Mental health during a pandemic

In February, after Elton John had postponed his remaining Auckland shows, I made an impulsive decision to go to his last scheduled Australasian show in Sydney. While I was there, there were fewer than 30 cases of Covid-19 in the entire state of NSW, no community transfer, and no travel restrictions. I figured I was pretty safe.

After being home for more than ten days, I developed symptoms and had to get tested. It was the longest five days of my life waiting for the result, and by the time I was cleared, the country was already in Level 4 lockdown. Once the first weekend of the national lockdown rolled around, I already felt like a self-iso expert.

On my first day of quarantine, I spent so long in the bath that my gel nail polish peeled off. I caught up on my washing, but I certainly did not deep clean my house. I saw countless tweets saying that people have realised they didn’t need more time to do their chores, they’re just lazy. I laughed at first, and then I didn’t. What we really wanted was a chance to pause and breathe, not be forced inside while we worry about our elderly relatives or whether we’ll have a job next month. For many, this is not a holiday.

Let me tell you, if I hear “these are unprecedented times” one more time, I might actually scream. It’s hard to know how to feel or what to do when the entire planet is experiencing something entirely novel. Social media is telling me all kinds of mixed messages: work out, stay productive, relax, slow down. I’ve decided there is no right answer, if you want to watch all of Tiger King on Netflix in one day or Marie Kondo your underwear, go for it. (Surprise, I did both.)

I’m also an essential worker, so the only extra time I’ve gained since coming out of quarantine is a shorter commute. For many others, it’s longer work hours, juggling kids and working from home on a desk that is not optimised for proper posture. When I get home, I’ve got a whole decontamination process, and it’s difficult to continue to be productive when you’ve got your pyjamas on by 6:30pm. There has been an abundance of advice for those working from home, but what about those on the frontlines?

Most of my friends and colleagues aren’t sleeping through the night, there is undoubtedly a collective anxiety that hangs over us all. I’ve had to incorporate meditation back into my routine, to settle my mind that races even at the best of times. To my surprise, I’ve done more baking than ever before – obviously, those who panic bought all the flour were more forward thinking than I. I’ve done the occasional online workout and about three quarters of a 1,000-piece puzzle. Like everyone else, I’m taking it day by day and trying to find joy in the simple things.

Some things have remained the same though, I don’t wear pants unless I’m going out and I still haven’t been able to remember to water my plants until they are slumped over, silently screaming for help. I had my first therapy session on Skype on Friday night, while my neighbours blasted Mambo No.5 – some routine maintained amongst the chaos. Around this time last year, I went on my social media detox, but now I couldn’t be more grateful for the ability to stay connected. I never thought I’d be glad to still be able to be subjected to live kazoo performances from my niece.

The government originally began with the advice of ‘social distancing’, but quickly there were calls for a change in terminology to ‘physical distancing’, to remind us that two metres apart doesn’t have to mean complete isolation. In New Zealand, we have some pretty sobering mental health statistics, and now more than ever we need to come together to make sure everyone is getting what they need. The Mental Health Foundation’s Five ways to wellbeing has ‘connect’ at the top of the list, so it’s time to get creative. My neighbour’s toddler shouting hello as we took out the rubbish reminded me that it really is that simple to reach out (figuratively).

You can check out some great Covid-19 specific mental health advice for both frontline workers and those at home from the Mental Health Foundation.


Chanelle is a vegan, amateur athlete, social advocate, environmental enthusiast and blogger at