Focus on your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Jennifer Stranges

Mental HealthInformation is changing rapidly, social and professional routines have been interrupted and there is much that is unknown – like when this will end and when life will return to normal. As a result, it’s only natural that the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing about feelings of fear and anxiety for many people.

Monica Figueiredo is an Advanced Practice Clinical Educator of adult inpatient mental health at St. Joseph’s Health Centre, and said that anxiety and fear of the unknown is likely at the top of most people’s minds.

“People are worried about job security and finances, in addition to worries about if they or their loved ones may get COVID-19,” she said.

For those who are self-isolating and only leaving home for essential needs, Figueiredo said there may be feelings of loneliness, disconnection, boredom or emotions triggered from overconsumption of social media or news reports.

The good news is that self-isolation can be made to feel less daunting or lonely and technology helps with that. Figueiredo recommends people try to stick to their daily routines, even during self-isolation, because the familiarity is helpful and it will be less of a struggle to readjust when we return to regular. She also recommends taking up a new hobby, exercising and virtually connecting with family and friends to stay occupied.

“With the pandemic closing down physical buildings, a number of attractions or websites have made free virtual sites you can visit,” she said. “You can visit a museum, art gallery, explore NASA pictures from space or even ride a virtual roller coaster from Canada’s Wonderland.”

Yet even with these helpful tips, people still may struggle with mental health and wellness during this unprecedented time. To address that, Figueiredo recommends limiting and disconnecting from triggers like social media and leaning into conversations with friends and family.

“Some of the concern our friends and families are experiencing is because of the mixed messages they are seeing on the various social media platforms or from other concerned persons. It’s times like these that our loved ones are also coming to us for reassurance and hope so let’s listen to them, validate their concerns and educate them so we are all following the directions of our public health leaders.”

Figueiredo’s final message is that while we are being asked to self-isolate and spend time alone, it’s important to keep in mind that we are all doing this together.

“Remember that you are not alone,” she said. “This is a challenging time for all of us and can be particularly anxiety-provoking when you see what has happening in other parts of the world and are unsure what will happen here. We need to listen, support and above all be kind to each other.

“It’s the little things that are going to help us all get through this together.”