Our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing is our most important asset. The arrival of COVID-19 however has taken its toll on all facets of our health, impacting the very way we live our lives. We spoke with Dr Justine Gatt, Group Leader and Senior Research Scientist, at NeuRA and UNSW on the importance of prioritising your mental wellbeing and steps you can take to build mental resilience. 

Everyone is faced with mental stress or adversity at some point in our lives. Even day-to-day, we find ourselves stressed and anxious about hitting deadlines, making sure bills are paid, ensuring children are cared for and even down to figuring out how to get dinner on the table. Unfortunately, it's not something we can escape.

Add in a global pandemic and the mental pressure increases, especially for those in high-risk groups such as frontline healthcare workers, the elderly and the immuno-compromised. While there hasn’t been time to analyse the long-term impact of COVID-19, there are some preliminary findings. It has certainly raised anxiety because of the fear of possibly getting infected or infecting your loved ones. It’s the uncertainty of the future. Social isolation is also a big problem, leading to loneliness, boredom and even just general distress.

On top of this, there is the mental strain associated with a lack of work. Many people have lost their jobs or their businesses and are scrambling to find a way to pay their bills. The associated financial burden is huge.

The silver lining

Of course, it’s important to highlight the positives and for some people, there may be a silver lining when it comes to improving our overall wellbeing. For me personally, it has been about finding the balance. I’ve saved time from travelling. I’ve rethought my whole self-care routine. In terms of physical fitness, I’m finding time to work out more and get a decent night’s sleep.

For families, there is added time together. There’s also proof that businesses and employees can adapt, showing that flexible working can happen and perhaps, is here to stay. For many, this is a huge weight off their shoulders as they manage family and work, attempting to find the elusive balance. 

And when it comes to financial help, the Federal Government announced a $5.7 billion investment into mental health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes Doubling Better Access Initiative sessions for those with existing mental health conditions, enhancing suicide prevention and providing critical mental health support for those impacted by the 2019-20 bushfire emergency, which, of course, preceded the COVID-19 pandemic and had a huge impact on communities throughout Australia. This, in itself, shows how important mental health is when it comes to our overall wellbeing.

Building mental resilience

A big issue is that as kids, we weren’t ever given the skills to deal with stress in the best way we can. We’ve learnt from seeing how others cope. So you might learn habits from your parents or your siblings or friends. And the problem is these aren't always the best ways to deal with stress. We think, “Okay, when I'm stressed, I'm going to have a cigarette because that's what I see others do”.

This, however, is slowly changing. Some schools are now providing children with tools on how to cope better with adversity. It shows that mental resilience is most certainly a skill that can be taught. 

While some of our mental health is down to genetics, there’s a lot we can be doing outside of our genetic disposition to promote our wellbeing and resilience. We talk about the six dimensions of wellbeing: composure, own-worth, mastery, positivity, achievement and satisfaction with life. 

Some things to consider include:

  • Understanding how you cope with stress. For composure, it’s about being aware of your body, because ultimately, the first symptoms that emerge are physical – heart racing, sweat, irritation. If you’re more conscious of that, it creates an opportunity to try a more adaptive coping style. For instance, you can use humour or yoga rather than anger or venting, exercise rather than smoking.
  • Understanding the benefits of positivity. This doesn’t mean being happy all the time, but rather being mindful of the mood we’re in and doing things that make us happy. Wellbeing is about mind, body and soul so understanding what makes us happy physically, mentally and emotionally is key. Self-care involves looking after your physical health too. Did you get a decent night's sleep? Are you exercising? Do you have the right diet?

Understanding the importance of being present in the situation. A good suggestion is using your five senses. What can you see, taste, hear, smell and touch? When you’re immersed in that current moment, you’re not worrying about what has happened in the past and what’s coming in the future. Meditation and mindfulness can also be hugely beneficial.

The whole package

There is certainly a genetic element to wellbeing. However, our surrounding environment has a huge impact on our mental, emotional and physical health. Who knows whether life will go back to pre-COVID normal. What’s important though, is that we arm ourselves with the right tools to prioritise our wellbeing, no matter what life throws at us. 

We know how important mental health is, which is why we have put together tested strategies in our ‘Enhance Employee Wellbeing with Camp B-Well’ Trail on Trailhead. Learn how to improve your mental resilience and deal with stress, along with strategies to help your team.