Why You Should Safeguard Your Mental Health Through the Pandemic
There is increasing global awareness that the COVID-19 pandemic is not only causing physical illness, but has major mental health implications as well. Every sector of society is affected; from children, adults and seniors, to frontline healthcare workers – and even mental health professionals.
The COVID-19 health crisis can be stressful for a variety of reasons. The anxiety of an unknown disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions, or trigger a worsening of existing mental health issues. Feelings of helplessness, confusion and anger are not unusual at times like this. Sometimes people might not feel anything at all: a sense of numbness sets in. A large part of the emotional upset is caused by fear of the unknown. “When will it end? When will we be able to return to normal?” have become commonly-asked questions, to which there are no clear answers.
The isolation caused by social distancing is disorienting, as for most people it’s an unprecedented experience in their lives. Whether they live alone or with others, the sheer lack of face-to-face communication and the absence of physical contact are disheartening.
People of different age groups are feeling the impact of COVID-19 in different ways. Seniors, for instance, who may already be suffering from loneliness and depression, may see a worsening of their symptoms. More than 1.8 million Canadians over age 60 were living with a mental health problem or illness in 2016.
While a certain degree of stress is normal, there are signs of extreme stress to be aware of: problems sleeping, muscle tension, anger, headaches, problems concentrating and withdrawing from others.
For frontline workers in healthcare institutions, the stress on their personal lives is compounded by the enormous task of caring for others. In addition to shouldering the fear of catching the virus, they’re struggling with the worry that they could pass the virus to their families. As a result of these overlapping stresses, frontline workers are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues down the road after this pandemic starts to resolve.
Everyone responds to the effects of a pandemic in their own way. If you have a family member or friend who is worried or scared, try to listen to and empathize with them. Some people may want to vent their fears or anger at the situation, while others may want to problem-solve. Exercise helps alleviate feelings of anger and frustration, or a few minutes of meditation can allow you to create a space of calmness and tranquility. Other measures include staying connected with friends and family, reading, listening to music and re-discovering long-lost hobbies. Talking to a professional can also help – if you have employee benefits, check your plan for an Employee Assistance Program (which often includes therapy). Even if you don’t have access to those benefits, there are numerous mental health resources and virtual support now available across Canada for free, such as:
There are no right or wrong feelings, or ways to deal with these feelings in this unprecedented time; just know that you are not alone.