Q: How do I manage my mental health while social distancing?

We're not out of the woods yet

As Australia begins to open back up, our lives as we knew it are not quite back to normal. People are still working from home, travel is limited, and our activities have restrictions on them. We are still experiencing the mental effects of isolation such as depression and low mood, anxiety, stress, anger, insomnia, and substance misuse.

By incorporating these steps into your life you will be able to support your mental health now and into the future:

Maintain a health work-life balance as you work from home by keeping home and work separate, and keep reasonable work hours.

Continue to engage in enjoyable activities so you have something to look forward to each day and goals to focus on.

Keep healthy eating habits. If you find yourself comfort eating, try to resist the urge and instead ask why that is - am I bored, anxious, stressed, depressed? A healthy diet is important for your health, and is great for keeping your mind processing thoughts and emotions in a constructive way.

Engage in exercise and physical fitness. Research shows that regular exercise can be as effective as a mild antidepressant. Exercise in the morning can help boost your metabolism and improve your energy for the rest of the day.

Employ good sleep hygiene by maintaining a regular schedule, avoiding naps and stimulants for a quick boost, and using relaxation exercises and meditation to wind down mind and body.

Stay connected with family and friends and make it a regular thing. Continue your online activities and gather in small groups according to local regulations.

Watch the alcohol intake. Consuming alcohol may feel like a convenient way to deal with life's stressors and overwhelming emotions, but it can quickly get out of control and become the only coping tool in our toolbox.

Monitor warning signs of poor mental health. If you notice that your mood has been low for several days, feeling increasingly anxious and fearful or your alcohol consumption has increased, don't be afraid to reach out for help.

All Australians can have access to psychological treatment during this time and are eligible for Medicare rebates. Some of Australia's leading online mental health organisations, such as Beyond Blue, Reach Out, MindSpot and Black Dog Institute have practical support, tools and tips to help people manage through these difficult times.

How do I deal with panic attacks?

If you are experiencing panic episodes it is important not to fear them as your brain has given your body the wrong "signal".

When we experience a panic attack, our body thinks we are in danger even though there is no danger actually present.

A panic attack is a fear response but in the wrong context. We call it a "false alarm" when we feel fear in the absence of danger.

Like a fire alarm that goes off even though there is no fire. People who experience panic attacks describe being short of breath, light-headedness, chest pain, sweating, heart racing and a sense of impending doom.

If you experience these symptoms you should see your doctor in order to rule out medical causes, but once medical causes have been ruled out it is important to see a qualified mental health professional who will be able to help you find a way to manage your symptoms.

  • Today's answer is provided by Sydney clinical psychologist Vicki Johnson, through HealthShare, a digital company dedicated to improving the health of regional Australians. Submit questions, and find more answers, at healthshare.com.au.
This story We're not out of the woods yet first appeared on The Canberra Times.