Managing your mental health during a pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the mental health of Canadians. Fewer individuals report having what they consider to be ‘good mental health’ and those already facing mental health challenges are even more affected by the pandemic and accompanying lockdowns.
If you’re experiencing mental health concerns during COVID-19, you’re not alone. Whether you’re dealing with the stress of being an essential worker, working from home, family concerns, feelings of isolation, or simply the anxiety that comes with uncertainty, it’s normal to feel unsettled or unhappy, even if you don’t have a history of mental health concerns. Read on for tips and tools that can help you improve your well-being.
Anxiety and stress
Feeling stressed and anxious is a normal reaction to external pressures. Individuals experiencing anxiety often report symptoms including irritability, difficulty concentrating, intrusive thoughts or worries, and nausea. Whether situational or caused by an anxiety disorder, most people will experience anxiety at some point.
While, for some, the stress of day-to-day living can be enough to cause anxiety, the effect can be magnified during a pandemic in which we feel like circumstances are beyond our control. One of the first steps in managing your stress/anxiety is to acknowledge that these feelings are completely normal, especially given our current situation. Here are some simple things you can do to help mitigate the effects.
Organize your thoughts
Anxiety can cause you to feel overwhelmed. Keeping a journal can help you reflect on what’s troubling you and examine which of your thoughts are serving you and which thoughts may be intrusive and/or irrational.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a long to-do list, try organizing large tasks into smaller items that you can check off as you go. Feeling like you’re making progress can keep you motivated, focused, and positive.
Take care of the physical side
While there is no quick fix for stress and anxiety, moving your body releases endorphins that can improve your mood dramatically. Getting outside for a walk will do the trick while providing you with a change of scenery that can help you clear your head.
An activity like yoga can be done in your home without expensive equipment. Even very mild yoga can get your blood flowing and help you centre your thoughts. New to yoga? Click here to see a routine for complete beginners.
Regular exercise helps you sleep, which is a crucial component of managing stress and anxiety. Carving out some time for yourself can be challenging when you’re busy with work, family or other concerns. The important thing is to find an activity that you enjoy and can commit to doing regularly.
The concept of ‘mindfulness’ has been having a cultural moment for some time now, even before the pandemic. The stress of our daily lives has seen people searching for a way to focus on the present moment and unplug from the thoughts that can send our minds and hearts racing.
From basic breath exercises, to practicing meditation and/or yoga regularly, mindfulness can mitigate feelings of helplessness and worry about the future by helping you focus on the present moment. Click here to learn more about mindfulness and find tips to get started practicing.
Feelings of isolation
Social isolation has been an ongoing concern during COVID-19. Varying degrees of lockdowns have left many feeling disconnected from their social networks. Humans are social animals by nature and it’s normal for even the most introverted among us to feel socially isolated as the pandemic continues. Here are some simple actions to help you cope.
The simplest way to alleviate feelings of isolation is to reach out to friends and family. Scheduling an occasional video chat with a close friend or family member or even a quick phone call can do much to improve your mood.
Spend quality time with your pets
If you have pets, lean on them for support. Having an animal companion can force you to follow a routine (feeding, walks, etc.) and help reduce feelings of loneliness. Plan a regular time to play with your pets – both of you will appreciate it!
Listen to audio media
Try listening to an audiobook or a podcast on a topic in which you’re interested. Just hearing another voice and engaging with interesting or entertaining subject matter while you cook, clean, or exercise can help mitigate feelings of social isolation.
Discuss your feelings
It’s important that you have an outlet to express your worries. If you’re not comfortable speaking to friends or family members, you may find it easier to engage online. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) hosts a discussion forum in which individuals can share their concerns related to COVID-19 and tips for managing pandemic-related stress and anxiety.
There are no one-size fits all solutions. If you’re struggling to maintain your mental health, it’s important that you seek help. Click here for information on supports available in Ontario that might be right for you.