re here for!

What is resilience and how can you practise it?

You might have heard the word resilience thrown about a lot recently. In the news, all over your socials, from Dan Andrews at 11am every day… but what is it really? Why is it so important during this pandemic? What is resilience?

Wellbeing Service

Find support at La Trobe

  • Have an appointment with La Trobe’s Counselling Team via telephone or video (Zoom).
  • Not sure what sort of wellbeing support you need? Fill in this form to request a callback from our Wellbeing team.
  • Use our La Trobe University Crisis Line for Out-of-Hours Mental Health and Wellbeing Support.
  • Phone 1300 146 307 or text 0488 884 100. This service operates 5pm-9am on weekdays and 24 hours during weekends and public holidays.

External Support

  • Lifeline – For anyone experiencing a personal crisis, 24 hours a day 13 11 14.
  • Beyond Blue – The government has created a new Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service which offers further Wellbeing services and resources
  • Headspace – Check out their COVID-19 resource on coping with stress related to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Switchboard – for LGBTIQA+ specific support and referral
  • The Resilience Project