As the number of COVID-19 cases rise in the Kitchener-Waterloo region, the possibility of heading into another lock down becomes increasingly likely. This isn’t an easy time. We all miss our families, friends, activities, and having the freedom to do things without restrictions of physical distancing. However, none of us have a magic wand to make this change happen today, and my realist brain tells me to prepare. And so, today’s post will include tips to help your mental health during this phase of this pandemic.
What can I do for my mental health?
1. Figure out your basic needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (a theory about human motivation) explains that it is important to meet the foundational needs of physiology and safety before being able to truly focus on our psychological needs (belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization). This means creating a plan for ensuring you have proper access to meet your physiological needs (e.g. water, food, shelter) and your safety needs (e.g. finances, employment, health, law and order).
What does this mean practically? It means creating a plan with your family to ensure you’ll have food and water if you need to go into quarantine. You may have to speak with your landlord about rent subsidies if you are unable to go to work during this time. Your basic needs also includes financial stability. You may have to speak with your employer to know your employment and financial eligibility rights. Visit the Government of Canada‘s page to see the various financial services available during this pandemic. When it comes to your health, review the recommendations from public health about following current best practices to stay safe.
2. Create a schedule
Having a predictable routine and plan for the day brings great comfort. While there is so much happening in the world that we cannot control, you do have some ability to create a daily schedule that works for you. It helps to know when you intend to wake up, what hours you’d like to work, when you’ll be eating meals, and when you get to clock out for the evening. While creating a plan for your activities, I recommend ensuring that the following are added:
- Fun/new activities: Let’s face it. Being stuck at home can get pretty monotonous. Ensuring that you are trying out novel activities or fun hobbies helps break up the pattern, and gives you somethings to look forward to during the week.
- Set a routine time for sleeping: Sleep struggles have escalated during this pandemic, which is no surprise when we are suddenly taken out of the practice of our usual 9-5 work hours. It’s easy to ignore the alarm when it goes off in the morning, or to spend endless hours watching TV at night because we can sleep in. Lack of sleep will start to play a toll on your mental health after some time. You’ll notice you’re more irritable, you may start snacking more frequently or you just feel a constant level of fatigue. Create a bedtime routine to help your body and mind learn to wind down before bed. If your sleep schedule is completely out of sorts, try and go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time daily (this includes weekends).
- Make time for exercise. Exercise works as effectively as a low-dose antidepressant. Getting consistency in your level of exercise (ideally a minimum of 3x per week) will help regulate your emotions. There are a lot of free online resources right now if you are not a fan of working out or are unsure how to start.
3. Talk about your feelings
I’m totally biased in preaching this message. We tend to stifle our emotions, and let’s face it, no one is doing great right now. What’s the point in pretending we’re doing okay, when compassion and understanding goes so much further in helping us heal? Find safe people to talk to about how you’re doing. This may include friends and family, or it may involve a mental health professional. We are often caught in a culture where it’s not okay to be vulnerable. However, the best way to increase the strength of a relationship is in voicing our feelings. It gives the other person a chance to validate your concerns, and also acknowledge their own.
There was a study conducted in the UK at the start of this pandemic where people were asked about their level of loneliness. Within matter of days during the first lock down, the numbers jumped from 1 in 10 to 1 in 4 people voicing they were lonely (learn more at Mental Health Foundations). By reaching out to others and sharing your worries, you create the opportunity to build connection with new friends.
4. Plan for the bad days
I know that sounds super pessimistic, but let’s not kid ourselves, everyone will have moments of suffering during this pandemic. When it comes to our mental health, the easiest option would be to problem solve our worries. We don’t get this option with COVID-19. So, while we wait this pandemic out, it’s useful to have a plan on how we get through difficult days.
Every person is different when it comes to interests and skills, so I encourage you to think of what options you would like to have in your coping plan. Some helpful options include using mindfulness or distress tolerance skills. It’s helpful to have four or five different tasks as part of a coping plan. These are tasks that will help you get through this moment, and may even help your emotions calm down a bit. They will not get rid of the issue all together, but it will get you through the moment of suffering without creating further distress. For me, my favourite coping skills are exercise, reading, watching sitcoms (or really, anything light-hearted) and eating junk food.
5. Find a balance between positive events and accomplishments
One of my favourite lessons from dialectical-behaviour therapy is that we feel better when we create a balance of accumulating positive events and building mastery. When it comes to “accumulating positives, this is basically a fancy way of saying focus on those activities that make you feel good (e.g. taking a long bath, staying in PJs and watching reality TV, going on vacation, etc). Having these positive activities makes us feel great and keeps us in good spirit.
However, we start to find these tasks mundane when we don’t they are not balanced out with work. Consider how awesome it would be to go away to a spa or resort. The first few days, or even weeks would be relaxing and lovely. How would it feel for you after a month or even a year though? I imagine you’d get bored, or this type of activity becomes less exciting or pleasurable because it’s so habitual. It’s not that we wouldn’t appreciate the vacation on it’s own, but the work makes us feel more appreciative of this down time.
This is where building mastery comes in to the picture. Building mastery can mean two things. The first way to build mastery is by working through tasks on your to do list. These may be tasks that are mundane (e.g. doing dishes, folding laundry, spring cleaning) or overwhelming (e.g. applying for a job, creating a budget, completing paperwork). These tasks are often ignored, and we tend to procrastinate about getting them done. Once these tasks are are completed, there is a sense of relief and perhaps even pride. By working through your To Do list, you start to feel more in control of your world. There’s no longer that looming pressure, and you feel more confident with your ability to manage life.
The second way to build mastery is through short-term or long-term goals. When we think of the pandemic, we have months to spend at home. What would you like to achieve during this time that will help you feel proud and accomplished? These tasks are much longer, and will often require several steps along the way to eventually get to the end goal. The goal itself may be challenging, but it should be broken down into manageable steps so that you can work in smaller steps to grow your skill and knowledge. Again, this is very individualistic, and your goals will depend on your own interest and needs. Take a moment to consider what you would like to master, and the steps you would need to take in order to achieve this goal.
What will you do for your mental health?
I hope you are able to incorporate one or more of these tips to support your mental health. Did one in particular work well for you? Were there ones you didn’t like as much? Let me know!
Your mental health matters. If you are needing some support during this time, please feel free to reach out.