Tips for supporting your mental health through the COVID-19 pandemic
March 20, 2020
A lot is happening quickly in relation to COVID-19. It's normal to feel worried and overwhelmed and in these difficult times you might be wondering how to best manage your stress and anxiety.
"When we feel frightened, our body's natural responses try to keep us safe by heightening our response to danger. This includes releasing stress hormones into our body, which increase heart rate, blood pressure, and overall alertness – making us feel panicky and afraid," says Dr. Vijay Seetapathy, Medical Director, Complex Mental Health and Substance Use Services.
"To avoid spiralling into feelings of fear and anxiety, I encourage people to think about what usually helps them when they are in a difficult and stressful period in their life and try and apply it here as much as possible. This can be as simple as enjoying food you enjoy or taking time to talk to your friends and family."
Here are some more strategies to help you manage your mental health and increase your resilience as we navigate through this difficult time:
1. Continue to make social connection a priority
You don't have to be face-to-face to check in on a friend of loved one, and keeping up social connection is particularly important during stressful times. Phone calls and social networks are a great stress-busting, mood-boosting way to spend time with the people you love.
2. Stay active
Staying active is as good for the brain as it is for the body. Regular exercise or activity can have a major impact on your mental and emotional health, relieve stress, improve memory, and help you sleep better.
If you're self-isolating or the usual place you exercise is closed, there are many ways you can keep fit at home such as climbing the stairs or following free tutorials through Youtube.
If you are not self-isolating, it is still recommended to stretch your legs outside while maintaining a safe social distance of two metres from others.
3. Take up a relaxation practice
Yoga, mindfulness, meditation and deep breathing can help reduce overall levels of stress. The Breathr App from Kelty Mental Health is a good resource to get started on mindfulness meditation.
4. Eat a brain-healthy diet to support strong mental health
Foods that can support your mood include fatty fish rich in omega-3s, nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews and peanuts), avocados, beans, leafy greens (spinach, kale and Brussels sprouts), and fresh fruit such as blueberries.
5. Limit how often you check the news and only get news from reliable sources
It's easy to get sucked in to reading constant updates on social media, this can be mentally draining as well as putting you at risk of seeing false information. A better way to stay informed is by checking out credible sources once or twice a day for updates. Some reliable sources include:
Remember, the information absorb can affect how we feel. We should monitor what we read with care.
6. Don't skimp on sleep
It matters more than you think. One way to get sleep better is to take a break from the stimulation of screens — TV, phones, tablets or computers — in the two hours before bedtime.
7. Coping with substance use issues
Those who are struggling with substance use issues might find stressful times particularly difficult. To stay in recovery ensure you continue to identify high-risk situations that may put you most at risk for using, such as spending time around others who are using. If you usually feel triggered by stress, try using the self-care activities outlined here to manage this stress as best you can. Also, don't forget to ask for support from people around you if you're finding this time particularly challenging.
8. Where to get more help
If you or a loved one needs more mental health support at this difficult time, there are many programs and resources that are available to you:
Here to Help provides mental-health and substance-use information you can trust.
Kelty Mental Health Centre has information on talking to children and youth.
BC Crisis Centre is a non-profit, volunteer organization committed to helping people help themselves and others deal with crisis.
Canadian Mental Health Association is a national charity that helps maintain and improve mental health for all Canadians.
Source: BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services