These are the days to ensure we keep well physically and mentally

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There are things you can do to manage your mental health during the lockdown.Credit:Getty Images

In years to come, Victorians will remember these days of lockdown as a strange and difficult disruption to the rhythms of daily life. We’ll recall how extraordinary it was for the city, towns and neighbourhoods to be quietened, for limits to be set on how far we could travel from home, for there to be checkpoints and shutdowns.

This week, as Victoria endures yet another pandemic lockdown, amid fears that a widespread viral outbreak could emerge, it is important that each of us takes time to adjust and to ease back our expectations of ourselves and others.

Lockdowns are especially hard on our mental health. Our ability to control our lives as we might want is curbed because the good of the broader community is elevated over the presumed rights of the individual so that the government can protect the lives of the most vulnerable and, ultimately, all of us.

Lockdowns bar us from our comfortable, well-developed routines. They impede us from exercising our usual social contacts, and they can make many people feel suffocated, stressed and isolated.

Psychologists say all these feelings are entirely normal and should be expected. But such anxieties are exacerbated when workers discover their regular or casual shift job has been deleted during lockdown or employers have to tell their staff they cannot open for business. For workers and employers alike, their expectations of income vanish overnight and the financial stresses on families are heightened.

In this, the fourth lockdown for Victoria since March 2020, there is yet again a level of grief, resentment and uncertainty. Despite that, Victorians who appreciate the need to contain this deadly virus know what they need to do.

These are the days to ensure we keep well physically and mentally, and to check in with our family, reach out and demonstrate care and concern for others, particularly those who live alone.

The act of conversing with people, sharing ideas and thoughts, is vital to our mental wellbeing. For some, that might require telephoning a hotline, such as the dedicated COVID-19 service provided by Beyond Blue.

But the risk is that some people will isolate too much and fall into a mental health slump. Health practitioners last year reported an increase in patients dealing with mental health problems during lockdowns.

To be sure, many Victorians would have felt frustrated, even blindsided by the latest turn of events: some of us have still not properly emerged from last year’s closures.

A study by Australian National University researchers published 11 months ago – in the early stages of the pandemic lockdowns – found the frequency of alcohol consumption was up slightly for men and “substantially higher” for women.

A separate study by five institutions found the pandemic lockdowns last year had a “strong negative effect” on Victorian children aged between one and five years.

And an online poll of general practitioners conducted this month by a publication of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners found doctors’ main priority over the next year was “to avoid burnout” (48 per cent of respondents).

Here are some tips for managing your mental health. Get the two hours of outdoor exercise permitted in this lockdown. Pick up a new book and hunker down under a blanket. Pull weeds from the garden. Try some new recipes. Dance in the kitchen. Expand your financial goals. Ring your friends. Calm your inner self.

Those with symptoms, get tested for COVID-19. And those who are eligible, book in or queue for a vaccination. This latest outbreak undoubtedly has stirred Victorians into getting vaccinated. Record numbers have queued for both testing and vaccination in the past few days.

This is our best defence. If the widespread commitment is maintained, we will emerge from this lockdown with much better prospects for a safer, more viable COVID-normal way of life.

Note from the Editor

The Age’s editor Gay Alcorn writes an exclusive newsletter for subscribers on the week’s most important stories and issues. Sign up here to receive it every Friday.

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