JOURNEY 26: Managing your own Self-Care and Mental Health
Self-care is an important part of daily life, however during times of uncertainty and this unprecedented situation with COVID-19 the need for self-care is imperative.
Self-care is often the first thing that gets sacrificed when life is busy and stressful, and people often think that taking time for themselves seems indulgent. But looking after your own wellbeing will help you get through this challenging time, and will help you to better care for others.
Amidst the confusion and constant stream of information due to COVID-19, a self-care plan can help you focus, make decisions and stay healthy.
“Please put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others!” Many of us have heard this important rule on flight safety recordings but it’s a useful phrase to remind us about the importance of self-care – if you don’t look after yourself first, you won’t be able to help yourself or others.
What is self-care?
Self-care refers to the activities and practices that we deliberately choose to engage in on a regular basis to maintain and enhance our health and wellbeing.
Self-care helps to prevent stress and anxiety
By incorporating self-care activities into your regular routine, like going for a walk or socializing with friends, you give your body and mind time to rest, reset, and rejuvenate, so you can avoid or reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Self-care makes you more effective
When you take time for yourself and give your body the food, rest, and activity it needs, you will actually have more energy to meet the demands of daily life – however unusual they might be. Bringing more balance to your daily routine will help you be more productive and more resilient to stressors.
How to create a self-care plan
Step 1 | Evaluate your coping skills
Examining your own habits is an important first step in developing a self-care plan. How do you typically deal with life’s demands? Can you identify when you need to take a break?
When faced with challenges, we can use either positive coping strategies or negative coping strategies. Below are a few examples of each.
Which strategies do you use?
It’s important to be honest when evaluating your behaviours. If you find yourself unable to cope with a situation or feeling angry, snappy with others, or anxious, take a deep breath and refocus. It may be time to re-evaluate your go-to coping skills.
Step 2 | Identify your daily self-care needs
Take a moment to consider what you value and need in your everyday life. Then consider what you value and need during these difficult times of uncertainty. It may not seem like the right time to be planning, but time spent now will reap benefits later if you can get a plan in place.
Remember that self-care extends far beyond your basic physical needs; consider your psychological, emotional, spiritual, social, financial, and workplace wellbeing.
You will find a template for ‘Identifying needs’ at the end of this fact sheet that you can print off. This template contains useful examples to get you started.
Step 3 | Reflect. Examine. Replace.
Reflect on the existing coping strategies you have identified have outlined in the previous activities. What’s working? What isn’t working?
Keep the helpful tools and remove anything that is unhelpful.
Are there barriers to maintaining your self-care? Examine how you can address these barriers. Start taking steps toward incorporating new strategies that will benefit your health and well-being.
Work on reducing, and then eliminating, negative coping strategies. If you find yourself using negative strategies, then begin by choosing one action you feel is most harmful and identify a positive strategy to replace it.
Positive coping skills are an important part of your self-care toolkit.
Step 4 | Create your Self-care plan
Once you’ve determined your personal needs and strategies, write them down. Your self-care plan can be as simple or as detailed as you need it to be. You may choose to keep a detailed plan on your desk and carry a simplified version in your wallet, in your purse, or on your phone.
Look at it regularly, keep going back to it and refining it as the situation with COVD-19 develops.
In addition to your self-care planning, it is important to find an approach that SETTLES the mind. Our advice is:
Stay focused on the here and now and avoid thinking too far into the future and take each day one step at a time.
Engage and stay connected to friends, family and support networks. Working together with communities, united as a country we can move through this.
Thoughts are thoughts, not necessarily facts. Be alert to negative thoughts and don’t give them power.
Treat people with kindness, support others through this time of uncertainty.
Limit information and time on unhelpful media. Constant exposure to anxiety-fuelling stories drives panic and uncertainty.
Exercise is key, research shows that good physical health is critical for a healthy mind, focus on good sleep, eating well and working out.
Seek help, if you are concerned about yourself or others talk to your GP, the Black Dog online clinic is a good place to start with a self-assessment.
For more information: blackdoginstitute.org.au
It may start as a bit of a novelty, but working from home for long periods of time can start to affect your mental health.
Just as it is important to look after your physical health during the changing circumstances around COVID-19, it’s important to keep on top of how you are feeling.
Some common feelings are:
Feeling isolated, lonely, or disconnected from other people – socially and professionally.
Being unable to ‘switch off from work’.
Having difficulty staying motivated.
Having difficulty prioritising your workload.
Feeling uncertain about your progress, and whether you’re performing ok.
Insomnia and sleep problems.
Here are some tips to protect your mental health when working from home:
Set up routine and structure for your workday, and create boundaries between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’.
Set a routine as if you are going into the office, with a regular start time, and finish time, and a structure for your day, with breaks and exercise scheduled in.
This will help you maintain a strong boundary between work and home life, minimise the possibility of work intruding into your family time, and help you switch off from work at the end of the day.
Creating cues, such as getting changed into your work clothes at the start of the day, and out at the end, can help with this.
Create a specific place in your home where you work - avoid your bedroom.
Studies show that working from home can interfere with sleep, especially for people who find it difficult to switch off from work. Avoid working in your bedroom if possible. It will then become associated with being alert, awake and switched on.
Stay connected with co-workers and your manager by scheduling regular virtual or phone meetings.
Because everyday encounters with colleagues don’t spontaneously happen when we’re working from home, we need to be proactive in organising meetings and social connection to maintain positive relationships.
Staying connected with others will help to reduce stress levels, help you feel less isolated, and stay productive.
It also helps you communicate with your manager or employees to keep them informed of what you’re working on.
Try a digital detox in the evenings.
Technology makes it easier to stay connected 24-7, but the downside is that it can make it difficult to switch off, and separate work and home life.
A digital detox can help you switch off from work, so you can spend quality time with your family, or doing the things you want to do.
Get outside at least once a day.
If you’re not stuck in self-isolation, try to get outside at least once a day. Go for a walk, get some fresh air, and sunshine.
If you are in isolation, go out to your garden or walk up and down your driveway or go out onto your balcony and enjoy fresh air.
Focus on the silver linings.
Working from home can have many benefits: it can improve productivity, reduce distractions, reduce stress, improve work satisfaction, lower the time (and cost) you spend commuting, give you greater sense of control over your workday, and can even help to avoid challenging situations.
Don’t forget the other helpful actions for maintaining positive mental health.
Exercising, getting a good night’s sleep, eating well, doing activities you enjoy, staying connected with social supports, and managing stress through problem solving, relaxation or meditation, and thinking in helpful ways.
It’s important to try to think of the positives of your situation as well as the negatives.
Working from home is incredibly flexible, giving you a greater sense of control over how you work and when you work.
It allows many to avoid long commutes (and potential exposure to COVID-19).
It has been linked to improved job satisfaction, lower stress levels, lower conflict between work and home life, improved focus, and greater productivity, and work performance.
If you need more tips, skills and strategies, consider asking for help from your Employee Assistance Provider (EAP) if you have one, do an online program, or seek help from a professional.
There are also range of free or low-cost digital mental health tools that are available in Australia that can help for mental health. The Australian government is also supporting psychologist sessions over the phone or video, allowing some members of the public to access bulk-billed sessions.
Helpful online tools and resources
Black Dog Institute Online Clinic
This Way Up
This document may be freely downloaded and distributed on condition no change is made to the content. The information in this document is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Not to be used for commercial purposes and not to be hosted electronically outside of the Black Dog Institute website.
Black Dog Institute,2020. Managing your mental health at home Information about working from home during COVID-19.
Black Dog Institute, 2020. Importance of self-care planning COVID-19 mental health and wellbeing resources