COVID-19 - Taking care of your mental wellbeing

This page was last updated 20 March 2020.

We are in uncertain and unprecedented times, and everyone will respond differently to how COVID-19 is impacting them.

It’s important not only to look after our physical health but also look after our mental health at the same time. 

It’s completely normal for people to be feeling a wide range of emotions, including worried, anxious, scared.

We are all in this together, and while we might not be able to be physically in touch right now, it’s important to stay connected in other ways. 

New Zealand is known for its manaakitanga and now more than ever we need to remember the power of kindness and uniting together.

While there are things that we can’t control at the moment, there are things you can do to boost your mental wellbeing and that of your loved ones.

Top ways to look after your mental wellbeing

  • Staying connected with others is so important for our wellbeing and helps to make us feel safer, less stressed and less anxious. We can support each other to get through this.  While we are limiting social contact to contain the spread of COVID-19, there are still lots of ways we can connect. 
  • Acknowledge your feelings and reach out for support.  It is completely normal to feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, worried or scared in the current situation.  Allow yourself time to notice and express what you are feeling.  This could be by writing them down in a journal, talking to others, doing something creative, or practising meditation. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Whereever possible we should try to stick to our daily routines.  Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time, eat at regular times, shower, change your clothes, have regular e-meetings with colleagues or virtual coffee dates with friends, do your chores. Meditating and exercising can help you to relax and have a positive impact on your thoughts. Try not to increase unhealthy habits like comfort eating, drinking or smoking.
  • Assisting other people who might need help and reaching out to those who may be feeling alone or concerned can benefit both you and the person receiving support.
  • Seek accurate information from legitimate sources.  You may find it useful to limit your media intake.  Get the facts in order to help distinguish facts from rumours.  Seek information updates at specific times during the day once or twice.
  • Seek further professional support if you need it. For support with anxiety, distress or mental wellbeing, you can call or text 1737 to talk with a trained counsellor for free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • If you are currently getting help with your mental health, continue with this if possible and notice if your symptoms are getting worse. Talk to your GP, counsellor, case worker or mental health team about how they can continue supporting you. Can your appointments take place over the phone, via email, text or video chat? What tips do they have to help you get through? Who can you call if you need help urgently? Write this down so you have it handy when you need it.

See our advice on wellbeing in self-isolation for more information.

Taking care of children

There may be children or young people in your life who experience distress. As a trusted adult, you can help reassure and educate them about COVID-19 – it can be good to talk to them now, so they can understand the illness and be reassured. If you feel the child or young person is getting distressed through this conversation, reassure them and end it.

Children react to stress differently than adults – they may withdraw or behave in a more ‘babyish’ way, seem anxious or clingy, be preoccupied with illness in their play or drawing, have problems sleeping or nightmares, or may get physical symptoms such as stomach aches or headaches. Here are some tips for supporting children and young people:

  1. Reassure them they are safe.
  2. Encourage them to talk about how they feel.
  3. Tell them they can ask questions and answer these in plain language appropriate to their age – be honest, but avoid details which may distress or cause anxiety.
  4. Tell them that feeling upset or afraid is normal, that it’s good to talk about it and that they’ll feel better soon.
  5. Be understanding – they may have problems sleeping, throw tantrums or wet the bed – be patient and reassuring if this happens. With support and care, it will pass.
  6. Give your children extra love and attention.
  7. Remember that children look to their parents to feel safe and to know how to respond – reassure them, share that you are upset too but that you know you will all be fine together.
  8. Try to keep to normal routines – mealtimes, bedtimes etc. – allow them to get out and play, to go to the park etc.

However, if a child’s distress is escalating or they are displaying any worrying behaviours (such as extreme withdrawal, terror that you cannot comfort them from etc.), seek help early.

If you or the child(ren) are in self-isolation, call Healthline first (0800 611 116).

Otherwise, your GP is a good starting point. For support with grief, anxiety, distress or mental wellbeing, you can call or text 1737 to talk with a trained counsellor for free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Parents or whānau concerned about a young person in crisis should seek help.

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