Mental Well-being during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Right now, many people are feeling worried and anxious because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We're learning to adapt to a "new normal" that's constantly changing. This guest post is by Dr. Katy Kamkar, PhD., C. Psych., Clinical Psychologist, The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). She offers some great ways to protect and improve your mental health at this uncertain time.
We’ve been living through a "new normal" since the pandemic began, and for many it was a difficult transition. Now as communities re-open, our routines are being disrupted again as we do our best to adapt to what’s next. Every new normal we create carries a sense of loss, grief and regret, but it is also a chance for new opportunities.
In my practice as a Clinical Psychologist and in my personal life, I hear a lot from people who are worried. They have concerns about facets of their lives such as return to work and school, commuting, or about their own and their family’s health.
It’s normal to have questions and concerns weighing on your mind. Coronavirus symptoms may affect our physical health, but the pandemic also has a great impact on our daily lives, routines, and our overall mental well-being. Let’s always keep in mind that our mental health and physical health are deeply connected. In fact, mental health is health. How can we maintain our wellness while we manage our daily responsibilities?
Managing Your Mental Well-being
The first step involves awareness.
Feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness, irritability, and anger are a normal part of life. It is important to be able to identify when these negative feelings become too difficult to cope with. Reaching out for help before these feelings greatly impact our lives is so important.
Awareness also means knowing what can cause stress in our life. Right now that could be things like being isolated at home, our finances, returning to work, organizing child care, or even feeling exhausted from caring for others, and playing out “what if” scenarios in our heads.
Now it’s time to take action. We should use our feelings and emotions as cues to act.
Here are a few specific strategies that may help.
- Don’t stigmatize safety.
Wear a mask when you know you’ll be close to others, and continue to practice safe social distancing and good hand hygiene.
- Keep in touch with family and friends in safe ways.
Proper socially-distanced and masked visits, calling, texting, emailing, video chat and social media are good ways to stay connected.
- Seek balance as you keep up with the news and social media, while setting boundaries to manage anxiety.
Our tolerance level varies on a continuum — at times it can be lower than other times. Be flexible and set boundaries depending on where your thermometer is.
- Give yourself time to decompress and tune out noise.
Read a book or listen to an audiobook, practice meditation, yoga, gardening or other activities that can allow you to focus.
- Make some lifestyle changes if needed.
A balanced diet, exercise and healthy sleep habits can do wonders for your mental health. Avoid substance misuse and find healthier coping mechanisms.
- Identify positives every day and encourage a mindset of gratitude.
Be kind to yourself and take time to practice self-care.
- Focus on what you have control over and put your time and energy into current problems and current worries.
Set aside any problems or worries that do not exist right now.
- Engage in mindfulness and self-compassion to avoid judging yourself.
Remind yourself you are human. The more open and kind we are with ourselves the more open and kind we are with others.
You are doing the best you can in a situation that is changing every day!
Do not hesitate to seek professional help if you are experiencing psychological distress. Some signs that you may need help include:
- difficulty starting tasks or taking care of responsibilities
- chronic low mood, sadness, or excessive anxiety that is difficult to manage
- lacking pleasure in activities
- difficulties with sleep and/or concentration
- or other symptoms that cause you concern.
As we shift into the "next normal" of this pandemic, let’s all remember that we are resilient and resourceful, and we will get through this together. Take care and stay safe!
Katy’s book recommendations to learn more about mental health.
The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You by Robert L. Leahy Ph.D.
When Perfect Isn't Good Enough - Strategies for Coping with Perfectionism by Martin M. Antony and Richard P. Swinson.
The Generalized Anxiety Disorder Workbook: A Comprehensive CBT Guide for Coping with Uncertainty, Worry, and Fear by Dr. Melisa Robichaud, PHD, and Dr. Michel Dugas, PHD. Currently available in regular print only.
Looking for other mental health resources? Check out the recommended titles in Toronto Public Library's Your Health Matters: Mental Health collection. These books have been chosen by Toronto Public Health staff for the library, and can be counted on to provide clear, accurate and up-to-date information.