The COVID-19 global pandemic has disrupted our daily lives and ways of being in ways that are unprecedented. Our normal way of living has shifted quite suddenly and it’s understandable if you are struggling with this adjustment. It’s difficult to stay home, but by physically distancing ourselves from others in the community, we are helping slow the advance of this deadly virus and supporting our health care system. By staying home, we are coming together to act in the best interest of ourselves, our loved ones and our communities.
Isolation and change in our regular routines due to Coronavirus may have some effect upon our mental health, so let’s break down some of the things you might be experiencing and some coping strategies.
It’s going to creep in if it hasn’t already. We often try to avoid it because that’s when some of our more complex feelings can surface, but it can bring a deeper awareness to the parts of ourselves that need attention. Try to use this as an opportunity to cultivate new hobbies and interests, finish projects around the house, binge watch Netflix without guilt, or experiment with new recipes (granted you can find your ingredients). You may be experiencing a lot of stress right now, so avoid putting pressure on yourself to become fluent in a second language or achieve your peak of fitness.
You may notice there are times that you have switched from “living” to “survival mode”. The uncertain effects of this virus on finances, our health, and even access to basic supplies at the grocery store may lead to feelings of being on edge, or a constant state of hyperarousal.
People often respond to anxiety by trying to control the situation; however, ultimately all we can control are our own thoughts and actions. Although they seem like small gestures, you are doing much to stem the spread of the pandemic by practicing social distancing, washing your hands with soap and staying home as much as you can.
If you find yourself ruminating or having “what if” thinking, try to distract yourself with an activity. Reduce the time you spend on social media or news sources that kick your stress response into high gear.
On that note: It’s very important to check your sources. Misinformation can spread fear and cause a lot of harm. Credible sources for reliable, science-based information about the pandemic include: CBC, The Globe and Mail (Canada), The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR (US) and The Guardian (UK). It can be helpful to talk to others about COVID-19 in order to process what’s happening but if you find it overwhelming, it’s okay to tap out of a conversation or change the subject.
You can also deal with the physical symptoms of anxiety with practices like meditation, mindfulness, and grounding exercises. Search YouTube for instructional videos on these practices or download apps like Headspace or Calm to help you feel more centered.
Physical distancing does not have to mean loss of social connection, especially with the modern technologies we have access to. Connecting with our friends and family, whether by video chats, phone calls or texting can help us maintain ties to help us through this. It can be helpful to remind yourself that even though you may feel alone, this is a collective experience, and people are joining together to combat loneliness through things such as online book clubs and dance parties (check out dnice or Questlove on Instagram TV). Through all of this we have been able to witness some of the best parts of the human condition, and one of the best ways to combat loneliness can be showing up for others. You can sign up to help your community, or request help at Vancovid’s Helping Heroes, or at COVID-19 Coming Together (Vancouver) on Facebook. Take your get-togethers or parties online with your friends via group chats.
Being stuck indoors, particularly if the weather is bad, can lead to feelings of lethargy, low energy and sadness. This, combined with a host of other factors such as unemployment, loss of wages, and social isolation can have a serious impact on your mood. It may feel like there is a lot to grieve right now. If you are feeling down, don’t judge yourself. It’s normal to experience what we call a “situational depression” through this so take things day by day and remind yourself that your feelings are temporary, and this situation will pass. You will find your way in the world again. If you find your feelings of depression are significantly interfering with your life and ability to function for a period of two weeks or longer, seek help from a counsellor or a medical professional. Many of us have transitioned to phone or online counselling during the Coronavirus outbreak.
It is okay to find ways to bring yourself joy in the midst of all this illness and chaos, but it’s also understandable if that’s going to be really hard sometimes. To deal with depression, try moving your body. Do what you can handle. Go for a (physically distant) walk or a bike ride. Set an alarm for every 60 minutes and do 10 reps of squats or sit ups. Journal your feelings. Pay attention to your thoughts. Are they harmful or helpful? Connect with others. It’s been shown that social connection and a sense of belonging are actually antidotes to depression. Also, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, understand that you may not have the emotional resilience to hold space for others in that moment, and that’s okay.
Structure and having somewhat of a routine will also benefit your sense of well-being. Even though you temporarily may not be working, or working from home, waking up at the same time daily, making your bed, showering and "getting ready for the day" can help maintain a sense of normalcy. Schedule in regular times for meals and accept that some days you may have a third breakfast or a second lunch. On that note, schedule in regular times for exercise. And lastly, be grateful for that extra bit of sleep you’re getting now that you may not be commuting to the office.
Very importantly, be easy on yourself if you’re not living up to your own expectations. Our self worth can be so wrapped up in our accomplishments; however, it is okay to do nothing, and just “be”.
This is an opportunity to take care of ourselves and each other. Remind yourself of what and who you are grateful for. And let’s stay connected. From a distance.
BC Emergency Benefit for Workers Click here to see if you are eligible.
Economic support from the Government of Canada Click here to view options.
Check your symptoms online BEFORE accessing medical assistance. Click here. Or download the self-assessment app here.
Reliable COVID-19 Information
Daily updates from BC’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry . Click here.
BC Centre for Disease Control
Public Health Agency of Canada
World Health Organization
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Kerry Anne Holloway, Registered Clinical Counsellor, Canadian Certified Counsellor