We’ve all heard about the signs and symptoms of the Covid-19 virus, and I’m sure we’ve read all of the ways we can avoid it and keep ourselves safe. While we might be doing all we can to reduce our risk of getting sick with the virus, there’s something else we need to keep in mind during this pandemic: our mental health. Anxiety, depression, frustration, sadness, anger—these might all be side effects that, while they don’t signify the virus, are definitely popping up in waves these last few weeks. And if you’re feeling it, you’re not alone, and there are things that can help. We’re going to explore some of the mental health issues that are becoming widespread during this pandemic, why they might be triggered for you, and what you can do to keep your mental health as strong as your immunity during this time.
Mental health is an important topic the whole year round, but the focus on this aspect of health usually starts to taper off as the warmer weather hits. More vitamin D from the spring sunshine, being outside with longer, lighter days—these things have a positive impact on our mood and ability to cope! This year, however, the world had different plans. Just as spring sprung, so did the Covid-19 Pandemic in Canada. If you’re like most of the population, you’ve found yourself suddenly jarred out of your regular routine. Maybe you’re working from home (going on week 5 over here!), maybe you’ve been laid off or your business has closed, maybe you’ve even gotten sick and have had to self-isolate. No matter the situation, one thing is true about them all: we’ve all been thrown off our routines. We’re not going out with friends, not seeing family, not going for dinner or visiting the local coffee shop or even going to public parks anymore. No gathering, no celebration, no socializing closer than 6 feet apart. Even a trip to the grocery-store is anxiety-inducing!
A change in routine is very triggering for anyone who already has anxiety, depression, or mood disorders. It means you suddenly have to shift your focus to making more decisions and making a new routine, which puts more stress on your brainpower and leaves less room for coping with harder things. Add in the fact that we’re not seeing family or friends, which has proven to boost feel-good hormones in the brain, nor are we able to even leave our house very much, meaning we’re cooped up inside all day long—and those anxiety and mood symptoms are going to worsen. Human beings crave routine, social interaction, and celebrations for a reason: it keeps us happy and helps our brain recognize the world around us. Without these things in place, it’s like an alarm goes off in our head signalling something is wrong (which we all know it is).
What can we take away from this? First, if you’re feeling any symptoms of anxiety, depression, or mood irregularity, whether it’s new to you or something that’s gotten worse during this time, take comfort in knowing: this is how your body SHOULD be responding. It’s recognizing that something is wrong, something is off, and it’s trying to alert you. Second, know that you are not alone. I’ve yet to talk to a friend, family member, or colleague who isn’t struggling with some mental health issue at least once during this experience so far. It looks different on everyone. But truly, we’re all in this together. And lastly, know this: this too shall pass. Having experienced anxiety for much of my life, I find it helpful, when in the midst of an attack or a bad spell, to remember this: I’ve felt anxiety before, I’ve had attacks before, I’ve felt that awful sinking feeling before like it might never go away—and then good things have happened after. Maybe hours, days, months after, but good things came. Good things will come after this, too.
Okay, so if good is going to come—how the heck do we get to there from here?! Here are some of the strategies I’ve been adopting to help tackle some of the mental health feelings that have been surfacing.
Journaling: this has been big for me always, but has been pivotal during this time. I can literally feel the pressure lift off my shoulders and my brain quiet down as I scribble out a few pages. Sometimes it’s not even anything important—just getting whatever’s in my head down onto paper to make more headspace to tackle the day. I like to do this first thing in the morning and sometimes, if the day has been heavy, again before bed so I can fall asleep faster.
Monitoring your news consumption:when this disease first started sweeping the nation, I was glued to my phone. Updates would come through social media apps, news outlets, conversations with friends, emails—you name it, Covid-19 was the main subject. After a couple of days of this, I felt WIPED. My brain literally couldn’t process more bad news, and it translated into an emotional downturn as well. Since then, I’ve limited myself to the intake of news on the subject. I don’t watch all of the press conferences or follow all of the stats faithfully, but check in a couple times a week if I feel I need to. Honestly, if anything big happens, your friends are going to tell you anyway! Keeping away from the constant flow of information will help your brain recalibrate to more normal thought patterns.
Taking breaks throughout the day: this is especially important if you’re working from home. I find I can stay at my computer much longer when working from home than I would in the office, leading to overworking and not enough time for life-stuff. This will eventually lead to burnout. If you’re working from home, set a timeframe of when you’ll be done for the day, and make sure you get up every hour—even if it’s just to refill your water. Staring at screens all day is exhausting for our eyes and minds!
Have a routine—if you’re someone who needs it: whether you’re working from home or not working right now, if you’re someone who does better with routine, make one for yourself at home. Getting up around the same time each day, starting your day the same way (reading, coffee, a shower, a workout), and slotting things into timeframes will help you from feeling like the week is one giant blob of a day.
Keep connected—from a distance: just because we can’t physically be with family or friends, doesn’t mean we can’t connect with them! We are lucky enough to live in a time when technology enables us to talk to and see our loved ones at the click of a button. Try to touch base with one person a day who makes you feel good when you talk to them. Or get a group of friends onto a Zoom call on a Saturday night to catch up. I promise your spirits will be higher after!
Be gentle with yourself: this is a hard one. If you’re anything like me, you’re used to working out a certain number of times a week, eating a certain way, accomplishing x amount in a day. And the reality is, we’re all going to face this situation a bit differently. We might feel good about the routines we’re in, or we might be flailing not knowing what to do with ourselves. Either way, listen to your body and your mind—it will tell you what you need on a daily basis, and don’t be surprised if that changes day-to-day. It’s your body’s way of coping. Use that as your compass and you won’t lose.
Stop the comparison game: you’ve probably seen memes on Instagram about how it’s okay if you want to learn how to make bread or learn a new language or climb mount Everest (not advised!) during this time—essentially, using this time to be entirely productive—and that it’s also okay to lay on your couch all day. There is truth to this! Just because all your friends might be baking bread, doesn’t mean you have to if you don’t feel like it. Your quarantine isn’t going to look like anyone else’s. And hint: we’ve never done this before, so there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Do what makes you feel good and keeps you in your best frame of mind, whether that means doing something or not!
Create something: I’ve seen so many friends and family getting back to their creative roots—puzzling, painting, building bird feeders, whatever it might be! Creating something or starting a project, no matter how small, helps fill your day and brings you a sense of completion and satisfaction—which is hard to come by in a world where everything is upside down.
Support with supplements: if you’re really feeling the mental health toll, you can support with a variety of mood-supportive supplements. Mental Calm from Natural Factors is fast-acting and can stop an emotional spin-out in minutes. Rescue Remedy is a great homeopathic remedy that relaxes your nervous system—and you can put a few drops in water and sip it all day long. Vitamin C is good for immunity but also your adrenal glands, which handle your stress response, since they are the biggest repository of vitamin C in the body and may be currently pumping it out like crazy. B vitamins help to lift mood and stabilize anxiety, as does GABA—which comes in capsules or chewables. 5-HTP is the precursor to serotonin, your happy hormone, so if you’re feeling down in the dumps this can help to boost your happy hormone levels. We have a variety of stress and mood supportive supplements at Goodness Me! and any of our staff would be happy to help you in store, over the phone, or online at goodnessme.ca.
Accept the present—but look forward: right now, there isn’t much we can do (besides staying home and social distancing) to help our currently situation pass quickly. We can, of course, be neighbourly, donate to food banks, check in on family and friends, and keep healthy—all of which are helpful, but won’t necessarily make this end any faster. It’s an unknowable time with unknowable results, and that’s stressful. The best thing we can do? Accept that, as long as we’re doing the best we can to keep ourselves and others safe, we’re doing all we can. There is nothing more we can do. And this too shall pass. We’re often told to stay present and live for today—which is definitely important—but I’ve been finding it very helpful to think: this won’t be our reality in 3 months from now, in 6 months from now, in a year from now. We will gather with friends again, and celebrate with families. We will get back to some sense of normalcy. And we’ll look back on this time and hopefully learn from it. Sometimes thinking ahead to better times helps us get through these uncertain days.
Try some of these tips and see if any of them help you. Talk about how you’re feeling with others, because it will help you feel more at peace with what you’re experiencing. Or share your own tips to help get through this weird time!
And please know, if you are seriously struggling with depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition and you need help now, reach out to any of these provincially recommended services or seek out professional help. No one deserves to feel alone. We’re all in this together.
Katie has worked in the natural health & wellness industry for over 10 years and is currently studying to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. She is passionate about eating #feelgood food and recognized that this might look different for each and every person. She truly believes that in a healthy lifestyle, you can have your cake and eat your kale, too! Follow her on Instagram @katielmitts