How COVID-19 May Impact Your Mental Health and How To Cope

Dr. Katelyn Lowe, Registered Psychologist

In the past few weeks many things have changed – where we work, how we socialize – even our grocery lists (toilet paper seems at the top of the list these days).  While most people don’t like change or uncertainty the reality is we are experiencing plenty of both.  For some people this can lead to an increase in anxiety, depression and a worsening of other pre-existing mental health issues.

Research has shown that how anxious we are about something is related to how predictable, controllable and salient (important) the issue is.  According to mental health experts, including Dr. Keith Dobson from the University of Calgary (Mental wellness: Coping through the crisis webinar), “COVID-19 is the perfect trifecta”.  It’s unpredictable in that we don’t know how many people will contract the illness and who is potentially carrying the virus (many people are asymptomatic but can pass the virus on to others).  It’s uncontrollable in that unless you can isolate yourself completely until a vaccine is available you are at risk of contracting the virus.  There are some things we can do to control spreading the virus including washing hands, not touching our face and practicing social distancing, but despite attempts to contain the spread, nearly every country in the world has been impacted in a matter of months.  And finally it is highly salient – meaning that many people are getting ill and some will get very ill.

So what can we do, not only to protect our physical health, but also our mental health?  There are many things circulating widely on the internet and on social media highlighting strategies to promote health and well-being.  Several of these are common sense practices that people have been practicing already for example:

  • Maintaining a healthy work-life balance
  • Eating a healthy balanced diet
  • Participating in some form of daily exercise
  • Practicing mindfulness through meditation or daily yoga
  • Creating a daily schedule and sticking to it
  • Staying connected socially to friends and family using virtual means like Facetime, Zoom and other platforms
  • Making a “To Do” list and checking things off
  • Laughing (some very clever memes and videos have been produced in response to Covid-19 highlighting our ability to see the lighter humorous side even in something so difficult)
  • Practicing gratitude for all the things in your life that are good
  • Showing kindness to others – receiving the gifts that come to you from being a gift giver to others

A recently published review of the evidence regarding the psychological impact of being quarantined describes six main things that cause people to feel stressed:  The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence

  • Duration of quarantine
  • Fears of infection
  • Frustration and boredom
  • Inadequate supplies
  • Inadequate information
  • Financial loss

While it is possible to be worried about any or all of these things, ask yourself two questions:

(1) are these actually real concerns for you today? and

(2) is worrying about them going to help?

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has produced a number of tips, coping strategies and resources to manage your mental health during the pandemic.  Click here to see tips on how to manage anxious thoughts and how to talk to children about COVID-19.

The H-CARRD program out of Ontario has also compiled a list of resources on how to stay safe, well and connected during the COVID-19 crisis.  These resources include a video that covers Questions & Answers from people with developmental disabilities and their families. Click here to watch now.

There are also a number of lists of activities, including this one from Dr. Caroline Buzanko that have been created to make being quarantined easier – even fun! Click this link  to check it out!

Try some of these activities and strategies out – what do you have to lose?  You may discover some new things that you like doing and that you can put your new skills into action as there are always problem situations that arise.  Hopefully they won’t be of the scale that we are currently dealing with, but like the body can develop immunity to illness, the mind can develop resiliency to stressful circumstances.  Often shifting one’s mindset is all it takes to view the same situation very differently.  In the face of COVID-19 and some pretty tough circumstances – can you be a warrior instead of a worrier?

If you think you have the resources to cope with a crisis you will.  If you don’t think you have the resources to cope, you will have a harder time emotionally.

Lastly, your children will likely be looking to see how you approach this current reality – even if you don’t feel like a role model – you are.  It is important to be honest and provide as many answers to their questions as you can in a way that makes sense to them.  It’s also important to let them know that you don’t have all the answers, that you can’t provide 100% certainty and that you can’t fix it.  But – you can cope with it.  You can adopt strategies that others have used to get through difficult times and that together you will get through this as best you can.  That’s all anyone can ask and all anyone can expect.

Stay informed.  Stay well.  Stay positive.

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