JACKSON ROBB | NEWS
Mental health is a topic that has been discussed and dissected in a variety of ways over the past three years. Its relation to the pandemic and its aftereffects has seen more people come to terms with the health of their mind in order to cope with new realities such as working-from-home (WFH) and mask mandates. However, for many, this process is a challenging task that requires reflection of what has caused these emotions to arise. As the world begins to understand how life can operate in a post pandemic society, it has never been more important to check in with yourself and the methods you use to combat uncertain scenarios. This article analyses common themes that contribute towards an unhealthy mind by going back to basics and assessing the cognitive inner workings of the brain, whilst also providing some strategies on how to move past difficult situations into a healthier, more focused future.
Contextual influences often play a key role on the mental health of citizens, with the environments that people are exposed to impacting how they process information and maintain composure. The Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (AIHW) provides evidence revealing that psychological distress in Australians was heightened throughout the pandemic. This becomes further supported by assessing the multitude of changes to daily life that many had to adopt; most significantly being the WFH method of study to avoid unnecessary exposure. This choice was needed to help minimize the spread, but it also limited social connections and discouraged many from adopting healthy habits such as exercise and extra curriculars.
In times of stress and high-pressure situations, many are often quick to find the easiest resolve and return to a feeling of normality at any expense. In times of distress, finding the quickest escape, through binging a series or throwing yourself into your work, can actually be detrimental to your mental health and thought process. Data found from the Mental Health Commission of New South Wales found that 1 in 4 Australians aged 16-24 are living with a mental illness, with the top 3 areas of concern being study problems, coping with stress, and body image. With the addition of a pandemic, the bushfire crisis of 2019-2020 and the transition from one stage of life to another, it becomes clear why mental health needs to be addressed further and with diligence. Vices such as social media only add to these issues as many choose to advertise the thriving aspects of their life but not the hardships that helped them reach these points.
This period became especially difficult for students, who were not only transitioning to new study habits and routines but facing the added difficulty of adjusting to university life. Navigating these changes without the support of their peers, who also face similar issues, can be a confronting and testing experience. A report from Andrew Mathews discusses this further, analyzing the cognitive functions involved with anxiety and how anxiety involves a characteristic pattern of cognitive processing, having the effect of maintaining high levels of vigilance for possible danger. For people experiencing uncertain changes in their environment, anxiety is a normal reaction to their situation. This can be linked to feelings of helplessness, making some more difficult to deal with and move past, resulting in detrimental effects on mental health in the long term if not addressed and worked through.
Every person that comes to terms with their mental health will have a different journey and it’s important to recognize that not every technique or piece of advice will resonate with your situation. The process of understanding and growing with your mental health is constantly changing, and often the discourse on this subject is overwhelming enough on its own. This creates a paradox, whereby you must be willing to receive information that can help you reach a better state of mind and illuminate what works and doesn’t work for your situation. This realization can take time and it’s important to recognize that it won’t happen overnight. A report from Meichun Mohler-Kuo provides clarification: “...young people are more vulnerable to their immediate environment and have fewer resources and past experiences to cope with stressful situations”.
Aligning this view with results of the pandemic restricting social interaction and the making of new experiences, it becomes important to access material and try different things to identify what assists with your unique experience. Known strategies have been found in exercise, with Headspace suggesting the release of endorphins keeps your mind healthy and agile. The OneCentralHealth website recommends sleep as a critical tool that encourages time for your mind to process and store information from the day and allow you a chance to switch off. Asking your friends what has worked for them is also an option, keeping in mind their contextual influences as you do. The best course of action is to give yourself a time period. After a month, if exercise doesn’t work, try reading more books or visiting a friend. If you find yourself stuck along the way, there is no shame in asking for help. Macquarie has some dedicated councilors available for students on campus that can provide resources on how better to work through the uncertain times.
The narrative on mental health is likely to change countless times in the future and this is ok. There will always be times when fear can prevent people from moving forward, so it becomes important to assess your environment and make an educated decision about what the next step needs to be. The pandemic has resulted in many students and young adults losing their direction and suffering the consequences of mental neglect, so by finding techniques that work for you and growing with these positive habits will help develop a positive headspace for you to exist in. Understanding these core principles will allow you to better cope with changing situations and allow you to move forward without fear of getting stuck in the in-between.
For more information on how to access resources at Macquarie University, visit: www.students.mq.edu.au/support/personal/counselling