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April 21, 2020 • read
10 ways to improve your mental health during COVID-19
It’s perfectly natural to feel stressed and anxious during the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot has changed in our lives, and it’s all happened very quickly. Self-isolation doesn’t help the matter either. Instead of interacting with friends and family, many Canadians are keeping their eyes glued to the non-stop stream of news headlines.
Through this period, remember that your mental health is an important piece of your overall health. If you’re feeling worried or helpless, there are steps you can take to restore a positive mindset. Self-isolation doesn’t mean you have to suffer alone. We’ve put together some powerful tips for coping with stress and anxiety during COVID-19, so you can emerge stronger on the other side.
1. Understand your personal risk factors
It’s easy for your anxiety to spiral out of control when you’re taking in new information all the time. And there’s a lot of mis-information out there when it comes to COVID-19. To combat this, only collect information from credible sources to get a clear, accurate sense of your personal health risk. Credible sources include:
The good news is that the majority of Canadians are not at risk of developing serious health complications from COVID-19. Equipping yourself with information can help you feel more confident about how things will unfold.
2. Don’t watch the news too much
While it’s definitely important to stay updated on the ongoing COVID-19 situation, checking in two dozen times a day won’t help. Your mental health will be better served if you limit your consumption of news stories to once a day. You won’t be missing out on any important information — it’s unlikely that official health recommendations will change much within a day, affecting how you should manage your risk.
3. Accept that some anxiety and fear is normal
COVID-19 isn’t something we’ve seen before, and things like self-isolation and social distancing are very new experiences for virtually all Canadians. Don’t judge yourself for feeling some worry or anxiety. This anxiety is actually important for inspiring you to take proper measures to protect yourself and others. Social distancing, frequent handwashing, and staying isolated if you’re sick are all essential for flattening the curve of new infections.
4. Try not to think about the “what-ifs”
In difficult scenarios, we tend to think about the worst possible outcomes. Mental health experts call this “catastrophizing” and it’s so common that it appears on every list of unhealthy thinking styles out there. At the same time, we underestimate our own abilities to overcome the situation. Remember, you’re resilient! You’ve no doubt displayed grit and skills in the past that have helped you overcome tough challenges.
Remind yourself of your support network: your friends, family, colleagues and, if you have one, your therapist. There are lots of people who care about you and your wellbeing. You aren’t in this alone. In Canada, we also have great collective resources, from thriving hospitals, to public health teams, to tight-knit communities. Collectively, we are strong.
5. Find relaxation rituals/meditation
Take advantage of your time at home to engage in activities you truly love doing. Partaking in a hobby that brings you joy will help you manage your stress levels.
Try out activities that are well-known for being effective stress relievers, such as yoga, meditation, reading, or listening to music. These outlets can mentally transport you to another time and place, letting you take a small vacation from anxieties around COVID-19.
6. Keep up a healthy diet
During stressful times, many people turn to “comfort foods”. As it turns out, these foods aren’t so comforting to your mental health. Instead, choose whole foods that are full of vitamins and nutrients. A diet rich in these foods is proven to bring about feelings of well-being. Keeping up a healthy diet can also help you get a good night’s sleep, which is imperative for keeping your mood, energy levels and mental health stable. Plus, healthy foods boost your immune system, your body’s internal defense system.
7. Avoid substance use
Much like comfort food, the temptation to indulge in cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol is particularly strong when you’re stressed out. The catch is, these substances only provide short-term stress relief. Your body quickly develops a tolerance, which creates the need to use more and more. Overuse of substances can lead to physical and mental health complications completely separate from COVID-19.
It’s important to avoid smoking and drinking during COVID-19 since smoking weakens the respiratory system, and alcohol weakens your overall immune system. Look to healthy, constructive mental outlets instead.
8. Keep a proper sleep schedule
A good sleep schedule can help you manage the current stress in your life, and give you better coping abilities to handle stress in the future. To get a proper night’s sleep, follow these “sleep hygiene” tips:
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet
- Avoid performing any work tasks, such as answering emails, an hour before bedtime
- Don’t exercise up to an hour before bedtime
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday
- Get daily exercise
- Avoid consuming caffeine and alcohol late in the day
9. Stay active
Physical activity reduces stress while also improving your mood. Just because you’re quarantining at home, that doesn’t mean you can’t stay active. Search for cardio workout videos on YouTube, go out for a jog, do some yoga or perform bodyweight exercises such as planks or push ups. Working out will help you maintain a feeling of normalcy while isolated at home, and help you appreciate your healthy body.
10. Talk to a therapist
If you’re still struggling to cope with worry and anxiety, it’s absolutely appropriate to reach out to a medical professional. Speaking to your family doctor, or therapist can help you process difficult emotions. While in-person therapy isn’t an option at the moment, you can partake in online therapy via text or video chat from the comfort of your own home no matter what province you’re in.
Throughout this period, it’s important to remember that this pandemic won’t last forever. Try not to think in permanent terms — rather than saying “I’m stuck inside,” try saying “I’m stuck inside for now.”
You’re not in this alone. You can empower yourself to better mental health through consistently checking in with yourself, following these tips, and talking to a mental health professional. While this is an uncertain time, your mental health needn’t take a toll. Stay connected to friends and family, and above all, be kind to yourself.