The coronavirus (also called COVID-19) has swept the globe, impacting most of us in one way or another. For many of us, the uncertainty brought on by the virus has led to fear, anxiety and an array of other emotions.
As humans, it is natural to go into “survival mode” in times of stress. It is our way of keeping ourselves safe through our fight, flight and freeze responses.
Sometimes our survival responses can become overwhelming and begin to interfere with our ability to live healthy lives, particularly in times of uncertainty and when we feel a loss of control.
Here are some tips to consider when tending to your mental well being during this time.
1. Seek Knowledge & Set Limits
Information on COVID-19 can be helpful in gaining advice on best practices that can be taken to protect yourself and others. With that being said, follow the advice of the experts and only rely on reputable sources for information. This includes the WHO, CDC, and Health Link BC. Gaining knowledge and understanding the practical actions we can take instils a sense of control amidst all the uncertainty.
Be mindful of how much time you are spending on the news and social media. It’s easy to become consumed with the news and a need to stay informed on all updates, however – this can skew your perspective, impact your mood, and further exacerbate current anxiety and fear. Set limits on how often you check information sources and be sure to balance your time with other meaningful activities.
2. Maintain a Healthy Routine
It can be difficult to keep up with healthy habits when the world around us is changing so rapidly. With such change, we are presented with a number of emerging stressors such as finances, childcare, job stability, and managing relationships, just to name a few.
It is crucial to maintain a healthy routine of good sleep hygiene, eating regular nutritious meals, and engaging in some form of daily exercise. Not only will these healthy habits help with your physical health but they will also work to maintain your mental health and resilience during these evolving times.
3. Stay Connected
In light of the advice from health officials to social distance, we must find creative ways of staying connected. Humans are social creatures and maintaining our relationships and connections can help us in the darkest of times. Call a friend; set up video chats with others working from home; connect with family and friends over FaceTime or Skype.
Staying connected can reduce the anxiety and low mood that arises when we feel alone and isolated; it helps us gain a sense of stability and morale. Most importantly it reminds us that we’re in this together!
4. Focus On Your Coping Strategies
Use healthy tools and techniques that have helped you cope with stress in the past; our minds are already overloaded and there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
For some people this could be practicing mindfulness, deep breathing, or meditation. For others it could be baking, reading a book, listening to music, taking a bath, or taking a walk somewhere you can maintain adequate distance with others.
If you’re still struggling to come up with coping strategies, it may be helpful to turn to some resources like Anxiety Canada’s Mindshift™ CBT app, or Insight Timer. By implementing some of these practices into your daily routine, you will reinforce a sense of agency and autonomy in your life, even while everything around you feels chaotic and uncertain.
5. Think About What You Choose.
During times of great uncertainty, we often find ourselves spinning or spiralling in an effort to control things. Of course, this makes sense. We are in survival mode and we want to make smart decisions. Who wouldn’t want to prevent painful and difficult things from happening if given the opportunity? Whether it be related to finances, family, or other issues, we start heading down the “what if” and “if only” road. The problem with this, is that it only puts us further into “fight or flight” mode. This brings down not only our mental and emotional strength, but also our physical health and immunity.
Now, I’m obviously not encouraging anyone to abandon common sense. You definitely have some control over how you budget your finances, or how much hygiene and social distancing you practice. But what if you surrendered some of that desire for control, and instead, focused more energy on what you can “choose?” Hear me out.
Famous Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl is well known for his contributions to the field of existential psychotherapy, specifically logotherapy – a form of therapy based on purpose and meaning. In his famous book, Man’s Search For Meaning, he suggests that everything can be taken from a person but one thing: the freedom to choose one’s attitude, and the freedom to “choose one’s own way.”
I encourage you to start thinking about what you “choose” during these difficult times. Who do you choose to be? What do you choose to do? Maybe you choose to volunteer some time to help your older neighbors with their groceries. Maybe you choose to be a more attentive partner. Maybe you choose courage. Maybe you choose compassion. Or maybe you choose pride in the fact that you’re doing your part to help “flatten the curve.” Whatever you choose, it will be yours, and chances are that it will bring you more peace than clinging on to certainty or control.
6. Seek Support
Don’t forget that there are professionals who can support you during this challenging period. If you’re finding that your anxiety is becoming overwhelming or unmanageable, reach out for support from a counselor. Many mental health professionals are currently providing telehealth services as a substitute for in-person sessions.