Mental Wellbeing

Mental Wellbeing is being able to participate fully in your daily activities including work and study, being able switch between your work/study and home life, being able to rest and also to find pleasure and joy in your daily life. Just as maintaining your physical fitness requires training, practice and care, so does building and maintaining our mental "fitness". In this section you will find information on:

  • finding routines that work
  • cultivating mindfulness
  • finding joy
  • practicing gratitude
  • maintaining mental fitness
  • managing feelings of worry and anxiety
  • staving off "cabin fever"

Finding routines that work

With thanks to the Research School of Population Health "Feeling Good at Home" page:

"Routines help us to achieve regular activities such as personal care, household chores, sleep, study or work, eating well, staying connected, exercise and time for other things we enjoy. Routines can help us to coordinate activities, provide a sense of control and feel a sense of achievement. Remember, a lot of people won't be operating at the same capacity compared to "normal life", so you might find it helpful to adjust your expectations and be kind to yourself and others.

Here are a few tips for making and keeping a routine whilst you are staying at home.

  • Identify important activities. Identify activities that are both important and beneficial to you and your household, these may include personal hygiene, preparing and eating meals, cleaning, caring, or playing. It is useful to include quick activities like "Change out of pyjamas" (they might be comfortable but changing can help you get in the right headspace to start the day).
  • Define your work/study hours. This can help maintain the boundaries between your work/study and personal life. To define these times, you may do things like continuing to commute at the start and end of each day by taking a quick walk, or have a set routine about packing up and setting up your work/study space each day.
  • Include "feel good" activities. Make sure you include activities that you enjoy. You might pick a few from RSPH - Feeling good at home.
  • Write a schedule. Include the times and order of your activities, then practice and refine it. A schedule may also help you to limit distractions (e.g. doing household chores during work time) by providing a set time to complete activities. For example, scheduling 'hang out washing' with 'enjoy nature' followed by 'drink water and eat a piece of fruit' during the day, provides helpful daily structure rather than a piecemeal approach."

When caring for family at home as well as working from home, keeping everyone to a clear and familiar daily routine and rhythm will help your family to complete their work and learning activities while still allowing important time for rest and play. Rhythms allow structure and routine but also flexibility and adaptability.  They create a flow through the day so that each day you can count on the rhythm, even if each day looks different. This can help to maintain the feeling of normalcy and calm for all family members and allows for an easier transition back to the usual flow of school and work. Consider having a weekly "family meeting" to discuss the week ahead, and keep a weekly timetable up on the fridge or common area so everyone knows what the day will look like, when family members (especially parents or primary carers) will be available or less available for assistance and will show the scheduled times for some family fun, fitness or just connecting.

Cultivating mindfulness

Research evidence suggests that practicing mindfulness has a myriad of positive effects on physical and mental health as well as enhancing productivity and performance in both work and study.

A mindfulness practice does not have to take a long time each day, at its core, it is about being present in the moment. Taking a deliberate pause from thinking about the future, or the past. You can practice mindfulness while you do the dishes or brush your teeth. Or if you have the time to do so, setting aside a regular time each day for a period of mindfulness, of centring yourself back in the present, can be highly beneficial.

Join staff and students for a 'collective breath' in a weekly facilitated mindfulness practice every Tuesday via Zoom from 11.30am-12pm. More information here.

Finding joy

During times of change, it is particularly important to be deliberate in seeking enjoyment and noticing pleasure and contentment in each day. This is not about denying or ignoring any challenges, rather shifting our focus to appreciate the pleasant things as well. Take the opportunity of some extra time and of being at home to savour the things that give you joy or to explore some new activities that you've wanted to try out!

Some of the positives of working or studying from home may include, being able to make yourself a fresh and tasty lunch from scratch (no soggy sandwiches!), reading a book for half an hour, sitting outside if you can to enjoy a garden or view from a balcony. Take advantage of being at home to "set the mood" to suit you. Make your favourite coffee or  tea you keep as a treat, listen to the music no one else you work or study with likes, let in some fresh air or, as the outside temperature starts to drop, turn on air controls to keep the room at the perfect temperature.

Make an extra effort to notice the beauty in the world around us, the colours of a sunrise, or the spectacular autumn leaves to give balance to the challenges that we are presented with.

Finding joy and contentment might also include meditation practices, with many options offered free online. You may also enjoy journaling, reading, art projects, cooking with new recipes, breathing exercises, mindfulness exercises or listening to a calming podcast or music. Some great ideas on wellbeing apps have been complied by EAP Assist.

Practicing gratitude

Practicing gratitude is another great way to look after your health and wellbeing and this period of working from home is a perfect opportunity to start a gratitude practice of your own. This could be taking time each day to sit and reflect on the good things that have happened over the past day or week or year, it might be a weekly family or household activity of sharing "good news stories" or it might simply be looking around the dinner table one evening at family or housemates and taking a moment to be deeply grateful for their company, their good health and their presence in your life. Deliberately choosing and practicing gratitude has been shown to have a positive impact on our psychological and physical health. And here in Australia and as part of the ANU Community, we have a lot we can choose to be thankful for.

Maintaining mental fitness

When we are mentally "fit" we are better able to approach problems or challenges with creativity and persistence to develop solutions. This can apply to our work, our study or our personal lives. You can imagine mental fitness, and the benefits it brings to all your endeavours in the same way as you would think about your physical fitness. You gradually build up your activity, you pace yourself, you nourish yourself and you take rests. You can maintain your mental fitness by keeping your whole person well, as detailed across these pages, but also by acknowledging that our mental capacity is something that can change depending on the demands (sickness, stress, fatigue) but also something that we can support, develop and maintain by applying deliberate focus and actions to stay well, and to work within our limits for that day. You will find some tips on productivity here and further resources on mental fitness linked in the reference documents.

Managing feelings of worry and anxiety

With thanks to the ANU Research School of Population Health:

If you are feeling worried or anxious, it is important to understand that during a time like this, it is normal to feel stressed, anxious, fearful or sad and for most people this will diminish over time. One strategy to help with your emotions is to notice and name the emotions you are experiencing. By recognising and acknowledging your emotions, you may gain a better understanding of your experience and that of others. These resources provide information you may find useful when trying to deal with stress and anxiety during COVID19.

  • Head to Health (Department of Health). This site describes practical psychological skills to help you and your loved one's cope with anxiety and worry about infectious diseases.
  • Tips for coping with coronavirus anxiety (Australian Psychological Society). This information sheet outlines some useful strategies that can help both adults and children cope with the stress or anxiety experienced because of the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Managing anxiety and stress (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention). Provides help for parents, first responders, and those who have been released from quarantine.
  • Seek support and talk with a trained mental health professional such as the ANU Counsellors or Staff Advisors.

Staving off "cabin fever"

Whether you are loving it or hating it, or changing between the two, long periods of isolation and disconnection from our workmates, friends, families and routines can have an impact on our health. There is a large body of research on the physical and psychological effects of isolation for areas such as long Antarctic expeditions, work on oil rigs or remote mines, space travel and other such fields.  It may be reassuring to know that these specialist areas apply, with very good effect, the same simple principles that we have been discussing here, to their even more intensive and absolute isolation scenarios:

  • Maintaining a routine which includes physical activity, mealtimes, play and rest;
  • Maintaining connections with others and with the environment you are in;
  • Finding pleasure in your daily activities and deliberately seeking to engage in joyful activities.

By observing and acknowledging the change that this period makes to your own life and applying these simple guidelines to support your health during this time, you can stave off the "cabin fever" and continue to function well, and to enjoy your days during this period.