It’s no secret that prioritising your own mental health and wellbeing can be a challenge, even in ordinary circumstances. It should come as no surprise, then, that focusing on your mental wellbeing can be even trickier during a global pandemic that requires you to socially isolate.

Given the scale of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, it can feel inescapable and overwhelming. Though it may feel impossible to focus on anything else, in such trying and uncertain times, it becomes all the more important to do exactly that and try to improve your mental wellbeing.

Here are some easy tips to improve your mental health and maintain a sense of normalcy during social isolation.

Stay in touch

Even though you’re spending a lot of time by yourself, you don’t need to feel alone. With apps such as Facetime, WhatsApp, Skype, and Zoom at our fingertips, staying in touch from a distance has never been easier. These platforms allow you to message and video chat with your loved ones, which can help alleviate feelings of homesickness and loneliness.

Be sure to virtually interact with your friends and family on a regular basis to maintain social interaction, seek support when needed, and stay up-to-date on how they’re coping.

Explore mental health resources

If you’re struggling with feelings of stress and anxiety, there are resources designed to help you. Your educational institution will likely have tools and information to support your wellbeing, so be sure to check their website or call your student support team. Also check out the Study Melbourne Study Well webpage, which offers students various ideas for staying healthy and well in trying times.

There are also a number of other online resources you can consult, including the Australian Government Head to Health page, Beyond Blue, ReachOut, eheadspace and Orygen.

If you’d like to speak directly to someone, call any of the following toll-free, anonymous phone lines to seek assistance:

  • Lifeline – 13 11 14
  • Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
  • Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800
  • MensLine - 1300 789 978

Stay active

Though you may be mourning the temporary suspension of your gym membership, it’s still possible to remain active during social isolation. All Australian states and territories are currently allowing residents to go outdoors to exercise, with certain restrictions on how many people can join you and how far you can travel for exercise.

Whether it’s a run, a bike ride, or a walk, aim to get 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Doing so will release endorphins, which will help you to feel your best, block out negative thoughts, and manage stress.

You can also follow free, at-home workout videos on YouTube. From HIIT circuits to yoga to barre, you can try a wide array of workouts that require minimal space and little to no equipment. Here are some excellent fitness channels to check out during your social isolation:

Regulate your sleep schedule

As an international student, you’ve likely heard before that a stable sleep pattern consisting of at least seven to eight hours of rest per night will do wonders for your memory and concentration. But the benefits of a stable sleep schedule go far beyond the academic sphere. Getting enough sleep and maintaining consistent sleep habits increases your ability to manage your emotions and your capacity to deal with stressful situations. With that in mind, do your best to not only get enough sleep but to regulate your sleep patterns by getting up and going to bed at roughly the same time every day.

Structure your days

A great way to maintain a sense of normalcy during social isolation is to structure your daily routine by appointing certain hours of the day to specific tasks. In a notebook or planner, write out your schedule for the following day: what time you will wake up, what time you’ll eat breakfast, when you’ll complete work tasks (if you’re working from home), and when you’ll step out for a walk. Doing so will not only hold you more accountable to perform these activities but will also help to establish a routine, which ultimately helps with stress reduction and anxiety management.

Practise gratitude

You may have lost your job due to the outbreak, you can’t see your loved ones in person, and you may be feeling extremely anxious. With all of that weighing on you, you may be wondering: what do I have to be grateful for? If you look hard enough, you’ll find plenty of answers.

Good things in life don’t stand out in our minds as much as negative things, which is why actively practising gratitude is both important and necessary. Focusing on what you’re grateful for is an instant mood-booster and helps you cope with tough times.

Every day, write down three things you’re grateful for. It could be your health, your family, your dog, a good book, or your favourite meal; focusing on even the smallest positive things will put you in a better headspace and remind you that joy can be found even in the darkest of times.

Top tips from Study Melbourne’s Student Ambassadors

We asked a few of our Student Ambassadors about how they’re looking after their mental health. Here are their tips:

Lily Li, China, The University of Melbourne

Starting your day with a ten-minute morning meditation will set-up your day with a positive mindset. You could also be grateful for what you have and celebrate each moment when you learn the new knowledge or listen to a new podcast episode. Healthy diets and sleep routine are also very important for us to stay strong and build up a better immune system.

João Moreira, Brazil, La Trobe University

One of the best ways to avoid the feeling of isolation is to take advantage of online communication tools. Joining online groups and reaching out to family, friends and colleagues through remote conferencing tools is a great way to connect with other people and realise that you are not alone.

Devendra Singh, India, Monash University

I'm following a set schedule of exercise, yoga and mediation. A proper mix of physical and mental exercise helps rejuvenate the body, mind and soul.

Güler Arslantaş, Turkey, Deakin University

[I have been] spending the time reaching out to my loved ones and staying on track with my study load. I know studying may not be the most entertaining thing to do, but it is a great distraction from all that has been going on!

Ziggy Hao, China, Monash University

Focus on yourself and connect with friends. Also, set a morning routine like tidying your bed, opening the window to enjoy the fresh air, and maybe doing a bit of stretching to start a wonderful day!

Rav Abeywickrama, Sri Lanka, The University of Melbourne

I have been looking after my mental health by re-engaging in old hobbies which I “let go” after “growing up”. I stopped playing piano years ago, but I started playing again on a keyboard. It’s been amazing re-activating my muscle memory and enjoying music.

Pyper Savage, Australia, The University of Melbourne

Limit your time on social media! It is great to be informed, but lately I have found myself checking the news and Facebook way too often. It only freaks me out more! Set a social media limit for yourself and try to stick to it. Chat to family and friends, talk about things other than COVID-19!