By Julia Gillard
These are uncertain times. There are many unknowns.
As humans, we’re hardwired to crave stability. If you’re feeling worried and unsettled that is perfectly understandable.
I felt that myself during my recent period of self-isolation in London. At an event for young people called WE Day, I spent quite a bit of time with Sophie Trudeau, the First Lady of Canada.
When she became unwell and tested positive for COVID-19, I was concerned about potentially becoming sick a long way from home.
What I found reassuring was that the public health advice that was so clear. The recommendation to me was to self-isolate for 14 days from the time of contact.
Fortunately, I stayed fit and well in that period and all my London friends and colleagues, as well as visiting Aussie mates, made sure I had food and stayed connected with video conferences, calls and silly messages.
On my return to Australia I will self-isolate for another 14 days, and I know family and friends will help me through.
For me, this experience has reinforced how a significant part of the solution to this pandemic rests with us.
The daily decisions we make now are critical and every single one of us has a part to play.
Our individual acts can have a powerful collective impact, helping protect those most at risk in our community.
Simple things really matter – good hand hygiene, avoiding mass gatherings, keeping a 1.5 metre distance between ourselves and others, and staying home if we're unwell or if we’ve been in contact with someone who is.
We must do everything we can to ease the burden on our healthcare workers, who are already working tirelessly to keep us safe and care for the sick, while preparing for an enormously taxing period ahead.
If we follow the public health advice, we can make their job easier by slowing the spread of the virus, which will ease the pressure on our health system and ensure that everyone can access treatment and care when they need it.
At Beyond Blue, we are not infectious diseases experts. All we can do in relation to physical health is echo what is being said by those with greater knowledge.
But we do know about mental health and we understand that these are stressful times.
It’s perfectly normal to feel a level of anxiety about events unfolding here and overseas, and question how they will impact on you and your family and friends.
Uncertainty about what will happen next and disruption to our usual routines can make it difficult to stay grounded and can increase feelings of helplessness.
But we are not helpless.
Just as there are practical steps we can take to reduce our risk of catching or spreading the virus, there are many things we can do to minimise distress and strengthen our emotional wellbeing.
Firstly, if the constant stream of news about the virus is causing you or your family heightened anxiety – switch it off.
While it’s important to stay informed of public health announcements, you don’t need to be plugged in 24 hours a day.
Consider seeking news updates only one or two times a day, at set times and for a limited period.
Then, move on to activities that lift your spirits – that might be spending time with a pet, watching your favourite TV show, going for a walk (if you can) or chatting to a friend on the phone or online.
When you do seek information, refer to reliable sources such as The World Health Organization, the Australian Government or your local state or territory health authority, to make sure you’re getting the facts, not speculation or misinformation.
Taking care of your body can also help build resilience – mental and physical. Try to maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, seek support to quit smoking, get enough sleep, avoid drugs, reduce your alcohol intake and practice regular deep breathing or meditation.
It’s important that if you or a loved one are feeling anxious to not to let the worries spiral, and keep things in perspective.
Remember that while it’s normal and reasonable to have concerns about this pandemic, some of the best scientific and medical minds in the world are working around the clock to keep us safe.
Every day, public health experts are uncovering more about the virus, and in Australia, and in other parts of the world, the vast majority of people who contract it recover.
There is no doubt that this is a once in a generation public health challenge and the weeks and months ahead will test us as a nation.
But we cannot let panic or fear divide us.
We all have a role to play in ensuring that our communities are as safe and healthy as they can be and that everyone has access to the support and provisions they need.
At Beyond Blue, we will be doing all we can to provide connection and information. Please take the time to look beyondblue.org.au.
What especially heartens me are the many small acts of kindness and generosity we are seeing take place all over our country.
Everyday Australians reaching out to neighbours, friends and even strangers, with a sense of open-hearted compassion to care for the most vulnerable and isolated.
This is the very best of humanity. I am sure it is this spirit of community that will prevail.