If you are literally anywhere in the world right now you are probably aware of the COVID-19 pandemic. In speaking with clients, we are seeing an increase in stress, anxiety, suicidal ideology (thinking) and depression. The reasons include: the amount of uncertainty, the health implications/fears of the COVID-19 virus, the economic fallout from businesses being closed/job loss, and many other stressors. Whenever we face unknowns, we typically go into an anxious thought process — what will happen next? Will we be okay? What if…? This is normal. However, we don’t want to stay in those anxious thought loops and may have to redirect our thinking out of them. We can do that by validating our plans as to how we are dealing with the stressors. Acknowledge the things in your life that are known — what do I know? What do I have control over?
Here are some tips for supporting your mental health as we navigate the COVID crisis.
1. Maintain Structure. If everything is loose and unstructured it makes us feel more out of control — less supported. Even if you are working at home or without a job, self-impose some structure or routine that gives you a template for your day. Get up, get dressed, practice hygiene, eat 2-3 decent meals and stay hydrated.
2. Adhere to a Schedule. You may have more flexibility with how you navigate your day but if you stick to a schedule for going to bed and when you are getting up, it helps both your mind and body to stay healthy. Predictability helps to reduce the sense of things being so uncertain. Don’t be rigid during this time — in fact, be extra kind to yourself.
3. Do Something Physical. Sitting in front of the TV binge-watching Netflix may seem like a great way to pass the pandemic but it can put you into a place of detachment which does nothing helpful for your body, mind and soul. Pick something to do physically each day, even if it is a 5 minute household chore. Clean the bathroom, vacuum, wash the floor, clean a storage space, rearrange a closet, etc. As the weather is warming up, go for a nice walk or do a bit of spring clean up in your yard. You don’t have to ‘workout’ to feel better in your body!
4. Connect With Others. Maintain the appropriate physical distancing practices but reach out via a ‘distant’ visit, videoconferencing, phone calls, texting, or visiting with those in your immediate household. Stand outside and visit at the end of your driveway with other neighbours. Get creative in how you connect during this time — drive-by birthdays, handwritten letters, community scavenger hunts by car, call a long distance friend, get in on a Zoom group event, or eat supper over Skype.
5. Limit the Intake of COVIDity. Stay as aware as your personality can handle. If you’re highly sensitive, it’s not good for you to get immersed in all the information regarding COVID-19. Follow some reliable news services and then limit how much/how long you do that daily. In your conversations with others, set a time limit for COVID talk. More is not better and can end up breeding more anxiety and distress.
6. Cook, Bake and Clean. These activities are distracting from the stressors of the day while focussing on doing something physical, mental and emotional. These activities also show us process — a beginning, middle and end. You may not be able to control some of the things in life right now but you can control how many loaves of bread you make. Try some new recipes. Tackle a cleaning project you’ve been putting off. Then stand back and give yourself a pat on the back when it’s done.
7. Watch Your Thinking. If you view things through a negative lens and tell yourself how crappy everything is, it will feel and become negative. Check your thoughts a couple times each day — is what I’m thinking about helpful or effective? What am I telling myself this means? Park your mind on the facts — what do you know for sure? No assuming, guessing, speculating, jumping to conclusions, personalizing or making stuff up!
8. Notice the Good. Read feel good stories of people doing acts of kindness, watch the Canada geese take a gander around your neighbourhood or listen to some uplifting music. Pay attention to the good that is still going on around us. Notice it. Stay present in it for a while and share it with someone else. Soak it up and let it remind you that we are a people of hope — that we live well, love well, and are resilient. We will get through this — together.