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Mental Health & COVID-19


May 27th, 2021

The events of the past year have certainly taken their toll on all of us. Each of us has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and though there is a light at the end of the tunnel with the roll-out of Canada’s vaccination program, the recent spike in cases in BC have left many of us wondering how we can keep moving forward in our lives despite ongoing illnesses, losses of loved ones, and strict social restrictions and health measures. For many of us, managing our mental health during this time has been a real struggle, and as the months go on, this is certainly becoming a more difficult task to bear.

The demand for mental health support services is at a high, with many community practitioners maintaining lengthy wait-lists for their services. What can an individual do in the meantime, if they are struggling with symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pandemic burnout? This article will provide some suggestions for maximizing mental health during the pandemic, and provides resources for accessing further support.

Nutrition & Hydration

Two important building blocks of mental health are balanced, wholesome nutrition and adequate hydration. Including plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, protein sources, and whole grains in your diet ensures that you are fueling your body and mind with the adequate vitamins, minerals, and proteins needed for healthy living. In addition, it is important to ensure that you are drinking enough water consistently throughout the day, every day. The historical recommendation for fluid intake is eight, 8-ounce cups of water each day, though adults may need more or less. You may need to drink more water if you:

  • Exercise regularly, especially in hot weather;
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding;
  • Are fighting off a cold, flu, or other infection or disease

For more information on nutritional and hydration requirements, please visit the following websites:

Sleep and Rest

Getting adequate sleep and rest is paramount in maintaining good mental health. To practice good sleep hygiene, you might try the following:

  • Maintain a comfortable sleeping environment, giving consideration to blocking out sources of light, maintaining optimal ambient temperature, having a comfortable mattress and bedding, and reducing noise as much as possible.
  • Reduce screen time before bed, as this stimulates your brain and makes getting to sleep harder.
  • Maintain an exercise routine at least 3 times per week. Avoid exercising within 2 hours of bedtime, as this can make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol within 4-6 hours of bedtime, as both can impact your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get a quality and restful night’s sleep.
  • Have a bedtime ritual. This could include listening to soft music, meditating for a few minutes, or preparing yourself for sleep in the same way each night (e.g. brushing your teeth, then washing your face, etc.). This lets your brain know to start slowing down for sleep.
  • Although it’s best to avoid eating right before bedtime, a light evening snack may improve the quality of your rest. In particular, foods higher in protein, milk, and bananas may have a positive impact on sleep.
  • Have a sleep schedule. Try to fall asleep and wake up at the same times each day.
  • Don’t force it! If you are unable to sleep, lying awake and worrying about the time will only make it harder to fall asleep. If after 20-30 minutes you’re still awake, get out of bed and engage in a boring or relaxing activity until you feel sleepy, and then return to bed.
  • Avoid using your bed for activities other than sleep (and sex). This way you can create an association in your brain that your bed is for sleeping. Engaging in other activities in bed, such as watching TV, scrolling on your phone, or doing your homework, may keep your brain active and prevent you from falling asleep.
  • Try out some relaxation strategies, like meditation or a guided relaxation video on YouTube. These can be very helpful in bringing on sleep. If you find yourself worrying or ruminating at bedtime, you might try writing down your worries and reminding yourself that they will be there for you to worry about in the morning, if you need to. Try gently tell yourself that worrying will not solve these problems right now.

Exercise

Exercise, even a little each day, is a major component in maintaining good mental health. The cascade of hormones that follows a workout has been shown to promote emotional wellbeing and to boost confidence and mood. Though gyms and other fitness facilities may be closed due to the pandemic, there are countless workout videos on YouTube that can be accessed for free. As well, getting outside is an excellent option to work your muscles, take a break from the walls of your home, and connect with others in a safe way.

Prioritizing Self-care

So often, adults are so wrapped up in their responsibilities and in caring for others that they forget to prioritize their own need for downtime, pleasure, and play. This is especially so during challenging times, such as during the current pandemic, when there are many shifting priorities and unknowns that act as obstacles to rest and relaxation. And yet, a huge part of maintaining good mental health is making sure that our own needs for care and compassion are met. This includes not only the activities we engage in every day, but also the mindset we have towards our own health and well-being. 

You may wish to ask yourself the following questions to assess whether or not you are caring for yourself properly:

  • Do I allow myself time for self-care in my life? This doesn’t necessarily mean an hour-long bath every night (though, that would be wonderful!) Sometimes, this means remembering to practice deep breathing a few times per day, maintaining your physical environment in a way that brings you peace or joy, and scheduling time for hobbies or other personal interests during the week. To gain help putting this into place, try calmly communicating your needs for self-care to your partner or family to get them on board with supporting you in trying to care for yourself more.
  • Is my health and wellbeing as important to me as that of my family? Many people with children struggle with giving themselves the same level of care as they do for their families. Remembering yourself in this equation and putting yourself on the same playing field as others when it comes to care and compassion is a large component of practicing self-care. Like the old adage says, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”!
  • Relational self-care is also important. Are you able to find a few minutes each week to nourish those relationships that are most important to you?
  • How is your work/life balance? With COVID, many people have been working from home and struggling to balance the demands of their professional lives with caring for their families. With such strain, it is important to try to find ways to decompress and manage stress appropriately. Some suggestions include: journaling, talking to a friend, going for a walk, or indulging in a hobby (e.g. reading, painting). Each person is different and each will have different interests and needs in this domain, but taking the time to examine your work/life balance and seeing where helpful shifts could be made could prove helpful in finding a more healthful balance.
  • How do you care for yourself emotionally? Do you speak kindly to yourself, as you would to a friend or loved one, or do you find that your inner dialogue is full of self-blame and harsh criticisms? Softening the language of your self-talk has been shown to help people cope with challenges and improve symptoms of poor mental health.

Support from Others and Building Connections

One of the biggest social challenges facing many people right now is the limits placed on gatherings and face-to-face interactions. From restrictions on indoor gatherings to difficulties communicating effectively with masks on, a common challenge in our community is social disconnection and isolation. Though we understand that this keeps our community members safe and eases the burden on our health care system, people are nonetheless relational creatures, and we suffer when our connection to others is severed. In fact, social isolation and withdrawal is a major perpetuating factor for those struggling with clinical depression. It’s no wonder so many of us are feeling burnt out with missing our loved ones and our everyday interactions.

So, what can we do? While no perfect solution exists currently, there are some steps we can take to mitigate the impact of our social isolation:

  • Schedule regular zoom and telephone calls with loved ones to catch up on one another’s lives
  • Arrange socially-distanced walks or other outdoor gatherings to maintain connections
  • Write a handwritten note or send a handmade gift through the mail
  • Create photos and videos of yourself and your family to send to loved ones
  • Play games together over zoom or other platforms
  • Schedule “drive-by” parties to safely celebrate important events

Counselling

It’s not uncommon, especially during the pandemic, to find yourself in need of some extra support. A warm, professional counsellor is someone who can come alongside you and offer insights, suggestions, and support to you as you navigate this difficult time. At Back in Motion, we have a team of Registered Clinical Counsellors who are ready and able to safely meet with you, hear your story, and help you come up with a plan to safeguard your mental health in the midst of this global pandemic. If you would like to speak to one of our counsellors, visit https://backinmotionhealth.com/services/counselling/ or call your nearest clinic today.

If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, or are having thoughts of ending your life, this is an urgent matter. Please call 9-1-1, go to the nearest hospital emergency room, and/or call one of the following crisis lines for support:

  • Province-wide in British Columbia: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
  • Crisis Intervention & Suicide Prevention Centre of BC, 24/7 Distress Phone Service: 604-872-3311 or 1-866-661-3311
  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service (available 24/7/365): 1-833-456-4566

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