The following information is from the Australian Psychological Association. As the number of COVID-19 cases rise across Australia, the level of anxiety within the community is likely to increase. It is important to take reasonable precautions, however, we also need to learn to manage our stress before it turns into more severe anxiety and panic. The following tips may help older Australians to keep stress and anxiety at bay during this challenging period.
Learn the facts (but limit media exposure)
Stay up-to-date with factual information from reliable sources such as the Australian Government Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the World Health Organization, and follow their recommendations. However, a constant influx of information and media coverage about COVID-19 will actually make us feel more anxious and concerned. Try to limit how often you are exposed to news updates on COVID-19. Take breaks from both media coverage and COVID-19 conversations throughout the day so you can focus on other things.
Take reasonable precautions and keep things in perspective
As the pandemic continues to develop, we all worry about how this is going to affect our own and our family’s health, work and finances. Try to keep your concerns in perspective. Rather than imagining the worst-case scenario and worrying about it, ask yourself:
What are the actual levels of risk and are there other facts that are important to remember in this situation? Current evidence suggests that older adults are no more likely to contract COVID-19 than younger adults. Among those who do contract COVID-19, those over the age of 60 are at greater risk of serious or life-threatening health complications that may require medical intervention. However, even with this increased risk, the large majority of older adults who contract this illness will recover. Remember there are qualified professionals working to keep people well and policymakers are working on strategies to manage the spread of COVID-19, and create economic support packages to assist people. Health professionals are working hard to help people recover. The scientific community is working on understanding the illness, and developing treatments. Be familiar with the difference between symptoms of COVID-19 and cold/flu symptoms, but also try limiting how often you monitor changes in your physical sensations. For example, don’t excessively check your temperature if you are otherwise feeling well.
Am I overestimating how bad the consequences will be and underestimating my ability to cope? Consider how you (or your family) have gotten through difficulties in the past, and whether these coping skills might help you to get through this situation. Also remind yourself that even though things might be difficult now, many of the consequences are time limited (ill health, financial burden, supply shortages etc.), and will eventually improve. Change some of your routine if needed. For example, discuss whether you should postpone non-essential doctor appointments, including wellness visits. If available, telehealth consultations can be a reasonable substitute. Call your pharmacist to enquire about access to prescription medications and alternative methods of collection if necessary. Have respectful and open conversations with your family and caregivers about your health concerns. Ask about what precautions they are taking to reduce your health risks, and what to do if you are concerned about your health.Creating a roster to help you distribute chores equally and fairly.
Practise physical distancing but ensure social connection
Current recommendations advise practising social distancing as a way to prevent or slow the spread of COVID-19. This means keep your physical distance from others where possible. Unfortunately this can also result in reduced social contact, which can be especially problematic for people who are already socially isolated or feeling lonely. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 39 per cent of people aged 65 and over live alone. Research has shown that social isolation and loneliness increase the risk of physical and mental health problems. Engaging in social activities is still possible while maintaining physical distance, but it does take creative and flexible thinking. Switch to virtual catch-ups via videoconferencing technology (e.g., Zoom, FaceTime, Skype) instead of face-to-face. Send a text or email. Call your friends and family on the telephone if you do not have access to video-based technology. If you are part of a community group or volunteering agency, enquire what alternative activities you can complete from home. Explore more ideas online about how to maintain social connections during this crisis (bit.ly/2UsdXcm). Social distancing doesn’t mean locking yourself indoors. If you practise good hygiene and keep your physical distance from others, you can still enjoy your backyard, do gardening, sit on the porch, get your mail and talk to neighbours (from a distance).
Tips for supporting older adults distressed by the COVID-19 outbreak
Check in with older relatives/friends and ask how they are feeling.
Talk to them about how they are managing changes to their routine.
Offer practical and/or emotional support if needed (e.g., offer to set up videoconferencing technologies on their computer/ tablet via FaceTime, offer to deliver groceries).
Encourage them to do things they enjoy.
If you think they are not coping, or are overly isolated, suggest they seek help from their GPs, or encourage them to speak with a mental health professional (see below for contact information).
Keep up contact with elderly relatives by writing emails, calling them on the telephone, talking via video conference, send them videos to watch via email, send photos or drawings from children via email, or to the facility where they are.
There are steps you can take to help protect yourself and those around you. Practising good hygiene, enacting physical distancing, and following government recommendations will help you make a difference. You can do things to help those around you, whether that is preventing the spread of illness or by supporting others socially or emotionally. As a community, we can work together to get through this challenging time and we all have a role to play
Seek additional support when needed
If you feel that the stress or anxiety you experience as a result of self-isolation is getting too much, a psychologist may be able to help.
Psychologists are highly trained and qualified professionals skilled in providing effective interventions for a range of mental health concerns, including stress. A psychologist can help you manage your stress and anxiety using techniques based on the best available research. If you are referred to a psychologist by your GP, you might be eligible for a Medicare rebate. You may also be eligible to receive psychology services via telehealth so that you do not need to travel to see a psychologist. Ask your psychologist or GP for details. There are number of ways to access a psychologist.
Use the Australia-wide Find a Psychologist service.
Go to findapsychologist.org.au or call 1800 333 497.
Ask your GP or another health professional to refer you.
For the latest advice, information and resources, go to www.health.gov.au
Call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you require translating or interpreting services, call 131 450.
The phone number of your state or territory public health agency is available at www.health.gov.au/state-territory-contacts
If you have concerns about your health, speak to your doctor.