Controlling the controllables

Staying in control during a global pandemic

Many of you may already be aware of the serenity affirmation:

“Grant me the SERENITY to ACCEPT the things I cannot change, COURAGE to change the things I can, and the WISDOM to know the difference.”

In simple terms, it is a reminder to stay aware of those things in your life that you do have some control over and those which you don’t. With COVID-19 currently changing the way we live, there are many things that feel out of our control. It is vitally important during these times that you identify the things in your life that are within your control and focus committed action in these areas.


Exercise is an excellent way to improve both your physical and mental health. It also helps improve sleep and assist with weight and chronic disease prevention and management. During exercise, your brain releases endorphins that make you feel euphoric and energised for hours. It doesn’t need to be anything drastic. Even something as simple as going for a walk can greatly improve your mental state and energy for the entire day.

Get enough sleep

Try and get at least 7 hours sleep. All it takes is 7-9 hours of quick onset, quality sleep, with minimal interruptions that allow both deep and shallow sleep to be achieved. This allows the body and mind to regenerate and repair and strengthen the immune system.

Eat well & stay hydrated

When you eat right, you feel right. In today’s world, the average person’s diet is quite poor, consisting mainly of packaged foods that are filled with sugar, sodium and trans fats.

Whole, nutritious foods provide your body and brain with the essential nutrients they need to function optimally. This improves your mental state and makes you happier and healthier.

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be overly complicated. A good starting point is to switch just one of your meals for something more nutritious and gradually increase this.

It’s also important to stay hydrated. Aim to drink at least 20-30ml per kg of bodyweight of water everyday day. You may need more when you perspire more, like on a hot day or when you exercise. Stick to pure water and avoid sugary drinks like cordial, soft drinks and juice.

Share your pains

We all have our bad moments, and everyone feels a bit down at times. That’s normal; we are human. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed and not in control. Maybe you’re struggling to adapt to new routines/schedules associated with COVID-19. Whatever the case might be, it’s important not to isolate yourself.

Sharing your emotions with the people that you trust, such as your family and friends, your GP or a support services like Lifeline (131314) can be a great help.

Limit alcohol

Whilst it is tempting to self-medicate with alcohol and other prescription or recreational drugs when we are under the pump or feeling down, they inevitably make things worse. Most will impact on the neurotransmitters in our brain which regulate mood and sleep and impact poorly on how we think and feel. Try and utilise less harmful methods of switching off or winding down – listen to music, read a book, exercise, meditate or talk with a mate. This will provide much more benefit and doesn’t leave you with a hangover.

Limit caffeine

Many of us tend to rely on caffeine to get us through periods of low energy, but leaning on caffeine or other stimulants too much, tends to impact on sleep quality as well as put us on a bit of an energy roller coaster. Not only does it increase the release of your stress hormone (cortisol) into your blood stream but it’s also addictive. 1-2 coffees per day is generally ok, but more than this can start to have an impact. Try and use non-caffeinated beverages, get adequately hydrated, chew gum or get moving to give you an energy lift instead.

Maintain social connection

This is an essential ingredient of good mental wellbeing, but is often what deteriorates when life gets overwhelming, leaving us more vulnerable. Seeking the opportunity for a laugh, a distraction and maybe the chance to share thoughts and feelings can make a huge difference to how we think and feel.

Due to social distancing imposed by COVID-19 the method may change but make sure you use technology to stay connected – Facetime, Skype, Zoom etc. can allow you to invite people into your home and connect face to face from all corners of the globe or from just around the corner. This is a vital part of staying mentally well in the current environment.

Practice meditation and mindfulness

Setting aside time to connect with the present moment and detangle ourselves from the thought machine that is our brain, is a really important part of maintaining/improving our mental wellbeing. If you’re not sure how you can go to your app or google play store and download Calm, Headspace or Smiling Mind – these all have great introductory sessions to get you started.

Practice gratitude

Reflecting on what is good is also a really useful strategy to keep our Mental Health in check. Maybe it’s family, friends, your health, the weather, nature, music, or a sleep in – noticing what’s good is an amazingly effective method for improving mood and gaining perspective.

Whilst Implementing social distancing impacts considerably on our normal daily life it can also allow us to:

  • Spend more time with family

  • Increase duration of sleep or establish regular exercise (without commutes/additional activities)

  • Finish off some projects around home (garden shed/garage/storage cupboard clean out)

  • Work on self-improvement (read more books, cook more, learn an instrument, learn a language, etc.)

  • Take away the pressure to be busy, busy, busy all the time.

Take action

Putting in place a few simple actions can help give you a sense of control and confidence and help you stay physically and mentally well during COVID-19 restrictions and beyond.

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