fitness

Self care for mental health in a pandemic

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about looking after your mental health and well being during the pandemic. Since I work a lot in the area of mental health wellness and policy, I try to live the practices I learn about to manage everyday stress.

One of the things I have been sharing with friends is the need to grieve the loss. Our way of life has changed, and most likely, permanently. What happens in the next few months and after that is anyone’s guess. Some people may find Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — a useful way to process all the feelings.  Also, regardless of how I have listed them here, it’s not a linear process.

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The pandemic, though, is not everyday stress even if we are feeling it every day. I thought you might be interested in some of the things government agencies in Canada and elsewhere are offering to help. I’m quite glad to see the variety of material as we have had to deal with a lot of stigma when it comes to mental health and illness.

The relative openness about mental well being is a positive thing we should recognize and is an important part of the WHO’s recent updates. Their focus these days is on emphasizing that physical distancing does not mean social isolation. They also recognize the importance of building psychological resilience. I hope some of the links that follow are helpful to you.

The public health system in England has come up with 14 things you can use to protect your mental health.  Here’s a super-condensed version:

  • Consider how to connect with others
  • Help and support others
  • Talk about your worries
  • Look after your physical wellbeing
  • Try to manage difficult feelings
  • Manage your media and information intake
  • Get the facts
  • Think about your new daily routine
  • Do things you enjoy
  • Set goals
  • Keep your mind active
  • Take time to relax and focus on the present

For the science-minded among the readers, here’s an interesting article looking at what we have learned from past epidemics. The authors focus on what we can do better going forward and why we need to also apply psychological first aid when working with people in our communities during this time. The article considers the impact on providers as well as people in the community. They write:

The outbreak of pandemics has a potential impact on the existing illnesses, causes distress among caretakers, and affected persons and leads to an onset of mental symptoms among the young or old, which is possibly related to the interplay of mental disorders and immunity. In order to avoid the mental health effects of the COVID-19 infection, people need to avoid excessive exposure to COVID-19 media coverages, maintain a healthy diet and positive lifestyle, and reach out to others for comfort and consolation that the situation will soon be contained. Everyone should maintain a sense of positive thinking and hope and take personal or group time to unwind and remind the self that the intense feelings of fear, panic, and anxiety will fade. Additionally, seek information from reputable government sources for information and avoid the spread of erroneous information on the internet.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada has put together a website offering evidence-based information and links from across the country. Their focus is on providing information you can trust: “In times of high anxiety and stress, it’s more important than ever to safeguard your mental wellness. That includes stemming the tide of non-essential information (my emphasis) and paring down your news consumption.”

Another Canadian site comes from the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health. They offer a variety of coping strategies to deal with the stress and anxiety you and others may be feeling. What I liked about the site was their recognition that not all tools will work for everyone equally: “Some might apply to you and some might not – or they may need to be adapted to suit you personally, your personality, where and with whom you live, or your culture. Please be creative and experiment with these ideas and strategies.” CAMH also recognizes that a key factor driving ur fear, anxiety and stress is the uncertainty that underpins our lives today with respect to the virus.

I hope you find the material in the selected links helpful. Remember to connect to people you care about, to look after yourself, to take time to focus on the good in your life and to wash your hands and take appropriate precautions. Be well, stay well.

MarthaFitat55 lives and works in St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador.

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