Best and worst coping mechanisms for dealing with the pandemic

Struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic and ever-changing restrictions? Try these strategies to make life a little easier.

It can feel like there is no end date in sight for the world to move on from Covid-19.

But while you may feel you have little control, mental health experts say adopting healthy coping strategies – and avoiding the harmful ones – can make a huge difference as the pandemic drags on.

Avoid: Drinking too much alcohol

In moderation, the odd glass of alcohol may be OK, says Sydney North Health Network clinical and counselling psychologist Ros Knight.

But “overmedicating” – for example pouring a wine every night to celebrate surviving another day of lockdown – is likely to increase your stress levels in the long run, she says.

“People think it relaxes, but then it has a kickback and what happens is you wake up feeling more stressed, and more anxious,” she says.

Avoid: Fighting reality

Another unhelpful coping strategy is refusing to accept the situation, says Ros.

So in the sense of going, ‘I shouldn’t be in lockdown’, or ‘I shouldn’t have to have these restrictions’, or ‘this is stupid, why didn’t Minister X decide something different?’,” Ros says.

“It doesn’t help you then contemplate how you’re going to adapt, how you’re going to develop new skills – it just leaves you stuck in an angry moment that just never goes away, and of course that’s going to affect your health and your mental health.”

Instead, pinpoint what you can control, she says.

For example, you can still decide (within limits) how you exercise, how you’ll approach your work, and how to find some fun and stay connected.

Avoid: Withdrawing

In lockdown, particularly if you’re living solo, there’s a “temptation to just feel overwhelmed and alone” and believe you’re a burden to others, Ros says.

But the worst thing you can do is to cut yourself off.

“Again, work out what you can control and what you can do and realise you’re not a burden and there are actually people out there who are managing quite well – who might have energy and effort to give,” she says.

Do: Pair up with a mate

Neuropsychologist Dr Hannah Korrel, who’s helping mental fitness charity Gotcha4Life spread the word on its ‘Mind Your Mate’ pledge, says knowing just one friend is there for you can make a huge difference.

“The Mind Your Mate campaign is all about getting that go-to person who you can talk to with no strings attached,” she says.

“Time spent with a friend you trust and love, somebody you can talk to on the phone, that’s worth its weight in gold for your mental health.”

She says it’s as simple as having just one friend who can be your “lockdown buddy” and who you touch base with every day or week – even if it’s just a text or a quick phone call.

And never be afraid to reach out for professional help.

Do: Learn something fun

Dr Korrel says learning something new – whether it’s a language, juggling or watercolour painting – helps your brain cope with stress.

“Anything that you’re learning is increasing your brain’s neuroplasticity and your brain’s cognitive reserves,” Dr Korrel says.

And of course it gives you something to look forward to.

“We need windows of light as we go through this tunnel of darkness,” she says.

“We can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but we can give ourselves these little lanterns as we go down the tunnel, which is at 5 o’clock I get to do that fun thing that I really love.”

Written by Larissa Ham.